Owings Mills, Md. — As he worked diligently for more than a month to return from a potentially dangerous hip injury, Joe Flacco watched the Baltimore Ravens flourish without him.
Now that he’s healthy, Flacco must adjust to a role he’s never experienced during his 11-year NFL career: backup quarterback.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh on Wednesday selected rookie Lamar Jackson as his starter, opting to play the hot hand rather than a former Super Bowl MVP who’s been starting since his inaugural season in 2008.
After Flacco hurt his right hip in a loss to Pittsburgh on Nov 4, the fleet-footed Jackson took over as the starter following a bye week.
Under his guidance, the Ravens ramped up their running game and went 3-1, the only loss in overtime last Sunday on the road against the powerful Kansas City Chiefs.
With Baltimore desperate to end a three-year playoff drought, Harbaugh decided the Ravens would be best served with Jackson running the offense.
“Every decision is based on making us the strongest possible team we can be,” Harbaugh said. “Whether it’s quarterback or defensive line, that’s the bottom line. That’s what it boils down to. That’s how we feel about this decision, and we’re rolling.”
Jackson will start Sunday when the Ravens (7-6) host Tampa Bay (5-8).
The 33-year-old Flacco has 163 career starts compared to Jackson’s four and has guided the Ravens into the playoffs on six occasions. He was Super Bowl MVP in 2012, when he led Baltimore past San Francisco to cap a postseason in which he threw 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions.
But in a league that doesn’t give a hoot about the past, Flacco realized his future in Baltimore would be in jeopardy as soon as the Ravens selected Jackson out of Louisville with the 32nd overall pick in April.
“They drafted Lamar in the first round. At some point, something was going to happen between the two of us,” Flacco said.
Flacco retained the starting job until he banged up his hip against the Steelers. He finished the game and wanted to play in the next one, but the doctors wouldn’t allow it.
“The risks of going back out there and playing were just a lot,” Flacco said. “If I just let it play the course and get to where we are today, the risks are nothing.”
He was talking about his health, not losing his grip on the starting job.
“I’ve obviously had five weeks to think about and prepare myself for this situation and the possibility of it,” Flacco said.
“And yeah, I’m disappointed I can’t be in that locker room in the same capacity that I’ve always been.
“But this is my situation right now, and I’m going to do my best to handle it the right way.”
McCoy might face Lions
Don’t count out LeSean McCoy just yet. Though the Bills’ running back missed practice Wednesday to nurse a sore left hamstring, McCoy told The Associated Press there’s a chance he’ll play in Buffalo’s home game against the Lions on Sunday.
“I want to try to get in a couple of good games before it’s over,” McCoy said.
While McCoy and the rest of the running backs have struggled, rookie quarterback Josh Allen has suddenly become Buffalo’s top running threat.
Allen has combined for 335 yards rushing in his past three games, and now leads the team with 490 yards and five TDs.
NFL in London, Mexico City
The NFL will stage four games in London and one in Mexico City next season, with the Jaguars, Chargers, Rams, Raiders and Buccaneers serving as hosts.
When the games will be played and who the opponents will be won’t be announce until the spring, when the league schedule for 2019 is released.
The Jaguars have a deal to play annually in London. The Chargers, Rams and Raiders are considered to be playing in temporary stadiums — the L.A. teams will move into a new facility being built in Inglewood that won’t be ready next year — and the Raiders will be leaving Oakland for Las Vegas in 2020.
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is expected to play Sunday at Minnesota despite a right ankle injury that sidelined him briefly during last week’s win over New England. Coach Adam Gase said Tannehill will play barring a setback.
... Seattle will be without linebacker Mychal Kendricks for the rest of the season after he suffered a knee and lower leg injury in the win over Minnesota.
... The NFL Draft is heading to Las Vegas for 2020.
NFL Week 15
L.A. Chargers at Kansas City, 8:20 (Fox)
Houston at N.Y. Jets, 4:30 (NFL)
Cleveland at Denver, 8:20 (NFL)
Detroit at Buffalo, 1 (Fox)
Miami at Minnesota, 1 (CBS)
Tennessee at N.Y. Giants, 1
Green Bay at Chicago, 1
Tampa Bay at Baltimore, 1
Arizona at Atlanta, 1
Oakland at Cincinnati, 1
Dallas at Indianapolis, 1
Washington at Jacksonville, 1
Seattle at San Francisco, 4
New England at Pittsburgh, 4:25 (CBS)
Philadelphia at L.A. Rams, 8:20 (NBC)
New Orleans at Carolina, 8:15 (ESPN)