Un­cer­tainty for Flacco

QB is deal­ing with sore throw­ing shoul­der; Jets bench starter Fitzpatrick in fa­vor of Smith

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jeff Zre­biec

Sun­day, 1 p.m. TV: Chs. 13, 9 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Pick

As Ravens play­ers and coaches were fin­ish­ing their prac­tice Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, word cir­cu­lated to them that their op­po­nent Sun­day was mak­ing a quar­ter­back change. Losers of four straight games, the New York Jets are bench­ing Ryan Fitzpatrick in fa­vor of Geno Smith.

It might be a cou­ple of more days be­fore the Ravens know the iden­tity of their own start­ing quar­ter­back for Sun­day.

Joe Flacco missed prac­tice Wed­nes­day be­cause of a sore right throw­ing shoul­der, and while the quar­ter­back and coach John Har­baugh ex­pressed op­ti­mism that the vet­eran starter will play this week­end, they ac­knowl­edged that that’s hardly a cer­tainty. It’s pos­si­ble Flacco, who played in 137 con­sec­u­tive games to be­gin his ca­reer be­fore suf­fer­ing a left knee in­jury in Novem­ber, doesn’t prac­tice all week and is a game-time de­ci­sion.

“It’s re­ally just about get­ting to the point where I feel like I can go out there and suf­fi­ciently throw the ball, and I guess that a lit­tle bit of rest right now is prob­a­bly the best thing,” Flacco said Wed­nes­day. “I’m not ner­vous. It’s just a mat­ter of how I’m go­ing to feel. Like I said, I think today, just stay­ing there and do­ing some re­hab and try­ing to get it warmed up a lit­tle bit is prob­a­bly the best thing.”

Flacco was sacked twice in the 27-23 loss to the New York Giants on Sun­day and was hit four more times. He said he didn’t feel

any sore­ness in his throw­ing shoul­der un­til after the game. He re­ported it to team of­fi­cials Monday and was sent for an MRI.

Flacco wouldn’t spec­ify what the MRI showed, but said it was “noth­ing to worry about.”

Still, any in­jury prob­lems with the start­ing quar­ter­back make Sun­day’s sit­u­a­tion even more dire for the Ravens (3-3). They have lost three straight games, and drop­ping a fourth head­ing into their bye week would be tough to re­cover from, given the dif­fi­culty of their sec­ond-half sched­ule.

Flacco adds one more prom­i­nent name to an in­jury list that in­cludes the team’s top re­ceiver (Steve Smith Sr.), of­fen­sive line­man (Mar­shal Yanda), in­side line­backer (C.J. Mosley), pass rusher (Ter­rell Suggs) and kick re­turner (Devin Hester Sr.).

Flacco hasn’t played con­sis­tently well, throw­ing five touch­down passes and six in­ter­cep­tions over the past six games. How­ever, the suc­cess of the Ravens’ strug­gling of­fense starts and ends with Flacco. If he can’t play, vet­eran backup Ryan Mal­lett, whogot plenty of rep­e­ti­tions with the first­team of­fense this sum­mer with Flacco re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing his left knee, would start.

Mal­lett, who has started eight games in his ca­reer, in­clud­ing two for the Ravens last year, stayed on the field after prac­tice Wed­nes­day to get in ad­di­tional work.

“That will not be a prob­lem if he plays,” Har­baugh said of Mal­lett. “I’ll feel very con­fi­dent if Ryan Mal­lett is out there play­ing. I’m go­ing to want Joe out there. Ev­ery­body knows that. Joe knows that. Joe will be out there if he can be. There’s no tougher guy than Joe. To me, he will be out there. It’s my be­lief he’ll be out there. But the way it heals is the way it heals.”

Har­baugh said he’d be com­fort­able start­ing Flacco even if he doesn’t prac­tice all week. That, of course, is not ideal, es­pe­cially with Marty Morn­hin­weg look­ing to put his im­print on the of­fense in his sec­ond week as play caller.

“Even though we need all of the prac­tice we can get right now, [miss­ing] one day of prac­tice won’t hurt. I’d rather have him for the game than Joe Flacco, cen­ter, is sacked by the Giants’ Lan­don Collins, right, as Kelvin Shep­pard closes in. Flacco was tack­led twice and hit four more times Sun­day. prac­tice any day,” wide re­ceiver Mike Wal­lace said. “He knows the play­book in and out. It’s all about the feel for the game, and he has that.”

Flacco has taken a beat­ing this year be­hind an of­fen­sive line that seems to change ev­ery week. He’s been sacked 13 times. Only eight quar­ter­backs have been sacked more. Flacco, 6 feet 6, 245 pounds, is known for his dura­bil­ity and never com­plains pub­licly about tak­ing hits. How­ever, he’s looked es­pe­cially beat up after the last two losses, to the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins and Giants.

“It’s not about be­ing pain-free,” said Flacco, who hasn’t had any pre­vi­ously re­ported shoul­der prob­lems in his nine-year NFL ca­reer. “You can deal with a lit­tle pain. It’s just about mak­ing sure you can throw the ball good enough to go out there and help your team.”

Jets coach Todd Bowles told Bal­ti­more-area re­porters on a con­fer­ence call Wed­nes­day that he’s pre­par­ing his team for both quar­ter­backs but that his gut tells him the Ravens will start Flacco.

“Joe is tough and he’s a war­rior,” Bowles said. “I think if he can be out there, he will be out there. We’re pre­par­ing for him to be out there. If not, they have an equally good quar­ter­back in Ryan Mal­lett. Ryan has a strong arm, and he can make all of the throws as well.”

Bowles had his own de­ci­sion to make Wed­nes­day, and his move to yank Fitzpatrick, who led the Jets to a 10-6 record last sea­son, rep­re­sented an about-face. After the Jets’ 28-3 loss to the Ari­zona Car­di­nals on Monday night, Bowles re­it­er­ated that Fitzpatrick, who was benched late in the game, was still his starter.

How­ever, after meet­ing with his staff and other Jets of­fi­cials, Bowles handed over the reins of the of­fense to Smith, a sec­ond-round draft pick in 2013 who started 29 games over his first two NFL sea­sons. The de­ci­sion comes with the Jets in the midst of a four-game los­ing streak and with Fitzpatrick hav­ing thrown five touch­down passes and 11 in­ter­cep­tions this sea­son.

“I think we needed a change on of­fense,” said Bowles, whose team has the 26th-ranked of­fense in the NFL. “We have two evenly good quar­ter­backs, and Ryan wasn’t play­ing as well, so we de­cided to make the change and go with Geno.”

Har­baugh said the Jets’ switch doesn’t change much in the Ravens’ prepa­ra­tion for the game.

“I think the of­fense is go­ing to re­main, es­sen­tially, the same with what they do,” Har­baugh said. “It will nu­ance a lit­tle bit in cer­tain di­rec­tions. We didn’t hear that un­til right at the end of prac­tice out here, but we al­ready put in some stuff that we thought would be more Geno Smithori­ented-type things. We prac­tice those plays al­ready, so we were pre­pared for that.”

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Joe Flacco missed prac­tice be­cause of his sore right shoul­der. “A lit­tle bit of rest right now is prob­a­bly the best thing,” he said.

SETH WENIG/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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