Ravens regular-season moment No. 24: New hope

May 06, 2020 | Luke Jones

Check out the No. 25 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Quarterback had mostly been a wasteland in the 12-year history of the Ravens.

Vinny Testaverde (1996) and Steve McNair (2006) were single-season bright spots and Trent Dilfer admirably managed a run-heavy offense as a historic defense carried the 2000 Ravens to a Super Bowl championship, but the quarterback position had been littered with accomplished veterans well past their prime, failed draft picks, and overwhelmed journeymen. Fifteen different quarterbacks had started games for Baltimore from 1996-2007 and just three had started all 16 games in a season while some top-shelf defenses led by future Hall of Fame players were largely wasted.

The inability to develop 2003 first-round pick Kyle Boller eventually cost Super Bowl XXXV winner Brian Billick his job after the 2007 campaign as John Harbaugh, brother of ex-Ravens quarterback Jim Harbaugh, became the third head coach in franchise history. Three months later, the Ravens unsuccessfully attempted to trade up for Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan and settled for Joe Flacco of FCS-level Delaware — who had carved up Navy for 434 yards and four touchdowns the previous October to land on the local radar — with the 18th overall pick of the 2008 draft.

The organization was excited about the strong-armed, 6-foot-6 quarterback’s potential, but there were few serious thoughts of Flacco being the Week 1 starter as Boller and 2017 fifth-round pick Troy Smith entered training camp as the more likely candidates to win the starting job. Flacco’s preseason debut was a disaster as he went 0-for-3 and lost a fumble in fourth-quarter action in New England, strengthening the perception that he wasn’t yet ready to be the starter.

But circumstances would change very quickly.

Boller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury the next week while a serious tonsil infection hospitalized Smith and kept him sidelined for weeks. Flacco became the emergency starter in the third preseason game at St. Louis, finishing an underwhelming 18-for-37 for 152 yards and a touchdown. The 23-year-old had shown some improvement over the final three preseason games, but he still didn’t look ready for the starting gig as expectations for a team coming off a 5-11 season sank even lower.

Exactly a month after that ugly preseason opener, Flacco made his first NFL start as the Ravens began the 2008 season against Cincinnati at M&T Bank Stadium. His arm wasn’t much of a factor as he went 15-for-29 for just 129 yards, but his legs provided the highlight play of the game in the midst of a 229-yard running output by Baltimore that included a 42-yard score from Mark Clayton and a surprising 86-yard performance by fullback Le’Ron McClain.

With the Bengals showing a blitz up the middle late in the third quarter and the Ravens leading 10-3, Flacco called an audible to a bootleg and galloped 38 yards for the touchdown as the crowd roared and chanted, “Let’s go, Flacco!” It was a refreshing expression of hope after years of disappointment and frustration at the quarterback position that occasionally turned nasty and embarrassing.

“I kind of thought I heard [the chant], but I wasn’t really sure. I thought, ‘Why would they be doing that?,'” said Flacco as he laughed after the 17-10 win. “Hey, if I can keep them on my side like that, it will be a good time.”

That optimism would be rewarded as the surprising Ravens went 11-5 and the rookie signal-caller was unspectacular but steady enough, a standard so many of his predecessors had failed to meet. Baltimore would win two road playoff games and advance to the AFC Championship to begin a franchise-record run of five straight trips to the playoff, three conference championship appearances, and a win in Super Bowl XLVII that capped one of the greatest individual playoff runs in NFL history by Flacco.

No one really knew what Flacco would become after that improbable touchdown run in the 2008 opener, but that day was the first of 137 consecutive regular-season and postseason starts by a single Ravens quarterback, an idea that previously felt all but impossible.