OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) – The effective play of rookie Lamar Jackson as a starting quarterback has left Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh with a decision to make if veteran Joe Flacco returns this week from a right hip injury.
Does Flacco get back the starting job Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons? Or does Harbaugh stick with the hot hand in Jackson, who guided Baltimore (6-5) past Cincinnati and Oakland in his first two NFL starts?
Flacco was examined by a doctor on Monday, Harbaugh said. If the 11-year veteran is cleared to return, he will likely practice Wednesday for the first time since the injury occurred on Nov. 4 in a loss to Pittsburgh.
“The biggest criteria is the protection of the hip,” Harbaugh said. “There’s no big tear in there that I’m aware of. The hip has to be strong and not agitated for Joe to really protect himself. That’s the concern, Joe’s safety.”
Once Flacco returns, the clock begins ticking for Harbaugh to decide between the pocket passer he’s guided since 2008, or the rookie who’s been slashing and darting all over the field for an offense that’s surpassed 400 yards in each of the last two weeks.
“I feel very, very confident that I have a good handle on what we need to do when the time comes, which is not here yet,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think you start making these decisions until you get to the bridge. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I’ll be ready to make that decision when the time comes.”
When the Ravens selected Jackson with the 32nd overall pick in the NFL draft, Harbaugh vehemently asserted that the Louisville star and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner would sit behind Flacco on the depth chart. The 33-year-old Flacco started the first nine games, throwing for 2,465 yards and 12 touchdowns with six interceptions, but Baltimore dropped three straight on the back end of that stretch and was in danger of dropping out of the playoff hunt.