- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2019

BALTIMORE — If Sunday was the last day Joe Flacco would don his Baltimore Ravens helmet, he seemed to wear it ironically. He put it on and took it off on the sidelines, never entering the game, almost teasing fans who leaned forward in their seats and waited to see if he would be subbed in.

Forget the late-game comeback for a moment. Lamar Jackson gained 17 passing yards and 31 rushing in the first half. He fumbled twice in the first quarter, though Baltimore kept possession both times. He had a pass intercepted off the hands of receiver Chris Moore, who had to leap for the ball. And fans in purple were upset.

Early in the fourth quarter, before the rookie brought the team back from a 20-point deficit to challenge the Los Angeles Chargers late, M&T Bank Stadium booed Jackson when he took the field. Chants for Flacco started bubbling up.

Coach John Harbaugh confirmed the Ravens discussed sending Flacco into Sunday’s game, a 23-17 wild-card round loss to the Chargers that eliminated Baltimore from the playoffs. Instead, they stuck with Jackson in a game that likely marked the end of Flacco’s 11-year Ravens career.

“I can assure you, we were considering putting Joe into the game and all that kind of stuff,” Harbaugh said. “It was part of the conversation. Certainly thought about it, certainly talked about it with everybody. I can tell you this: Everybody was on the same page with what we did. Everybody, including Joe.”

Asked if he felt he could make a difference under center Sunday, Flacco said he “can’t even go there.”

“It really wasn’t (frustrating),” Flacco said about watching from the bench. “We made the decision what was going to happen here weeks ago. I really wanted to see the guys turn it up a little bit and make a play, which they did.”

Harbaugh all but confirmed Flacco, soon to be 34 years old, would not be back with the Ravens next season, whether he’s traded or cut.

“Lamar’s our quarterback moving forward. There’s no question about that,” Harbaugh said. “But Joe Flacco’s gonna play really well in this league. Joe can still play. I think we saw that the first half of the season. Joe’s gonna have a market. A lot of teams are gonna want Joe, because they understand that.”

Flacco is still under contract with Baltimore for three more seasons. He’s set to make $18.5 million in 2019, so his contract won’t be easily traded, and cutting him would mean $16 million in “dead cap,” according to the salary cap website Spotrac.

But the Ravens completely changed their offensive scheme midseason to fit Jackson’s talents, from pass-first to run-first. It didn’t work Sunday against a formidable Chargers defense who had film on Baltimore from just two weeks ago, but it’s likely how the Ravens will want to move forward.

The word Willie Snead, Eric Weddle and Brandon Carr all used when talking about Jackson was “future.”

“He is the future. He’s such a bright kid, unbelievable energy and personality,” Weddle said. “He’s likable. He works hard. As you guys can tell, he’s devastated right now, and that’s what’s going to drive him in the offseason.”

As the youngest starting quarterback in a playoff game in NFL history (21 years, 364 days), Jackson finished 14-for-29 for 194 yards, two touchdowns and 54 rushing yards. But his third fumble of the day came at the most critical juncture — the final 30 seconds, down six points — and that time, the Chargers recovered.

“I wasn’t playing my game today. I’m ticked off about that,” Jackson said.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith wanted fans on board with Jackson — rather than booing him.

“They’re booing the guy that got us here. Are you a fair-weather fan that quickly? They turned their backs on him, and that got under my skin a little bit,” said Smith, who later clarified that he didn’t think it was a majority of fans acting that way.

As the Jackson era continued to show both its promise and its challenges, the Flacco era seemed to wind down.

“(Flacco was) just the rock of our franchise for over a decade,” veteran guard Marshal Yanda said. “Just consistency and just a great player and had a lot of really great games with him and I love the guy.”

“I learned a lot from Joe just about being a pro,” tackle Orlando Brown added.

Though he didn’t touch on speculation that he’d be cut, Flacco had a message of gratitude for Ravens fans.

“To be honest, I can’t imagine a better 11 years,” he said. “This place (became) my home and my children’s home. … Definitely a group of fans and a community that I loved to be around for 11 years.”

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