Joe Flacco wasn’t done with football.
A neck injury cut his 12th NFL season short. He could have gone home to South Jersey with his Super Bowl ring and MVP trophy and called it a career. But the 35-year-old Flacco believed he still could play at a high level.
Here’s his chance.
With Sam Darnold sidelined with a sprained right shoulder, Flacco will be running the offense when the Jets play the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
The game appeared to be in doubt on Friday when a Jets player tested positive for COVID-19. But that proved to be only a scare as players, coaches and personnel were retested and all the results came back negative.
Now Flacco has the chance to do something positive for the Jets and himself.
He wants to prove he still can be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Leading the 0-4 Jets to their first win of the season certainly would help Flacco’s quest.
"I think I have a lot left," he said. "I want to go out there and I want to show my teammates that I could play, and I want to be there for them."
The Jets are trying to avoid their first 0-5 start since Rich Kotite’s 1996 team, which finished a franchise-worst 1-15.
The return of Le’Veon Bell should give them a lift. Bell was on injured reserve for three games with a hamstring injury,
But the Jets may need an inspirational turn-back-the-clock game from Flacco, who led the Ravens to the Super Bowl XLVII victory.
Flacco suffered a herniated disc in his neck last October in his only season with Denver. His choice was to have neck surgery and continue playing or do nothing and retire.
Flacco wasn’t done with football. He didn’t think any team would sign him if he didn’t have surgery. Flacco also wouldn’t have felt confident that he could last the season without it.
He had the procedure in the spring and was cleared for contact two weeks ago. Now he is starting for the first time in nearly a year.
"If I wasn’t going to play, I wouldn’t be sitting here with a scar on my neck," Flacco said. "Honestly, I’m happy that I did it. I feel like I’m in a position where I did what I had to do. I definitely was not done playing football in my mind, wasn’t ready to do that. So at that point it became a no-brainer to go under and do it."
Flacco has played since the surgery — last week.
Active for the first time, he played the four snaps that Darnold missed after getting injured. Because Darnold always took first-team reps, that was the first time Flacco heard Adam Gase in his helmet calling plays.
The always even-keeled Flacco said he didn’t think about his neck. His focus was trying to move the Jets down the field. He completed his two pass attempts for 16 yards.
"It’s funny," Flacco said. "The suddenness of the situation, the little bit of nerves that you have, having to go in the game and do well kind of overtake any worry that you might have about your injury or anything like that. I honestly didn’t think about it at all. I haven’t thought about it since."
The Jets signed Flacco to mentor Darnold, but for situations like this, too.
Last year, Darnold missed three games with mononucleosis. His replacement, Trevor Siemian, suffered a season-ending injury in the first half of his first start. Luke Falk, who hadn’t thrown an NFL pass, took over and led one touchdown drive in 2 ½ games.
Flacco has started 186 regular-season and playoff games, winning 108 of them. He’s also won over his new teammates and coaches with how hard he’s worked to play again and what it means to him.
"You see how competitive he is," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. "How excited he was to play football again. You could see it in his eyes. You could see how giddy he was. It was really cool to be part of that."
Former Ravens scout Joe Douglas — now the Jets' general manager — urged Baltimore to draft Flacco in 2008. He was the Ravens’ starting quarterback until the middle of 2018, when they handed the franchise to Lamar Jackson.
This is the first time Flacco is relieving someone, but he’s not looking to provide a spark. Joe Cool is just trying to win a game and reestablish himself, and he isn’t concerned with his neck or anything else.
"I made this decision when I went under the knife that this is something that I was going to do," Flacco said. "Whatever’s going on in there right now is how it’s supposed to be and whatever happens is meant to be.
"So I still go out there and play football, and I think my mind’s in a good place to do that for sure."