The announcement that Flacco will be under center against the Cincinnati Bengals accompanied his steady improvement over the final two preseason games as he made strides with his accuracy and pocket awareness.
"I’ve been preparing like I was going to be the starter all along," Flacco said. "I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job."
With former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith suffering from a tonsil infection and former starter Kyle Boller suffering from an injury to his throwing shoulder that could eventually end his season, Flacco is literally the last man standing.
"Joe is going to be the starter on Sunday," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "It wouldn’t be realistic to have one of those guys [Boller and Smith] as a starter, for sure. If they can back up, I think that would be an upset.
"I would say we’re pretty close to ruling those guys out. We need a backup quarterback for the game, so we’re looking at other guys."
Flacco was anointed as the Ravens’ quarterback of the future by general manager Ozzie Newsome this spring when he was drafted 18th overall, and now the former
"He’s calm, he doesn’t react much," Harbaugh said. "He probably saw it coming. It’s not something that was too hard to figure out. He’s excited in his own ‘Joe’ way. Everybody gets an opportunity and you take it and you run with it.
Signed to a five-year, $30 million contract in July that included an $8.75 million signing bonus, Flacco had been eliminated from the competition weeks ago prior to Smith’s sudden illness heading into a scheduled start against the St. Louis Rams.
Flacco wound up playing the entire game on a few hours notice, and delivered the Ravens’ lone touchdown pass this preseason to wide receiver Derrick Mason during a crisp drive to open the second half.
Now, Flacco’s NFL crash course has been accelerated significantly.
"It’s faster than I expected, but this is what I wanted all along," Flacco said. "Things happen funny. I’ve gotten my opportunity, and now it’s up to me to go out there and play."
Flacco completed 35 of 67 passes for 284 yards, no interceptions and one touchdown and was sacked six times during the preseason for a team-high 68.3 quarterback rating ahead of Boller (51.8) and Smith (46.8).
The 6-foot-6, 235-pounder has his grip on the football, and has no intentions of relinquishing his hold on the starting position.
"That’s my plan, to hold on to it as long as I can," Flacco said. "In my eyes, it’s going to be a lot of years."
At age 23, Flacco is following in the unsuccessful footsteps of Boller, who was thrust into the starting lineup immediately in 2003 and struggled and never developed into a consistent passer. Other quarterbacks who saw early playing time and never realized their potential: include Tim Couch, David Carr, Akili Smith, Harrington and Ryan Leaf.
Among those who survived rough early initiations were Peyton Manning and Troy Aikman. Retired Miami Dolphins legend Dan Marino thrived as a rookie.
The best recent example of a rookie who succeeded when forced to play due to injuries is Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who went 13-0 in the 2004 regular season after taking over for Tommy Maddox.
"To me, it doesn’t even matter," Harbaugh said. "What difference does it make? Joe’s our guy, and we think he can win for us. He had a heck of a practice, and we’re excited to go out there and play with him."
Flacco is already anticipating some exotic defensive schemes from the Bengals, who will try to confuse and pressure the rookie into mistakes as he adjusts to the speed of the NFL after starring at the Division I-AA level. Disguised coverage schemes and heavy blitz packages are likely to be in Bengals coach Marvin Lewis’ game plan.
Despite his confidence in Flacco, Harbaugh certainly didn’t envision this scenario when he launched a three-man quarterback competition during the offseason.
Boller’s injury, which he suffered on a brutal hit against the Minnesota Vikings in the second preseason game, was another blow to a reeling offense.
Because of the injuries and illness, Flacco’s scheduled waiting period evaporated and an inevitable promotion transpired a lot sooner than originally anticipated.