RAVENS INCH CLOSER TO QUAR­TER­BACK DE­CI­SION

Flacco a full par­tic­i­pant at prac­tice, but still ques­tion­able to play Sun­day

The Capital - - SPORTS - By Jonas Shaf­fer

Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco was a full par­tic­i­pant in prac­tice Fri­day, but was still await­ing clear­ance to play in Sun­day’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, coach John Har­baugh said.

Flacco, listed as ques­tion­able on the team’s in­jury re­port, was lim­ited in prac­tice Wed­nes­day by his right hip but was close to full par­tic­i­pa­tion Thurs­day, Har­baugh said. His re­cov­ery moves him one step closer to re­turn­ing to a team that might no longer need him un­der cen­ter. Flacco hasn’t played since a Week 9 loss to the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers; de­spite re­turn­ing to prac­tice last week, he wasn’t cleared for the Ravens’ game Sun­day against the At­lanta Fal­cons.

In his ab­sence, the Ravens (7-5) have won three straight with rookie Lamar Jack­son start­ing, tight­en­ing their hold on the AFC’s sixth play­off spot. Har­baugh ac­knowl­edged Fri­day that there was a “sce­nario” in which Flacco could be a backup Sun­day, some­thing he’s never done in his 11-year ca­reer in Bal­ti­more. But Har­baugh de­clined to say whether he had a de­ci­sion to make at quar­ter­back.

“I’m not get­ting into all that,” he said. “It’s not some­thing that we’re just go­ing to even have to talk about. I’m not try­ing to be coy or clever or any­thing like that. We’re just rolling. We’re just go­ing to play the games. We don’t feel like we owe any ex­pla­na­tions to any­body or any­thing like that. We’re just go­ing to put our best team out there and try to go play some foot­ball.”

Flacco would risk a po­ten­tially ca­reer-al­ter­ing hip dis­lo­ca­tion if he re­turns too soon, ac­cord­ing to med­i­cal ex­perts, but Har­baugh said the Ravens’ long­time starter showed no ill ef­fects in prac­tice. Dur­ing the por­tion of prac­tice open to the me­dia Fri­day, Flacco did not ap­pear to be 100 per­cent healthy. But he also did not strug­gle to throw down­field.

“He threw. He handed off. I mean, re­ally, what more do you want me to say?” Har­baugh said. “He played quar­ter­back. He looked good. He looked like he al­ways does. … I think we did the right things. It looks to me like — my am­a­teur eye — it looks like it was the right thing [to do], and it looks like it was the right thing to give him the rest. We’ll see what the docs say.”

Flacco was at his locker briefly af­ter Har­baugh spoke, but did not talk to re­porters. If he’s ac­tive Sun­day, the for­mer Su­per Bowl Most Valu­able Player could face postgame ques­tions about his role and health for the first time since Nov. 4, when back-to-back hits by Steel­ers de­fen­sive line­men Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Hey­ward left Flacco in ap­par­ent dis­tress.

Flacco, 33, is 1-4 over his past five starts and has as many touch­downs as in­ter­cep­tions (four) dur­ing that stretch. One of the league’s high­est-paid quar­ter­backs, Flacco has com­pleted 61.2 per­cent of his passes for 2,465 yards and ranks No. 29 among qual­i­fied quar­ter­backs in passer rat­ing this year.

Af­ter shar­ing time on the field with Flacco ear­lier in the sea­son, when he was fea­tured mainly as a run­ning threat, Jack­son is ex­pected to make his fourth straight start Sun­day. Only one rookie quar­ter­back since 2001 has won his first four starts: Steel­ers star Ben Roeth­lis­berger, who went 13-0 in the 2004 reg­u­lar sea­son and led Pitts­burgh to a win in the AFC di­vi­sional round be­fore fall­ing in the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game.

The Chiefs (10-2), the AFC’s odds-on fa­vorites to make the Su­per Bowl, will push the Ravens in ways they haven’t been with Jack­son in charge, from the awe­some pass­ing at­tack led by quar­ter­back Pa­trick Ma­homes to the ruckus ex­pected at Ar­row­head Sta­dium. But Kansas City also strug­gles to stop the run, and the Ravens’ ball-con­trol phi­los­o­phy and top-ranked de­fense could limit the Chiefs’ of­fen­sive py­rotech­nics.

Af­ter a game in which Jack­son missed a quar­ter be­cause of a con­cus­sion scare and strug­gled as a passer, Har­baugh said Sun­day that there was “no quar­ter­back con­tro­versy” in­side the Ravens’ locker room. Pub­licly, play­ers have been re­luc­tant to pick sides, as much out of re­spect for the team’s three quar­ter­backs — third-stringer Robert Grif­fin III played his first sig­nif­i­cant snaps of the sea­son in At­lanta — as uncer­tainty over Flacco’s re­turn. But with lit­tle wig­gle room in the play­off chase and two healthy quar­ter­backs, a de­ci­sion will have to come sooner than later.

Bal­ti­more Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco, who hasn’t played since Week 9, could be ac­ti­vated for Sun­day’s game against Kansas City.

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