Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson is "fine" after suffering an ankle injury late in the team's loss at Kansas City Dec. 9, but he added that "if Joe [Flacco] is ready to go, then he'll be part of the game plan" as the Ravens prepare to host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Dec. 16.
Jackson led the Ravens (7-6) to wins in his first three starts in place of Flacco and then to the brink of an upset at Kansas City before the Chiefs rallied for a 27-24 win in overtime.
Flacco has been inactive in all four of Jackson's starts because of a hip injury sustained Nov. 4, but now that he has been cleared medically, he could be back in uniform against the Buccaneers -- though maybe as a healthy backup for the first time in his career.
"I haven't had a chance to sit down with all the parties yet," Harbaugh said at his weekly news conference on Dec. 10. "I think it stands to reason that if Joe is ready to go, then he'll be part of the game plan. He's too good of a player not to be. We'll just figure that out as we go this week."
"It could entail anything right now," Harbaugh later added. "I know what we want to do. I have a plan. We have a plan. We talked about it. We have to talk to the guys about it, and whether we share that publicly, we'll decide as the week goes on."
The Ravens return to practice Dec. 12, which is the next time Jackson or Flacco is likely to meet with the media.
The Ravens have essentially changed their identity with Jackson at quarterback, moving midseason from a traditional offense led by Flacco to a read-option, run-first approach that has served them well with Jackson and rookie running back Gus Edwards leading the way.
"I think it's remarkable and very impressive that our coaches and players have been able to do that," Harbaugh said.
The Ravens topped 200 yards rushing during each of the three wins with Jackson at quarterback and finished with 198 in the loss at Kansas City. In the Chiefs game, the Ravens had an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that featured no passes.
Jackson has averaged 13 completions and 150 passing yards during his four starts, as the Ravens have stayed away from the passing game to a large degree, relying on a ground-heavy, ball-control offense to move the ball, control the clock and keep the opposing offense off the field.
Now, with Flacco cleared to return, does he get his job back and do the Ravens dust off that section of the playbook? Or do the Ravens stick with Jackson and this unconventional approach that has given opponents fits for the past month?
Flacco has never been a healthy backup during his 11-year career, and the quarterback intrigue grew at the end of the Chiefs game when Jackson left with an ankle injury during the final series in overtime. Robert Griffin III finished the game at quarterback.
At his news conference the next day, Harbaugh said he got a good report from head athletic trainer Ron Medlin and that Jackson "should be fine." Harbaugh said Jackson had not been in for any additional treatment, "which is a good sign. I think he's going to be OK."
Against the Chiefs, Jackson completed 13 of 24 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns, the first multi-touchdown game of his career. He also ran 13 times for a team-high 71 yards, and he now leads the team in rushing with 475 yards.
The Ravens prepare to host Tampa Bay, Harbaugh is likely to be vague once again about the quarterback situation so the Buccaneers have to prepare for both quarterbacks and their divergent styles.
The Ravens remain in must-win mode, as they are locked in a four-way tie for the sixth and final AFC playoff spot. They also stand just a half-game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1) in the AFC North race.