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Ravens HC John Harbaugh Names Lamar Jackson Starter, Joe Flacco Backup

December 12, 2018
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens are officially Lamar Jackson's team now.

Head coach John Harbaugh left no doubt, declaring Jackson will be the starter rather than a healthy Joe Flacco when the Ravens host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at M&T Bank Stadium Dec. 16.

Flacco, who has never been a healthy backup during his 11-year career, said he was "disappointed" with the demotion to the No. 2 spot on the depth chart, which comes as he is finally ready to be fully involved in practice this week after missing the past four games with a hip injury.

But in his first public comments since his injury, Flacco also spoke with a tone of inevitability, noting that when the Ravens traded back into the first round to draft Jackson this spring, a passing of the torch was going to happen sooner or later.

"It's out of my hands," Flacco said. "I got hurt. They drafted Lamar in the first round. At some point, something was going to happen between the two of us. Who knows what that was going to be? And this is just what it is at this point. 

"I've obviously had five weeks to think about it and prepare myself for this situation, and the possibility of it," Flacco continued. "And yeah, I'm disappointed, that … I can't be in that locker room in the same capacity that I've always been. But this is my situation right now, and I'm going to do my best to handle it the right way."

Harbaugh has been coy about the quarterback situation during the past month while Flacco was injured, but he opened his media session before practice Dec. 12 by declaring, "The starting quarterback will be Lamar. Joe will be the No. 2 quarterback, and Robert Griffin will be the backup to those two guys."

"Every decision is based on what makes us the strongest possible team we can be," Harbaugh said, "whether that's quarterback or defensive line or whatever. That's the bottom line. That's what it boils down to."

Still, there was the undeniable feeling that a changing of the guard was taking place in this organization. 

Even Flacco, the former Super Bowl MVP, acknowledged that when Harbaugh called him upstairs to discuss the change, it didn't come as a surprise.

"I don't know if it was the hardest conversation," Flacco said, "because I think in both of our minds we probably knew that the talk was coming at some point."

With Flacco sidelined by a hip injury sustained against the Pittsburgh Steelers Nov. 4, Jackson led the Ravens to three straight wins and revived their playoff hopes. Despite an overtime loss at Kansas City Dec. 9, the Ravens (7-6) remain in playoff position and are just a half-game out of the AFC North lead. 

Jackson's dual threats as a runner and passer have led the Ravens to revamp their offense with much success during the past month. They have heavily emphasized the run with Jackson and rookie back Gus Edwards, chewing up yardage on the ground, controlling the clock, keeping the opposing offense on the sideline and keeping the Ravens defense fresh.

Jackson is the Ravens leading rusher this year with 475 yards, and it's clear the Ravens want to keep this formula going. Jackson left the Chiefs game in the final minute with an ankle injury, but he said before practice Dec. 12 that he is "100 percent."

Jackson has completed 59 of 101 passes for 687 yards, with four touchdowns and three interceptions and a passer rating of 79.9. 

Jackson said his approach doesn't change at all now that he is the declared starter and said he will continue to tap into Flacco's wisdom as an 11-year veteran.

Asked whether he viewed the Ravens as his team now that he is the starter, Jackson said, "It's our team. All of us together. This is our team. I don't go out there and block. I don't go out there and catch the ball. I don't make tackles. I just do my part."

Flacco praised the play of Jackson over the past month, saying, "He's done a great job. I'm really happy for what he's been able to go out there and do."

Flacco has been the Ravens' starting quarterback when healthy ever since they drafted him in the first round in 2008. He has played in 163 regular-season games -- sixth-most in Ravens history -- and started every one of them. He missed six games in 2015 while on injured reserve with a torn ACL, and has been a game day inactive the past four games. 

This year, Flacco led the Ravens to a 3-1 start that included a win at Pittsburgh, but he struggled during a three-game losing streak that ended with the loss to the Steelers. This season, Flacco has completed 232 of 379 passes for 2,465 yards and 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. His passer rating of 84.2 ranks 28th.

Although now the backup, Flacco, 33, could certainly have his number called once again; Jackson's running style makes him more vulnerable to injury, and Flacco's superior passing ability makes him an option should the Ravens need to play catch-up in a hurry or want to emphasize their passing attack.

"Everything is on the table," Harbaugh said. "We're going to gameplan our best game plan, and put our best football on the field."

But for now, the Ravens former Super Bowl MVP and highest-salaried player is a backup. 

"It's obviously going to take some getting used to," Flacco said. "Like I said, you gotta be a professional about it. It's out of my hands. I just have to go out there and prepare and be ready to go."

NOTEBOOK

SIRAGUSA CLAIMED BY PACKERS: The Green Bay Packers have signed offensive lineman Nico Siragusa off the Ravens practice squad. Siragusa, a fourth-round pick last season, never made the Ravens' 53-man roster after suffering a major knee injury in training camp as a rookie. 

To fill the practice squad spot, the Ravens signed offensive tackle Jake Rodgers, a seventh-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2015. Rodgers has bounced around on several practice squads over the past two years and was with the Pittsburgh Steelers in training camp. 

Follow Bo on Twitter @bsmolka    

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox