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Mallett to make first Ravens start against Pittsburgh

Posted on 27 December 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 11:35 a.m.)

BALTIMORE — A new wrinkle will be added to an already-bizarre season for the Ravens on Sunday.

Ryan Mallett will become the fourth quarterback to start a game for Baltimore in 2015 as the Pittsburgh Steelers come to M&T Bank Stadium for a Week 16 tilt. The Ravens have never started more than three quarterbacks in the same season in the 20-year history of the franchise.

The news was originally reported by NFL Network early Sunday morning.

Despite being signed less than two weeks ago, Mallett has been praised for his effort in learning the offense. Head coach John Harbaugh was noncommittal about who his starting quarterback would be earlier in the week, but offensive coordinator Marc Trestman made it clear Thursday that the former Houston Texans quarterback had learned enough of the offense to be ready to play if called upon.

Matt Schaub and Jimmy Clausen have started two games apiece since franchise quarterback Joe Flacco suffered a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 22. After working him out earlier in the month, the 4-10 Ravens signed Mallett to a contract through the 2016 season, making it preferable to take a look at him in live-game action before going into an offseason in which Flacco will be rehabbing his surgically-repaired left knee and isn’t expected to be ready before training camp.

“He has had enough reps that if John decides to play him, and we decide to go that way, we feel he could manage the game,” Trestman said. “The most significant part of the week has been the way the three of them have handled the situation and worked together to try to optimize the understanding of our game plan and getting it accomplished.”

Jettisoned from Houston for missing a team flight in late October after concerns already existed about his maturity and committment, Mallett would be making his seventh career start and has thrown five touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 53.1 percent of his passes. He was originally a third-round pick of the New England Patriots in 2011 and served as a backup to Tom Brady for his first three seasons before being traded to the Texans prior to the 2014 season.

Mallett, 27, was already familiar with Ravens wide receiver Kamar Aiken, who spent parts of two seasons with the Patriots.

“I’ve been catching balls with him when I was in New England, so I’m pretty comfortable with him and everybody else,” Aiken said on Wednesday. “He’s a really talented guy. He has to get the offense. I guess whoever’s out there is out there.”

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Groundhog Day continues for Ravens at quarterback

Posted on 22 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If you listened closely, you can almost hear the strains of “I Got You Babe” in the background as Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked about his starting quarterback for Week 16.

Groundhog Day continues for the Ravens as Harbaugh wouldn’t even commit to veteran Matt Schaub being his starter if healthy enough to play, a departure from the last two weeks that were already filled with uncertainty. With the 34-year-old dealing with a chest injury, Jimmy Clausen has started each of the last two games for Baltimore.

Who will be under center for the 4-10 Ravens against Pittsburgh on Sunday is anyone’s guess.

“I just don’t want to put any parameters on it right now,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a unique situation right now that we’re in, obviously. It’s different than normal. We’ll see how it plays out. We’re probably not going to say anything. We’ll see who the guy is. I don’t know who the guy is going to be right now at this stage, so we’ll see.”

As if there wasn’t enough discussion about whether Schaub or Clausen would start the previous two weeks, the recently-signed Ryan Mallett figures to now enter the discussion over these final two games of 2015. Signed through next season on a contract that doesn’t include any guaranteed money, the troubled Mallett is an obvious candidate to be a healthy Joe Flacco’s backup in 2016.

In addition to finding out if the 27-year-old has learned from the mistakes that led to his dismissal in Houston, the Ravens would probably like to see Mallett play before the season concludes if he’s up to speed with the offense to a reasonable degree.

“We’ll see how that goes. He has done a good job,” Harbaugh said. “He has been here since Tuesday, so he has done a good job. He has been here practically 24-7 learning the offense. We’ll see where it goes this week. Obviously, the clock is ticking. If we want to see him this year, we’re going to have to put him out [there] pretty quick, but that’s a matter of whether he’s ready to play. We also want to do justice to our chances to win the game, too.”

Given the lack of a supporting cast on offense, none of their three options at quarterback would appear to give the Ravens a good chance to beat either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati. But at the very least, Clausen’s performance should propel him into the conversation for the backup job next season, especially considering he’s spent just a month with the organization. In two games with the Ravens against quality defenses, Clausen has completed 57.6 percent of his pass attempts for 555 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions.

A solid backup quarterback should give a team a chance to win a couple games in the short term if he has a good supporting cast around him. Of course, it’s only been two games, but Clausen has played well enough to make you think he could do that if the Ravens weren’t already so depleted on offense.

With Flacco expected to be sidelined until training camp — and not guaranteed to be ready for those first practices in late July — the Ravens would be wise to have two viable backup options for the spring and summer. Why not allow Clausen and Mallett to battle it out for the backup job in the preseason?

Many have already anointed Mallett the backup for 2016 without knowing whether he’s learned his lesson and is finally committed to putting his talents to good use and realizing his potential. With Mallett’s contract guaranteeing nothing but a chance, Clausen should also be re-signed if he doesn’t receive a more attractive opportunity elsewhere.

But given the lack of starting quarterbacks around the league, let alone backups, other quarterback-needy teams may come calling with an opportunity to potentially compete for a starting job, something that wouldn’t happen in Baltimore.

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Loss in Miami reminds Ravens just how much Flacco missed

Posted on 06 December 2015 by Luke Jones

There isn’t much worth remembering when looking back at the Ravens’ 15-13 loss to Miami on Sunday.

Rookie wide receiver Daniel Brown fell victim to one of the worst offensive pass interference calls you’ll ever see, but that was barely a drop in an ocean of poor officiating around the NFL in 2015. It’s a problem the league desperately needs to address in the offseason if it cares about maintaining any semblance of integrity with players, coaches, and fans.

But even after the baffling call that wiped out a 52-yard touchdown pass, the Ravens still had 50 minutes to overcome the misfortune that occurred when the game was still scoreless in the first quarter.

On the positive side, rookie Buck Allen continues to look like he’s more than capable of being a No. 1 running back after collecting 170 total yards and 12 receptions, one shy of the franchise’s single-game record for catches. The 2015 fourth-round pick has become the Ravens’ best offensive option — which admittedly isn’t saying much with the current group of weapons — and is doing everything he can to spark an interesting discussion about the future of veteran Justin Forsett in the offseason.

Beyond that, Sunday’s slop-fest between two bad teams only brought a reminder of just how much the Ravens and their fans should appreciate Joe Flacco when he returns to the field next season. As lousy as Miami’s fourth-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill was for the better part of 60 minutes, his turnover-free performance was preferable to the 30 seconds from hell turned in by Matt Schaub late in the first half that turned out to be the difference in the game.

Two interceptions — one serving as a catalyst for a 38-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker and the other returned for a touchdown — and 15 points, which were all the Dolphins needed against an undermanned Baltimore offense. Those turnovers overshadowed what was a strong performance by a Ravens defense that has steadily improved against a pedestrian group of opponents over the last month.

Sunday brought final confirmation that the concerns expressed by “amateur evaluators” about Schaub throughout training camp were more than fair. The longtime Houston Texans quarterback just can’t shake the nightmare that began in his final season as a starter in 2013.

The Ravens simply cannot expect to win with the 34-year-old quarterback at the helm. And how could he do it with such a depleted group of weapons around him? His wide receivers on Sunday would be no better than No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 options at best on most teams, and starting tight end Crockett Gillmore became the latest offensive weapon to go down when he left the game with a back injury.

Last week’s win in Cleveland came thanks to two special-teams touchdowns that made up for an interception returned for a touchdown and another ugly pick thrown in the final minute. On Sunday, there was no hiding Schaub’s inability to protect the football.

The Ravens may not have been winning much with Flacco in 2015 — he admittedly wasn’t playing his best football — but the last two weeks have offered a reminder to anyone ever trying to undersell just how important the eighth-year quarterback is to Baltimore’s success. Regardless of where he ranks among NFL quarterbacks, Flacco has proven that he can win you a championship with a good group of weapons around him.

That’s more that you can say about Schaub or Tannehill after watching both quarterbacks flounder on Sunday.

There isn’t much else to say about the 4-8 Ravens, who have now clinched just the second non-winning season of the John Harbaugh era. Another week and another game decided by a single score, but we again watched a team not good enough to overcome back-breaking turnovers, untimely penalties, poor officiating, and a plethora of injuries that have decimated the roster.

You can pick apart the minutia of another loss as much as you’d like, but nothing else really matters when you don’t have a quarterback.

Fortunately, it’s only temporary pain for the Ravens, but it’s a reminder of where this franchise stood for years when it squandered a number of championship-caliber defenses as the likes of Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright tried to play quarterback before Flacco finally came along in 2008.

It’s unlikely to be a fun final quarter of the season with the Ravens facing four teams with winning records and firmly in the race for postseason spots.

So, as you brace yourself and try to take consolation in knowing that losses like Sunday’s only improve their 2016 draft position, just remind yourself how good the Ravens have had it for so long with Flacco at the helm.

And try to erase the memory of Schaub’s ugly interceptions as much as you can.

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Matching records aside, Ravens quite different from Miami

Posted on 03 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Matching 4-7 records reflect that the Ravens and the Miami Dolphins have failed to live up to expectations as AFC playoff contenders this season.

But as the tough-luck Ravens have set an NFL record with their first 11 games each being decided by one possession, the Dolphins have experienced more embarrassment as six of their seven losses have come by 10 or more points and four have come by 16 or more. Only three of Miami’s 11 games have been decided by one possession, making the Dolphins the anti-Ravens in some regards.

Aside from their first two games under interim coach Dan Campbell — blowout wins over Tennesee and Houston in October — the Dolphins have rarely even been all that competitive, leading you to wonder about the future of an organization that hasn’t made the postseason since 2008. It’s one thing to lose big at New England on a Thursday night, but this is a Miami team that lost a home game to Buffalo by 27 points in late September.

You can doubt their talent, discipline, or football IQ, but the Ravens have rarely made you question their effort in a string of heartbreaking losses in 2015. Though not a good football team, Baltimore has shown up to play hard every week, which reflects a locker room not giving up on head coach John Harbaugh and the coaching staff.

The final score of the Dolphins’ 38-20 defeat to the New York Jets this past Sunday doesn’t fully illustrate how poor and listless the performance was that led to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor being fired on Monday, almost two months after head coach Joe Philbin was dismissed. Needless to say, 2015 has been a lost season for Miami like it’s been for the Ravens in this pass-fail business.

So, what exactly has gone wrong for a Miami team that ranks 27th in total offense and 28th in total defense?

We know that the Ravens’ well-documented injuries are a major factor — not the only one, but still a significant one — in one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history as 18 players currently reside on injured reserve or the physically unable to perform list. That group includes their Super Bowl XLVII MVP quarterback, their No. 1 receiver, their starting running back, the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year and six-time Pro Bowl linebacker, their starting center, and a former starting tight end.

But Miami has only two players on IR this season, though it’s important to note that one is four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake. For a team with attractive pieces on both sides of the football, that level of health should typically put you in position to make a push for the postseason.

Instead, the Dolphins have floundered for most of the season due to poor coaching or a poor response to coaching — mostly likely both.

Miami has more talent than these current injury-ravaged Ravens and may show up to beat a team that’s led by veteran backup quarterback Matt Schaub on Sunday. But the Dolphins are just as likely to go through the motions and lose by double digits like they have too often in 2015.

Their records are the same and that’s all that matters in the end.

But only one team is deserving of respect.

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 29 November 2015 by Luke Jones

What do two bad teams with headaches at the quarterback position need more than anything?

A national audience for Monday Night Football?

Much to the chagrin of ESPN and NFL executives, the Matt Schaub era begins Monday night with the 3-7 Ravens traveling to Cleveland to take on the 2-8 Browns. It’s never a good thing when a primetime game holds far more draft implications than influences on the playoff race, but head coach John Harbaugh will try to navigate his team to a win in his first-ever regular-season game without Joe Flacco under center.

Of course, Flacco is just one of many injuries that have gutted a team that entered the 2015 season with Super Bowl aspirations. Now, it remains to be seen whether the Ravens will even win another game over their final six weeks.

Meanwhile, the Browns are rested coming off their bye week, but controversy surrounds their football team with the latest off-field concerns leading to second-year quarterback Johnny Manziel being benched.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Cleveland meet for the 34th time in their regular-season history and the Browns look for their first regular-season sweep of Baltimore since 2007. The Ravens hold a 24-9 advantage in the all-time series and are 11-5 playing in Cleveland.

Here’s what to expect as Baltimore tries to win its second road game of the season …

1. Buck Allen will surpass 135 total yards in his first NFL start. The rookie is the most compelling Ravens player to watch for the remainder of the season, and he’ll be facing the NFL’s 32nd-ranked run defense. Of course, Baltimore is far from 100 percent along its offensive line, and the Browns are likely to use eight men in the box to try to take away the run and force Schaub to make plays through the air. This will keep Allen from piling up huge numbers on the ground, but he’ll be a favorite receiver out of the backfield for his 34-year quarterback making his first start in almost two years.

2. Paul Kruger and Armonty Bryant will combine for three sacks against a battered Baltimore offensive line. As if life wasn’t difficult enough for Schaub without Steve Smith and Justin Forsett, Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele are doubtful to play and James Hurst and Ryan Jensen will be entrusted to protect his blindside. This spells trouble for someone who is already going to be readjusting his live-game clock after minimal playing time over the last two years. For all of the justified complaints about Monroe’s durability, Hurst is a major liability and Flacco paid the price for it last week.

3. Gary Barnidge and Crockett Gillmore will each catch touchdowns for their respective teams. The Browns tight end had eight catches for 139 yards and a touchdown in Cleveland’s Week 5 win over the Ravens and will follow that with another strong performance on Monday. Meanwhile, Gillmore will make the Browns pay for using a strong safety in the box by beating man coverage for a red-zone touchdown. Considering Schaub doesn’t have a particularly strong arm and his receivers have little experience, Gillmore will now become an even bigger part of what the Ravens do through the air.

4. Brent Urban will bat down a pass and collect a tackle in his NFL debut. Not even the Ravens know exactly what to expect from Urban, who has yet to play as much as a preseason game snap in his two years in the NFL. But this is the time for the organization to start to find out about the 2014 fourth-round pick. At 6-foot-7 and 295 pounds, Urban should be an intriguing inside rusher in passing situations and will provide another option at the 5-technique defensive end spot. The Ravens thought enough of Urban to use the designation to return, so it will be interesting to finally watch him play.

5. Josh McCown will outplay Schaub in a listless 20-16 win for Cleveland. Neither of these teams are any good, but you generally side with the team who has the better quarterback and the Ravens likely would have preferred Manziel to start instead of McCown, who threw for over 450 yards in the Week 5 game at M&T Bank Stadium. Unless the Schaub from circa 2010 shows up — not the guy who has struggled mightily since 2013 — the Ravens just aren’t going to be a great bet to beat anyone for the rest of the season. There’s always a very real chance that the Browns self-destruct at a critical point in the game, but the Ravens have been just as guilty of doing that in this nightmare season.

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Future now all that matters for 2015 Ravens

Posted on 28 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are facing the Cleveland Browns in arguably the most irrelevant nationally-televised game in franchise history.

Perhaps ESPN Monday Night Football broadcaster Mike Tirico said it best last week when he asked analyst Jon Gruden if he loved football and followed that by saying, “We’ll test you and see how much all of you love it out there.”

Not only are these AFC North foes playing out the string with their playoff hopes having already been dashed weeks ago, but the Ravens will be competing in their first-ever contest without any of Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, or Joe Flacco, who are arguably the five most significant players in their 20 years in Baltimore.

But ask head coach John Harbaugh if he cares about the outside perception of his injury-depleted team and of Monday night’s game between two of the worst teams in the AFC.

“We want to go win a football game. It’s a fight out there,” Harbaugh said on Saturday. “We’re not sitting there saying, ‘Oh, I wonder what everybody thinks about me.’ I’m not worried about [that]. We’re not in seventh grade here. ‘I wonder what they think of me. What are they texting about us? What does Snapchat say?’

“We don’t care what they think. We’re going to go out there and be our best, do our best and try to accomplish everything we can accomplish.”

It’s the right attitude for the Ravens to have as there’s no such thing as tanking the remainder of the season with a slew of players — and, frankly, several coaches — fighting for jobs in 2016 and beyond. But when your current starting offense — aside from four-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda — more closely resembles one for a fourth preseason game, there’s no hiding from the truth.

Wins and losses do not matter as it relates to the context of the 2015 season. The end result only affects where the Ravens might pick in next April’s draft as the organization is in desperate need of impact talent. In that way, they’re better off losing as many of their final six games as possible.

And if we’re being honest, the Ravens aren’t equipped to win with what remains of the original 2015 roster — no matter how hard they try. The loss of Flacco was the final straw in that regard.

That’s why it’s important for the organization to get an extended look at younger players the rest of the way. The list is headlined by rookie running back Buck Allen, who will be making his first NFL start after veteran Justin Forsett suffered a season-ending arm injury last week.

“We’re excited to put the ball in Buck’s hands and see what he can do and give our other guys an opportunity to play, and that’s the nature of our league,” offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said. “The next guy has to be ready to help us. It can happen during the course of the game — which it did — and it happens week to week. That’s an expectation that we have that they’ll play well for us.”

Regardless of how many games they win or lose the rest of the way, the Ravens would love to see Allen look the part of a starting running back for the future after selecting him in the fourth round this past spring. Learning more about other little-used players such as safety Terrence Brooks, defensive end Brent Urban, and the forgotten 2013 second-round linebacker Arthur Brown could go a long way in trying to revamp the roster in the offseason in hopes of once again being a playoff contender next season.

Harbaugh won’t say it publicly, but identifying pieces for the future and making decisions about dead weight on the roster must be the top priority. Other than determining whether he can play at a level warranting a return to back up Flacco next season, it’s just not compelling to see how Matt Schaub — or any number of other known commodities — will fare against the Browns in front of a national audience.

It’s an unfamiliar place in which the Ravens find themselves, but all eyes need to be on the future for the final six games of a nightmare season. They’ll show up and play to the best of their ability, but these Ravens are firmly in evaluation mode.

Any other thinking would be shortsighted.

“Everything you do you have to be thinking about the short term and the long term, so we try to do both,” Harbaugh said earlier this week. “Definitely from a coaching perspective, your focus is most certainly on the short term — and your players and your coaches — and getting ready for the next game. But there is an awareness of the long term, for sure.”

The long term is the only intrigue remaining in a lost season that — unfortunately — will be on display for the football world to see on Monday night.

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Clausen claimed by Ravens to back up Schaub at quarterback

Posted on 24 November 2015 by Luke Jones

Needing a backup quarterback for new starter Matt Schaub, the Ravens were awarded veteran Jimmy Clausen off waivers from the Chicago Bears on Tuesday.

The injured Joe Flacco (knee) was officially placed on injured reserve to make room on the 53-man roster for the 28-year-old Clausen, who now reunites with former Chicago head coach and current Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. The 2010 second-round pick from Notre Dame had spent the last two seasons with the Bears after beginning his career with the Carolina Panthers.

Trying to add a No. 2 quarterback on short notice, the Ravens preferred someone with knowledge of Trestman’s offensive system, which would accelerate the learning curve with only several days to get ready for Monday night’s game in Cleveland.

“I think that would be a plus if we had that guy available,” said head coach John Harbaugh about the search for a new backup quarterback on Monday. “Someone who has some experience would be a plus.”

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Clausen has played in 19 games (12 starts) in his six-year career with most of that coming in his rookie season with Carolina. He has completed 53.2 percent of his passes for 1,965 yards, five touchdowns, and 11 interceptions in his career.

On Monday, Schaub will become the first player other than Flacco to start at quarterback for the Ravens in a regular-season game since Troy Smith on Dec. 30, 2007. Counting the postseason, Flacco had started 137 consecutive games for the Ravens.

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Cleveland benches Manziel ahead of Monday’s game with Ravens

Posted on 24 November 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens won’t be the only team with a different starting quarterback for Monday’s game in Cleveland.

After videos and photos surfaced of Johnny Manziel partying over his bye week, the Browns announced Tuesday that veteran Josh McCown would start against the Ravens in a prime-time game featuring two of the worst teams in the AFC. A 2014 first-round pick and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, Manziel had recently been filling in for an injured McCown, who began the season as the Cleveland starter.

Browns head coach Mike Pettine had only announced last week that the 22-year-old would start the final six games in an effort to evaluate whether he could be the starting quarterback moving forward, but Manziel now becomes the team’s No. 3 quarterback behind McCown and Austin Davis.

The Ravens would have likely preferred to face the inexperienced Manziel on Monday night after McCown threw for a whopping 457 yards and two touchdowns in Baltimore in Week 5. The Browns won 33-30 in overtime to win their first game at M&T Bank Stadium since 2007.

Of course, the Ravens now have quarterback problems of their own after losing eighth-year starter and Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco to a season-ending knee injury in Sunday’s win over St. Louis. Veteran Matt Schaub will make his first start since the 2013 season on Monday night after serving as Flacco’s backup for the first 10 games of 2015.

On Tuesday, Baltimore claimed former Chicago quarterback Jimmy Clausen off waivers to back up Schaub.

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Ravens indicate Flacco could be ready for start of training camp

Posted on 23 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, MD. — A magnetic resonance imaging exam confirmed Joe Flacco suffered two torn ligaments in his left knee in Sunday’s game, but the Ravens remain hopeful that their franchise quarterback will be ready for the start of next year’s training camp.

Head coach John Harbaugh said Monday that surgery to repair the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments won’t take place until after the swelling subsides in Flacco’s knee over the next week or two. However, the early prognosis suggests the Ravens won’t need to drastically alter their plans for the quarterback position in 2016.

“It’s probably way early and, obviously, speculative,” Harbaugh said. “But my indications that I’ve been given would be that he would be back for the start of training camp and that it wouldn’t be an issue. However, as we well know, those are always things that get determined based on how the rehab goes.”

Conventional projections suggest a recovery period of nine to 12 months for tears to the ACL and MCL, but some athletes have made it back sooner depending on a variety of factors including how rigorously they rehab. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer suffered a torn ACL on Nov. 9, 2014 and was fully cleared to participate in the Cardinals’ minicamp this past June, a recovery that took only seven months. Palmer knew what to expect after suffering the second ACL tear of his career, but he is also five years older than Flacco, who said Sunday that he’d never suffered more than a MCL sprain before.

Though his mobility and speed are underrated, Flacco isn’t a quarterback who has relied heavily on his legs as he ran the ball just 13 times in 10 games this season. The rehabilitation process isn’t quite as challenging for a quarterback compared to a skill position player like a wide receiver or cornerback who depends on constant changes in direction and quick lateral movement.

“Joe can run and he’s athletic, but if there is some drop-off, that’s not the main thing for the quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “He’s certainly going to have plenty enough athleticism, even if there is some drop-off there. The way technology is, guys bounce back from these things really well and I have every expectation that he’ll bounce back 100 percent and be stronger than ever and be ready to roll next year and be in great shape like he always is. That’s a long way away, but right now, there’s no reason to think he won’t come back better than ever.”

While the Ravens look forward to having Flacco return next season, they will now face the reality of playing a regular-season game without him for the first time since Dec. 30, 2007 when he was still a senior at the University of Delaware. His streak of 137 consecutive starts (counting playoff games) will officially come to an end Monday night when veteran Matt Schaub starts against Cleveland.

For his head coach and most of his teammates, it will be uncharted territory not having Flacco under center. The 34-year-old Schaub, a two-time Pro Bowl selection with Houston, will become only the second starting quarterback of the Harbaugh era.

It won’t be an easy chore for a 3-7 team that was already highly unlikely to move back into the playoff race, but the Ravens will still try to push through their biggest injury to date.

“I don’t know how many coaches have had that kind of a run with their quarterbacks,” Harbaugh said. “It’s definitely been a great blessing and something I’ve been very grateful for over the years — all of us here. Not just the [head] coach but all the coaches and all the players and the organization have had that remarkable run with a quarterback that just has really stayed healthy. He’s been an iron man.

“This will be a change for all of us and something that will be a big challenge for us. It’s a challenge I wouldn’t say we’re looking forward to — we’d rather it not be the case — but we’re not going to shy away from it.”

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Ravens couldn’t be further from “paradise” right now

Posted on 22 November 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Upon being inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime on Sunday, former Ravens safety Ed Reed ended his brief speech by belting out the refrain from “Two Tickets to Paradise,” conjuring memories from the franchise’s victory in Super Bowl XLVII.

The Ravens couldn’t be further from that paradise almost 34 months later after losing Joe Flacco — the MVP 0n that memorable night in New Orleans — to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on the final drive of the 16-13 win over St. Louis. Of course, Baltimore’s 2015 playoff hopes were all but officially gone long before Flacco and 2014 Pro Bowl running back Justin Forsett suffered season-ending injuries on Sunday, but losing your franchise quarterback to a serious injury rocks an organization from top to bottom.

The season from hell continues.

“I’m probably still in shock a little bit,” said Flacco, who started the Ravens’ last 137 games counting the playoffs and will now miss the first action of his eight-year career. “You play football and you play as long as I have and you play as hard as we do out there, then stuff like this happens. You have to just stand tall and be tough about it.

“That’s all you can do.”

At 3-7 and now preparing for the final six games with veteran backup Matt Schaub at the helm, the Ravens will play out the string with eyes pointing squarely toward the future and an unsettling offseason. In addition to improving a roster lacking game-changing talent on both sides of the ball, general manager Ozzie Newsome will need to renegotiate Flacco’s contract that carries a $28.55 million salary cap figure in 2016 while not knowing for sure if the veteran signal-caller will be ready for the start of next season.

Until Flacco is healthy and back under center, the Ravens won’t be able to help but feel there’s a black cloud hanging over their heads.

In the meantime, the Ravens and their fans will receive a glimpse of life without their franchise quarterback. Troy Smith was the last quarterback not named Flacco to start a regular-season game for the Ravens when Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden was playing in his final game and Brian Billick was coaching his last contest on Dec. 30, 2007.

Jettisoned by Houston and Oakland in the last two years, Schaub will now be asked to compete without the Ravens’ top two receivers (Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman), top two running backs (Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro), and starting center (Jeremy Zuttah) entering training camp. Frankly, it’s a near-impossible situation for a 34-year-old many feared had already reached the end of the road as an NFL quarterback before signing a one-year deal to back up the durable Flacco.

The Ravens may be fortunate to win another game the rest of the way, which would at least help their position in the 2016 draft after the most disappointing season in franchise history. From that perspective, the ugly win over the Rams on Sunday felt more like a loss, especially after learning of Flacco’s injury minutes after Justin Tucker’s game-winning 47-yard field goal.

Anyone watching the Ravens play in 2015 knows the problems run deeper than a slew of injuries to impact players such as six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, tight end Dennis Pitta, Smith, and now Flacco and Forsett, but it’s difficult to recall too many NFL teams suffering such a number of injuries to high-impact players in recent memory. At least an already-poor record numbs the disappointment of losing Flacco compared to if the Ravens had been 7-3 and just seen their Super Bowl aspirations crushed on Sunday like Arizona experienced losing Carson Palmer to a torn ACL last November.

But you still can’t help but feel like the Ravens are snakebitten.

“I guess when it rains it pours,” outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. “We’ve been dealing with it all year, from Suggs to Steve. It’s tough. … Nobody feels sorry for us. We’ve got to make sure we come out and prepare hard.”

What’s next?

Many wondered how the Ravens would respond to last week’s gut-wrenching loss to Jacksonville and if they would continue to compete in the way they have all season with one-possession outcomes in every game. Baltimore flirted with the wheels completely falling off the cart for much of Sunday’s game with more than 100 yards in penalties in the first half and scoring just three points through three quarters.

Receiving plenty of help from the sloppy Rams, the Ravens managed to pull out their third victory of the season by making fewer mistakes than their opponent in the end. But without Flacco — or Forsett — for the rest of the season on top of their many other injuries, when will enough finally become enough physically, mentally, and emotionally?

“It’s tremendously disappointing for those [injured] guys,” said John Harbaugh, who will coach his first game without Flacco under center next Monday night in Cleveland. “We’ll be fine as a football team. We’ll bounce back — that’s what you do. Matt Schaub can play quarterback, and he’s going to come in [and] he’s going to play very well.”

If only it were that simple, but what else can the Ravens coach really say at this point?

The Ravens were reminded on Sunday that it wasn’t that long ago that they reached paradise in raising the second Vince Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.

But less than three years later, that memory feels a universe away.

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