NEW YORK (AP) — Joe Flacco spent most of the hot, humid days of training camp working out, watching practice and wondering when he'd get back in the huddle.
The 35-year-old quarterback was rehabilitating from offseason neck surgery, so he was unable to join his New York Jets teammates on the field. Flacco knew deep down he could still play, but was unsure when he'd be able to show it.
To himself, his teammates and the rest of the league.
“It's tough to think back to know exactly what was going through my head,” Flacco said during a video call Wednesday. “Obviously, you hope in some way you get a chance to prove that you can still do it — not only performance-wise, but health-wise.
“You want that chance.”
Flacco was signed to a one-year, $1.5 million deal in the offseason to back up Sam Darnold. He was also insurance, in case the Jets needed him to step in and play.
Well, he'll make his fourth start — and second in a row — for winless New York on Sunday against the Chargers in Los Angeles. Darnold is out indefinitely with his second shoulder injury of the season, which means this could be a longer opportunity for Flacco than even he might have expected.
“I don't really think I thought about how it would happen or why or when or how much,” Flacco said of his thoughts during the summer. “I've seen it happen a bunch of times and I really just kind of took it as, ‘Just be ready. Be mentally ready. You never know what could happen.'"
Darnold was injured on Oct. 1 when he was flung to the MetLife Stadium turf against Denver. He missed a few plays — with Flacco taking those snaps — but finished the game. Darnold ended up missing the next two games, though, and Flacco took over a struggling offense that didn't fare much better in losses to Arizona (30-10) and Miami (24-0).
Darnold started the next two games, but was hurt again against Kansas City on Nov. 1. He again finished that game, but missed a Monday night game against New England on Nov. 9 and won't be back until he's completely healthy. Coach Adam Gase believes that will happen at some point over the last seven games.
But for now, it's Flacco's job again.
“I really didn't anticipate anything,” he said. “I'm definitely grateful for the chance to have played a little bit. Obviously, you never want to see your teammates go down, so that part of it is not the best. I've never been in this position coming into the season knowing I wasn't going to be the starter, so I really just tried to approach it with an open mind.”
Flacco didn't much resemble the quarterback who led Baltimore to the Super Bowl to cap the 2012 season, winning the game's MVP award in the process, during his first two starts for New York. He acknowledged not being as comfortable in the offense as he'd like — going 39 of 77 for 381 yards and a touchdown with an interception in those two games.
“They were a mental hurdle,” Flacco acknowledged.
With another opportunity to start last week, Flacco was vintage “Joe Cool” again. With the Jets having their top three wide receivers — Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims — on the field for the first time, Flacco regularly moved the offense and threw three touchdown passes against New England, and passed his idol Joe Montana on the NFL's career yards passing list.
“It’s probably just weeks of practicing the offense, being in a game and getting that feel and just kind of hearing the calls and just experiencing the offense,” Gase said. “Getting another round to play with these guys."
Flacco also had a momentum-swinging interception in the fourth quarter in the 30-27 loss, but his overall performance showed he can still be an effective playmaker and move the offense — something the Jets hadn't done much.
“It was nice to get back out there," Flacco said. "You know, I feel confident. I've played this game for a long time and at a certain point, you get right back in the groove.
"You play a football game, you're trying to win. Really, that's all that's on your mind."
NOTES: ILB Patrick Onwuasor was activated from injured reserve after being sidelined since injuring a knee late in training camp. ... OLB Frankie Luvu (groin) was designated to return to practice from IR. ... LT Mekhi Becton said the chest and breathing issues that caused him to leave the game against New England were caused by congestion from a cold (not COVID-19-related) and he's feeling fine now. ... DE Henry Anderson (knee/ankle) and LB Blake Cashman (hamstrings) didn't practice. DL Quinnen Williams (hamstring), Sam Ficken (groin) and WRs Breshad Perriman (shoulder) and Vyncint Smith (groin) were limited. ... Gase anticipates OL Pat Elflein, claimed off waivers from Minnesota, won't join the team until next week as he goes through the COVID-19 protocols.
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