- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2018

The end of the Joe Flacco era is in sight for the Baltimore Ravens.

After three straight seasons of being one of the league’s worst offensive teams — a span that coincided with missing the playoffs each year — Baltimore traded up and drafted quarterback Lamar Jackson at the end of the first round in this year’s draft. The Heisman winner will be the team’s eventual successor at quarterback, considering Flacco is 33 years old.

But does “eventual” mean this season? Flacco, who’s entering his 11th season and whose contract expires in 2022, will be the starter when the Ravens‘ season opens next Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, and the veteran was never in danger of losing his job during camp.

Still, the Ravens are at a crossroads — and the franchise expects to get into the playoffs. If Flacco doesn’t perform again, that would open the door for Jackson.

“I think we’re going to win and we’re not going to hear about it,” Flacco said in July when asked if consistent questions about his backup quarterback would become “annoying.”

For that to happen, Flacco will need to be better than he was last season — in which he threw for 3,141 yards for 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He ranked dead-last in passing yards per attempt (5.72) and the Ravens ranked 29th in passing yards per game.

There are reasons, though, to believe the Ravens offense will substantially improve in 2018. For one, they revamped their entire receiving core — signing wideouts Willie Snead, John Brown and Michael Crabtree, while drafting tight end Hayden Hurst in the first round.

Perhaps more importantly, Flacco has been healthy after he missed all of last year’s training camp with a back injury. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said the quarterback was “moving and grooving,” and was having his best camp in years.

That would be good news for Baltimore, who still stands to have an elite defense. The Ravens had the third-most efficient defense in the NFL last season, and the team returns a large chunk of its core.

Flacco, too, isn’t the only member of the Ravens under the pressure to perform. In February, owner Steve Bisciotti admitted he weighed firing coach John Harbaugh after his team missed the playoffs for the third straight year.

While Bisciotti did not mandate a “playoffs-or-else” year from Harbaugh for 2018, he did emphasize the importance of winning after the Ravens‘ attendance fell last season.

“The no-shows are a way of telling us that our fans aren’t pleased,” Bisciotti said.

After all, it has been five years since the Ravens won the Super Bowl.

Harbaugh knows what’s at stake.

“We want our season to start in the playoffs, and we have to earn that right, which we haven’t done the last three years, and we’re not happy about it,” Harbaugh said. “But that’s on us. It’s our job to get that done. We have to be a better football team and all the things that go with that, so that’s what we’re working for right now.”

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