Two days later — Flacco had no business playing the 4th quarter on Sunday

September 27, 2011 | Drew Forrester

I’ll start this by reiterating something I say a lot during the NFL season.

I like John Harbaugh.  I think he’s a very good football coach.  And I’m happy we have him in Baltimore.

That opening statement hopefully clears the path for the words you’re about to read.  It’s become commonplace in our city for people to say “stop being a hater” anytime you criticize a player or a coach or an owner.  A lot of that traces back to the baseball team, with their fan base bloodied and scarred after 14 years of losing and a growing trend of intolerance towards anyone who offers a harsh word or a “reality check” about the dismal state of the franchise.

And while the football team has piled up wins and playoff victories in John Harbaugh’s 3+ year-tenure, some folks continue to be skeptical of the team’s level of success.

Not me.

I like John Harbaugh.  I think he’s a very good football coach.  And I’m glad we have him in Baltimore.

But if Joe Flacco tears his ACL or separates his shoulder or breaks a bone in his foot because he’s playing the final three minutes of a 30-3 blowout of (insert team here) in week number (insert here), I won’t be so nice to the Coach.

Sunday in St. Louis, Harbaugh again rolled the dice with the ONE player on his team that the Ravens can least afford to lose…their quarterback.  And it wasn’t a roll of the dice at the $5 table.  It’s a $50-table-kind-of-gamble when you have your quarterback running around with three minutes left and the game already in hand and 13 weeks of the season plus playoffs still in the windshield ahead of you.

That kind of gamble isn’t worth taking.

To review the scenario from Sunday’s game, Flacco started THREE offensive series’ in the 4th quarter.  He played the series that started with 11:22 remaining in the game and the Ravens ahead 30-7.  He returned to the field with 8:16 left and the Ravens still ahead 30-7.  And, finally, he was behind center with the score 37-7 and 3:10 left on the clock.  There were runs and throws and sacks and plays where Flacco was under duress during all three of those series’.  In other words, it was still “real football”.  Except for one important thing:  the game was over for all intents and purposes.

Harbaugh tried to wordsmith his way around it in Sunday’s post-game press conference in St. Louis and again on Monday in Baltimore during his weekly gathering with the media at Owings Mills.

He tried to explain his thinking.

None of it held up.

These are a few of the defense-remarks Harbaugh made on Sunday and Monday.

“Joe needs all the reps he can get with his wide receivers”, the Coach said.  (You’re correct, Coach, he does.  But that “need for reps” does not outweigh the importance of having your star quarterback upright and healthy for the last 4 months of the football season.)

“There was no sense in bringing Tyrod Taylor in there to just have him hand the ball off three times and take a knee.” (Huh? That’s not what you did with Flacco in those three series’.  You made him play real football.  You could have had Taylor do the same thing.  No one would have offered a second thought had you employed the rookie QB for a series or two – or three – and said to him, “Now kid, go in there and show us what you can do…”)

“We weren’t trying to run up the score leaving Joe in there.” (I don’t disagree with that.  The whole running up the score thing is a delicate issue to start with – although some would say challenging an apparent fumble with 4 minutes remaining and the score 37-7 could be “run up” worthy – so let’s not go there.  It wasn’t about whether or not the Ravens were trying to run up the score, it was about leaving your star quarterback in the game to run around and risk injury when the game was in control.)

“I’d like to see the stats on how many quarterbacks get hurt playing in late game situations like that.” (I looked it up, Coach.  In the history of the NFL, no quarterback standing on the sidelines with the score 37-7 has ever been injured.  As for the stat surrounding quarterbacks who WERE playing?  I’m not sure.  But how many Presidents were shot while riding in a convertible in downtown Dallas?  Oh, right…just one.)

“We can’t just sit all the starters in that situation.” (That’s correct, you can’t.  No one is saying you SHOULD do that.  What is being suggested, however, is that you have to quickly do some sort of internal ranking of the roster and say, “Well, let’s get some of the starters out of there and alleviate the injury risk and give them a bit of a breather…and I guess I should start with my most IMPORTANT player and go from there.”  That, then, would mean Joe Flacco comes out of the game, for he is, without question, the team’s most important player.  He might not be the BEST player, but he’s the most IMPORTANT, for sure.  The step down from Flacco to Tyrod Taylor would be gigantic.  Taylor’s not ready to lead an NFL team…not even close. And how do I know this?  Simple…he wasn’t even ready-enough to mop up in a 37-7 game, according to the coaching staff.)

I completely understand you can’t “coach in fear” and I’m well aware of the fact that games are never over until their over and all that jazz.  I saw the Lions come back from 20-0 down at halftime and I saw the Bills fall behind 21-0 in the first half before rebounding to win.

Being down 21-0 in the 2nd quarter and being behind 30-7 with 7 minutes left in the game are two completely different animals.  They’re not even remotely similar in comparison.

And for anyone who says, “I want to see the Ravens develop a killer’s mentality.  I want to see them step on team’s throats. Let’s pile on late in the game and put that thing away.”  Have you seen the team’s two wins this year?  They crushed the Steelers and they completely suffocated the Rams.  Both of those games were over at the 35 minute mark.  They didn’t need to do any throat-stepping in the 4th quarter…they did it in the first half.

Playing your quarterback in the final 10 minutes of a 28-point blowout of the Steelers and a 30-point romp in St. Louis has nothing at all to do with “stepping on their throat”.  It has everything to do with not having a sense for the reality of the situation.  The reality in those two instances?  Having your star quarterback in the game at those points was a gamble not worth taking.

If Joe Flacco gets injured and can’t play for 4, 6 or 10 weeks, the Ravens season gets incredibly altered.  If he gets injured in the first quarter this Sunday night, we shrug our shoulders and say, “that’s football.”  If the Ravens are ahead 27-7 with 4 minutes to play on Sunday night and Flacco gets hurt and misses time, all hell will break loose.

I like John Harbaugh.  I think he’s a very good coach.  And I’m glad we have him in Baltimore.

But part of his job as the team’s Head Coach is thinking about NEXT week’s game once THIS week’s game is under control and essentially in the books.

It’s called “protecting your assets”.

Just ask the Indianapolis Colts what happens when your starting QB goes down with an injury.

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