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.”
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.