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Those also writing about Joe Flacco’s NFL career likely won’t be using the word “future” much longer.
That’s no slight toward the New York Jets quarterback. Age is a near-undefeated behemoth that has claimed the careers of countless others before him and, at 35, there’s no denying that Flacco’s time is coming. The polarizing ex-Baltimore Raven has built himself a solid NFL career that turned him into one of the major faces of pro football in the 21st century. But his glory days, like his legendary run to Super Bowl XLVII, are long behind him. Football analysts, amateur and professional alike, will likely view his time in a Jets uniform (as well as his eight-game cameo in the colors of the Denver Broncos) through the same, sarcastic lens of Tom Brady’s ongoing Tampa Bay endeavors.
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But if this truly is the end for Flacco, could the final, successful chapters be written in green?
With Sam Darnold set to return on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS) in a situation where his job as the franchise man could be on the line, it stands to reason that Flacco, a free-agent-to-be, probably won’t take the field again unless the former endures yet another injury. Flacco has started four games for the Jets (0-10) this season, all after Darnold injured his shoulder in a loss to Denver on October 1, an ailment reaggravated a month later in Kansas City.
The intent behind signing Flacco was clear: if the unthinkable happened to the developing Darnold (again), the Jets would have a decent-enough substitution to tread water until the younger thrower came back. Additionally, if there was ever an on-field mentor for Darnold, one could’ve done far worse than bringing in a former Super Bowl MVP used to adversity. Josh McCown was the best of both worlds before he chose a brief retirement. Flacco believed he could still start for another team after his reign upon the Baltimore throne ended with the emergence of Lamar Jackson, but willingly embraced such a role.
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“It’s where I am right now and I’m glad to be on a team playing football in some capacity,” Flacco said after his signing in May, per Andy Vazquez of USA Today. “I think it’s going to be huge to get in there and know the guys and develop a relationship with the team and do anything I can to help the team get better and in that process, help Sam with whatever he needs help with.”
It didn’t take long for the overwhelmed Jets (0-10) to call upon Flacco to empty whatever was left in his NFL quarterbacking tank. Asking him to fully flip the Jets’ fortunes was a little too much…the New York issues go far beyond the quarterback…but, in a surprising turn of events, the Jets’ struggling offense looked how they were supposed to look in 2020: a rebuilding team that was slowly but surely getting it together.
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Over the last two weeks, the Jets have earned 614 yards and 55 points under Flacco’s watch, each of which are season-highs in consecutive games. Flacco has done his part, particularly over the last two games with five touchdown passes and 467 yards, good for a passer rating of 102.6. That made him one of a dozen quarterbacks with at least 50 pass attempts with a triple-digit passer rating over the last two games. Only Patrick Mahomes and Ben Roethlisberger have thrown more touchdown passes than Flacco in that span, with the mark tying him with Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert (who had three as his Los Angeles Chargers topped Flacco and the Jets last Sunday).
It’s not like Flacco’s tenure was exempt from 2020 Jets shenanigans; he took a 30-yard sack in a shutout loss in Miami and threw a “really bad” pick-six deep in Jets territory in the most recent defeat in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, the undeniable leadership and defacto spark Flacco brought to the lineup was noticed by his teammates and coaches alike.
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“It’s been good for the most part,” receiver Breshad Perriman said of his relationship with Flacco after the defeat in Los Angeles, per Jack Bell of NewYorkJets.com. “Of course it could always be better. But it’s definitely going good.”
Working with Flacco, a fellow former Raven, Perriman has earned touchdown receptions in back-to-back games. Two came in the Jets’ 30-27 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots two weeks ago, good for Perriman’s first 100-yard since last season in Tampa Bay.
“I think you saw it, I think everyone saw it, how well he throws the football,” Jets offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said after the New England game in another report from Vazquez. “This guy, he’s gifted that way, and he did some really nice things for us. He’s really accurate. I do think this guy is a starter in this league, and we’re very fortunate to have the quarterback situation we have right now. And that’s why Joe was brought here.”
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. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
The Jets have some major decisions to make when it comes to their quarterback spot. These final hours of the 2020 season could mean everything to Darnold, whose status as the face of the franchise could be in major jeopardy if they get the top overall pick in next spring’s draft. Surprisingly, there may be a little more clarity in the understudy role, because no matter who starts at quarterback for the Jets come 2021…be it Darnold, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Field, or an unknown entity…is going to need some form of mentorship and stability behind him. It’s highly unlikely the Jets will replicate the Kansas City Chiefs’ idea and sit a potential draftee for a year. Duplicating the strategy that ended Flacco’s tenure in Baltimore, where Jackson came in partway through his rookie season, is equally doubtful. But having a veteran quarterback on the roster is essential on the rookie franchise quarterback shopping list. Protection is a close second, but the Jets have admittedly been doing well in that regard with the Mekhi Becton selection paying dividends thus far. That’s where Flacco comes into the Jets’ future plans.
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For all we know, the Jets’ offensive progress stemmed not from Flacco, but from the fact that the Jets were able to use their top three receivers (Perriman, Denzel Mims, Jamison Crowder) in the same game(s). But if Darnold is willing to carry on the role of the mentor backup, it could be a perfect match and a perfect way to end his career. The role. of a perfect backup quarterback is, if you are pressed into service, don’t be the reason for your squad’s demise. If you can provide mentorship an intuitive sense of know-how to the lineup, that’s an added bonus. Flacco fulfills both of these roles and gives the Jets security for the future.
Flacco, for his part, has not given any indication toward retirement. If he was willing to come back from a neck injury sustained in Denver last season, then mere losses shouldn’t serve a deterrent in advancing things further. If the calling comes, he well could go to a team seeking a quick fix at quarterback to win immediately (the 5-5 Chicago Bears perhaps come to mind as they’re set to revert to Mitchell Trubisky this Sunday night).
But there’s no shame in serving as a veteran mentor to close one’s career. It worked perfectly for guys like Mark Brunell, perhaps one of the most accurate comparisons Flacco will receive. A Super Bowl as a starter was denied to the left-handed Brunell, but he left a lasting mark on the passing antics of the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise, much like Flacco did back in Baltimore.
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After his time in Jacksonville ended, Brunell would later end his career with the Jets and New Orleans Saints, winning a Super Bowl with the former. That followed a stop with the team then known as the Washington Redskins, where Brunell took over in the mid-2000s before overseeing a peaceful transition of power to Jason Campbell. He would later mentor Mark Sanchez during two further seasons in New York.
Even the accomplished veteran Drew Brees knows how valuable a lauded backup can be. Brees was already well known upon his New Orleans arrival, but mentioned that Brunell helped him reach his ultimate heights. The two would go on to win Super Bowl XLIV together, with Brees capturing the MVP honors Flacco would earn three years later.
“You’re talking about a great mentor in so many ways,” Brees told Bill Baker of The Times-Picayune prior to embarking on that championship trek. “He’s started so many games, started so many big games. He’s played a lot of football at a very high level. He’s been to conference championship games before, been to Pro Bowls; he’s done all those things. He’s played in a lot of interesting systems with a lot of great coaches. There’s just a wealth of knowledge that I can draw from.”
Uncertainty continues to loom over the Jets’ quarterback situation, a feeling that has lurked for far too long. Bringing back Flacco, ironically destined for backup duties, would add a tremendous deal of clarity for a franchise in desperate need of it.
If you hadn’t watched the Jets at all this season, but tuned in at the start of Sunday’s Week 11 game against the Chargers in Los Angeles, odds are you were at least a bit surprised by the first 10-plus minutes of the first quarter.
New York roared out of the gates, storming out to an early lead after blocking a punt. Then, after a lengthy drive from rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, the defense made a stop in the red zone, forcing a fumble and getting the ball back poised to put more points on the board.
Could this be the week that New York finally secures its first win of the season?
Then, Joe Flacco threw his first pass of the game.
From the Jets’ four yard line, the veteran quarterback—filling in once again for Sam Darnold—tried to find receiver Jamison Crowder on a shallow out route toward the far sideline. Instead, Flacco’s pass was gift-wrapped for Chargers cornerback Tevaughn Campbell, who read the play like a book, pounced and snagged the football before Crowder had a chance to react.
The Chargers defensive back needed only four strides to take the interception into the end zone for an easy pick six.
“The interception I threw was really bad,” Flacco said in a Zoom call after the game. “I threw it way behind Crowder. I didn’t get my hips out there. At best, we should have had probably a completion, maybe to the slant and at worst we should have had an incompletion over Crowder’s head and instead they end up with seven points on the board. So, I think that obviously hurt us.”