NEW YORK — Joe Flacco went through most of training camp unable to run a huddle or throw passes during practice.
The 35-year-old New York Jets quarterback could only wait and watch as his rehabilitation from off-season neck surgery stayed on track.
“It was obviously frustrating and boring to kind of sit around during training camp and everything,” Flacco said, “and not really be able to practice even though I felt like I could do a lot of the things that we were doing.”
But here he is now, preparing this week to start against the Arizona Cardinals after a sprained shoulder sidelined Sam Darnold for at least a game.
“Just to get out there at practice was a lot of fun,” he said. “You feel like a little kid again just going out there and playing football, so I’m just taking it day by day and trying to keep myself calm, but make sure, you know, you want that excitement to show through a little bit. I don’t know if anybody can necessarily ever see that in myself, but it’s definitely there.”
Flacco acknowledged he felt “a little bit of butterflies” when he got ready to practice Wednesday for the first time as the Jets' starter. That's pretty remarkable considering he has played in the NFL 13 years and won on the league's biggest stage — earning Super Bowl MVP honours for Baltimore in 2013.
Despite all that, Flacco's road over the last several months to get to this point has been far from easy. But with the Jets 0-4 and struggling mightily, Flacco's resilience might be exactly what they need.
“He definitely won the respect of his teammates because of how hard he worked,” offensive co-ordinator Dowell Loggains said. “He definitely has a Jersey toughness and a Jersey edge to him that can be an intimidating factor. When he gets going on the practice field, you can see all those competitive juices coming out.”
The native of Audubon, New Jersey, has certainly been there and done that as a pro.
He was a first-round draft pick by the Ravens out of Delaware in 2008, became the starter as a rookie and held that job until 2018 — when a hip injury cleared the way for Lamar Jackson to take over. Flacco was traded to Denver the following off-season , but his run with the Broncos lasted only eight games because of a neck injury.
Flacco wanted to continue his football career, so he opted to have surgery to repair the herniated disk in his neck in April.
“If I wasn’t going to play,” he said, “I wouldn’t be sitting here with a scar on my neck.”
Flacco signed with the Jets in May, spent training camp on the physically unable to perform list and was on the active game roster for the first time last Thursday night — when he was forced into action to replace Darnold for a few plays. Any concerns about taking his first in-game hit since surgery were quickly replaced by focusing on running the offence .
“When I had to go into the game the other day, just 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,” he said. "I honestly didn’t think about it at all and I haven’t thought about it since.
“Yeah, I’m sure my family and things like that may be thinking about that, but you know I made this decision when I went under the knife that this is something that I was going to do and it is what it is.”
Flacco believes he can still be an NFL starter, and he'll get a chance to prove it when he takes the field for the Jets on Sunday.
It might be just a one-game cameo or it could be a longer audition — for New York or another team — depending on how Darnold's shoulder feels.
“I’m sure people have opinions on those things, but I’m excited about getting out there and playing football,” Flacco said. “I think I have a lot left. I want to go out there and I want to show my teammates that I can play, and I want to be there for them.”
NOTES: LT Mekhi Becton (shoulder) and WR Breshad Perriman (ankle) both sat out practice and appear unlikely to play Sunday. ... RB Frank Gore also sat out, but it was his usual veteran rest day. ... CB Bless Austin (calf), S Ashtyn Davis (groin), DL John Franklin-Myers (foot), WR Chris Hogan (ribs/knee) and LB Jordan Jenkins (shoulder/calf) were all limited. Franklin-Myers was a new addition to the injury report, meaning he was likely hurt in practice Thursday. Jenkins was an upgrade after not practicing Wednesday.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Dennis Waszak Jr., The Associated Press