Flacco ready to take final step toward football normalcy

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You can tell Joe Flacco is tired of talking about his left knee.
The Ravens quarterback understands the many questions, cordially answering each one. But he also hasn’t missed a practice rep all summer despite sitting out the first two preseason games as a precaution.
The 31-year-old downplayed Saturday’s game against Detroit carrying more significance than the many preseason games in which he’s participated over his nine-year career. Still, this is the longest Flacco has gone without playing in a competitive game since his collegiate days.
“I’m excited about it. It has been a while,” said Flacco, who expects to play most of the first half against the Lions. “Obviously, I had to go through a little bit to get here to this point to where I can go back out there and play with my guys. That is really what I’m looking forward to — just getting back out there in live action and being in a real huddle and just seeing everybody’s eyes and how excited they are to get after it.”
It will be Flacco’s final step toward football normalcy as the next time he’ll take the field will presumably be the season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 11. By then, many of the questions about his knee will likely be replaced with ones about how to beat Rex Ryan’s defense to get off to a 1-0 start in 2016.
Understandably, the Ravens will hold their breath to some degree until Flacco gets hit the first time — and gets back up. The last ninth months have been strange territory with a quarterback who’d never missed a game in his career until last November, but there was little upside to exposing Flacco in the first two preseason games, especially before knowing how rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley would fare in his first live-game action.
The time is now to get the 31-year-old back out there.
“There’s really no doubt that he’s ready to play,” Harbaugh said. “But football is risky for everybody. That’s just the way it works. You have to weigh the benefits with the risk and put them out there. Joe is a quarterback. He’s not going to break. He’s going to play.”
The Ravens will surely be looking for signs of anxiousness from Flacco playing in his first fully-live pocket. Unlike training camp practices, he won’t be wearing a red non-contact jersey and the defensive front will be trying to hit him and hit him hard.
He’ll be entering new territory in his post-surgery world.
Will Flacco subconsciously pull away from under center too soon? Does he throw the football a split-second earlier than he should while standing in an imperfect pocket? Will he throw off his back foot — something he was already guilty of doing from time to time in his career?
These questions explain why Flacco needs to get his game legs back under him before Week 1.  The veteran may not view getting hit again as a desired rite of passage, but he knows it’s an inevitable part of the game.
“It would be great not to get hit,” said Flacco while cracking a smile. “I don’t need to get hit. But if I do, it is not a bad thing, either.”
Of course, Saturday isn’t just about getting Flacco back on the field. An offense with several new pieces needs time to gel and to build some momentum ahead of the season opener.
The Ravens not only need a healthy Flacco in 2016, but they need a better one than they saw last year when he threw 12 interceptions in 10 games before the injury. Saturday doesn’t need to be perfect, but a couple of crisp scoring drives would make Baltimore feel better going into the start of the season.
“Results are always important,” Harbaugh said. “If it’s important enough to go out there and put the guys in that situation, it’s important enough to do well. That’s the idea. We want to do as well we can.”
With plenty of questions on both sides of the ball yet to be answered, the Ravens will only thrive in 2016 with Flacco healthy and at the top of his game.