BALTIMORE — With each poor play on offense, each three-and-out by the Ravens’ struggling offense during Sunday’s 23-17 AFC wild-card loss to the Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium, Joe Flacco sat in the same spot on the Baltimore bench wearing not a helmet but a Ravens beanie winter hat.
The Ravens managed three first downs in the first half and Lamar Jackson, their dynamic rookie quarterback, was 2-of-8 for 17 yards, with an interception and two fumbles, sparking speculation Baltimore coach John Harbaugh might look to Flacco — the veteran incumbent before rookie Jackson took over and went 6-1 to end the regular season — to attempt a second-half rescue.
But Harbaugh kept trotting Jackson out there and kept getting the same results — until a frantic fourth-quarter rally made things interesting. The Ravens didn’t record their first first down of the second half until eight minutes remained in the fourth quarter.
Yes, it was that bad. Yet Jackson played on.
Clearly, Harbaugh’s decision to not bench Jackson was as much about the franchise’s future with him as it was about trying to win Sunday’s game. Harbaugh was uncomfortable talking after the game about his decision not to insert Flacco and his players were, too.
When Jackson ran onto the field and into the huddle with the Ravens trailing 20-3 early in the fourth quarter, the Baltimore fans booed, which infuriated Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith, who yelled to those sitting behind the team’s bench: “How do you think we got here?”
“They turned their backs on him and that got under my skin a little bit,” Smith said.
Asked if he was disappointed with the fans’ reaction, safety Eric Weddle, said, “I’m not answering a question about that, so ask me something worth talking about.
“He’s the future,” Weddle said. “He’ll come back 10 times better than he was this year. For what he did and the belief he gave not only our team but our city and this organization is pretty special. He’s going to be a great one. I can’t wait to see where his career ends up.”
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There was one point in the second half when Flacco stood next to Harbaugh talking.
Harbaugh declined to go into detail about what he and Flacco talked about, saying only: “We were just talking about all those possibilities. I’m not going to go into what was said and what was not said. I can assure you we were considering putting Joe into the game. That was part of the conversation. Everybody was on the same page, including Joe.”
Flacco, asked if he thought he should have played, said: “No, no, you can’t even go there, man. I thought Lamar did a great job of just hanging in there. He gave us a chance at the end.”
For his part, Jackson was stand-up afterward, taking all the blame.
“I feel like I played poorly,” he said. “I feel like there were a lot of things I could have done to put us in a better position. I didn’t play my game at all.”
Flacco said he talked to Jackson “a little bit” during the game, trying to help.
“Everyone was talking to him [and] I told him, ‘Hey, just tell everybody to shut up at some point,’ ’’ Flacco said. “I just told him, ‘Listen, finish strong. At some point you’re going to be proud of how you finished no matter what happens. This is all part of it, dealing with the situation now. It’s still a game, so go out there and do what you can to get us back in it.’ ’’
That’s exactly what Jackson did, throwing for two touchdowns and most of the 194 yards he threw for in the game on 14-of-29 passing. The two Jackson TDs cut a 23-3 deficit to 23-17 with the Ravens having a chance at the end to win.
It, of course, was too little too late.
“We have to move on now,” Jackson said. “We have to get ready for next year.’’