FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Joe Flacco will huddle up for the New York Jets against his former team. And likely a few more opponents after that.
Coach Robert Saleh announced Wednesday that Flacco will start at quarterback in the season opener Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens in place of the injured Zach Wilson — who likely will be out until Week 4 at Pittsburgh.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating, of course,” Wilson said. “You want to be healthy as much as possible.”
Flacco starting this week is not unexpected, as it appeared to be trending that way for a few weeks. But the announcement that the Oct. 2 game against the Steelers is likely “the earliest” Wilson will return from a knee injury was a surprise.
“Now, can it change? Sure, I’m always going to leave that door open,” Saleh said. “You guys know me, I’m the eternal optimist. But we are going to make sure both mind and body are 110% and make sure we do right by him.
“And we feel like, talking to the doctors and everyone, it’s going to be that Pittsburgh week.”
Wilson worked out on the field Monday and Tuesday while testing out his right knee, which was injured in the preseason opener at Philadelphia on Aug. 12. Saleh said Monday “it’s possible” Wilson could play against Baltimore but that the quarterback would be evaluated in the next few days. Saleh said the second-year QB had no setbacks while working out, but the Jets don’t want to rush him back to the field.
“He looks fantastic, he still looks good, he feels good,” Saleh said. “He’s not walking with a limp or anything.”
Despite Wilson missing at least the first three games, the Jets did not consider putting him injured reserve - which would sideline him for a minimum of four games - so that he can continue to practice with the team. Wilson will work with the training staff this week, Saleh said, and then slowly resume practice during the next few weeks. Wilson said he’s able to throw and drop back.
“For what the injury was,” he said, “I’m very optimistic to be able to get back and still play football the way I want to this year.”
Wilson said he won’t change the way he plays despite the injury.
“People can say, ‘He should’ve gone out of bounds, should’ve slid,’” Wilson said. “It was a non-contact injury. The guy didn’t tackle me. If the guy hit me and I got injured, that’s one thing. If I can’t run and cut without getting hurt, then what am I doing? I’ve got to take care of myself and put myself in a better situation there.”
Saleh also left no doubt that the starting job remains Wilson’s whenever he is fully ready to play.
“When Zach‘s healthy, he’s rolling,” Saleh said.
Wilson suffered a bone bruise and torn meniscus, which was repaired via arthroscopic surgery in Los Angeles on Aug. 16. It’s the same knee in which he sprained a ligament last year and sidelined him for four games. He was initially expected to miss two to four weeks with the current injury, a timetable that turned out to be a bit overambitious.
Taking the cautious approach in Week 1, New York will turn to Flacco - who will take on his former team. And with the confidence of the Jets.
“Heck yeah, man, Cool Joe,” Saleh said. “He’s been preparing. He’s freakin’ awesome. I’m really excited for him for this opportunity.”
The 37-year-old quarterback spent his first 11 NFL seasons in Baltimore, helping lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory to cap the 2012 season. He was the MVP of that game and signed a six-year, $120.6 million contract a month later, becoming the highest-paid quarterback in NFL history at that time.
A hip injury midway through the 2018 season put Flacco on the sideline - and Lamar Jackson into the starting lineup. The following offseason, Flacco was traded to Denver, where he spent one season before signing with the Jets for his first stint in New York. Meanwhile, Jackson went on in 2019 to become the second player to win the AP NFL Most Valuable Player award unanimously.
This will mark Flacco’s first start against the Ravens, and he’ll take on the QB who replaced him.
“Obviously, there’s going to be some different emotions that I haven’t experienced before this one,” Flacco said. “I think at the end of the day, it is like every other game. Once kind of the dust settles and the game gets going, it’s a football game.”
Flacco is looking for his first win as a starter with the Jets, going 0-5 while filling in for Wilson in one game last season and four in place of Sam Darnold in 2020.
“Even at 37, I know that it’s in the back of his head, he’s getting a chance to play Baltimore and all these different things,” Saleh said. “Even at 37, he’s got to keep the main thing the main thing and just do his best, and trust his best is good enough.
“I think we’re all excited for Joe and his opportunity, and excited for Sunday.”
NOTES: Wilson and LT Duane Brown (shoulder) were the only players who didn’t practice Wednesday. … RT George Fant (knee), CB D.J. Reed (knee), CB/ST Justin Hardee (calf) and OL Conor McDermott (ankle) were limited.
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