Just as in training camp, Flacco showed no effects from a season-ending knee injury suffered nine months ago. In one quarter of work, Flacco answered all the questions:
- With pressure in his face, Flacco stepped into a 12-yard throw to Mike Wallace to convert a third down.
- Flacco moved well in the pocket, taking a few steps to escape it on one play before dumping off a pass to Justin Forsett.
- On his 13th play of the night, Flacco took his first sack, getting brought down by former teammate Haloti Ngata and then popping right up off the ground.
Flacco is not expected to play in the preseason finale, so this will be his only work before the regular season. But, based on how he threw the ball, Flacco knocked off any rust from not playing since last November.
"It felt really good," the 31-year-old said of his return. "I was a little quick on a couple things, but it felt great to be back out there. To get back out there -- to be out there with the guys -- that's what it is all about."
QB depth chart: Flacco led one scoring drive in his preseason debut. Ryan Mallett was impressive one week after coach John Harbaugh indicated there was a competition at backup quarterback. He was 10-of-15 for 112 yards passing (111.0 rating), throwing one touchdown and running one in from the goal line.
Maybe that dude could start: Wide receiver Jeremy Butler. This category would've gone to rookie running back Kenneth Dixon before he had to be helped off the field with a knee injury. Butler, who entered the game tied for the NFL preseason lead in catches, scored a touchdown for the second consecutive week. He made a diving 25-yard catch in the end zone.
Who got hurt? Tight end Benjamin Watson tore his right Achilles tendon on first play from scrimmage and is likely out for the season. ... Dixon sprained his left knee on a goal-line run late in the second quarter. Dixon was making a play for the starting job (50 total yards in the first half) before Ngata came crashing down on his leg. He didn't return to the game. ... Safety Lardarius Webb was a late scratch after warm-ups, but his injury isn't considered serious.
A surprise player who impressed: Defensive back/linebacker Anthony Levine. The longtime special-teams standout was all over the field on defense in the second quarter. He sacked Matthew Stafford to move the Lions out of the red zone, and he picked off Stafford to put Baltimore's offense in the red zone. Levine finished with four tackles.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Ravens looked ...: Much better than the previous two preseason games. With Flacco back, the offense moved the ball into Lions' territory on both of his drives. And, with Terrell Suggs also seeing his first game action, the defense forced a punt on the opening series for the first time this preseason.
One reason to be concerned: Run defense. In the first half, the Lions broke three runs over 10 yards: a 34-yarder by Theo Riddick, an 11-yarder by Ameer Abdullah and an 11-yard scramble by Stafford. This came a week after Harbaugh expressed disappointment in the number of yards allowed on the ground.
Suggs makes an impact: Suggs made his presence felt immediately in his preseason debut. In 11 plays, he made two tackles, showed quick feet and set the edge on run defense. "It felt great; I'm not going to lie," said Suggs, who hadn't played in a game since tearing his left Achilles 11 months ago.
Is Buck Allen in danger of not making the team?: The second-year player entered Saturday listed No. 2 on the depth chart but was the fourth running back to get into the game. Allen didn't get an offensive snap until there were three minutes left in the first half. A fourth-round pick in 2015, Allen has been the least impressive in a running-back group that includes Forsett, Dixon and Terrance West.
Head coach Hue Jackson might play the Cleveland Browns' starters in the fourth preseason game.
That would be a significant and unusual action, as coaches are loath to play the starters in the preseason finale because of the risk of injury.
But Jackson said he would "really think about that" in light of the way the Browns played in a 30-13 loss to Tampa Bay on Friday night.
The Browns fell behind the Bucs 27-3 with six minutes left in the first half and looked outmatched when it was starters vs. starters. Jackson said there is time before the season opener Sept. 11 to get better.
"All of a sudden the sky is falling?" Jackson said with a chuckle. "I don't see that. I don't think the sky is falling at all. I think what you see is a young football team that you're going to see some of that [struggle], especially early until they get well grounded.
"I think, like I said, there were some good things, and obviously there were some things that were concerning. We got to continue to work at it.
"I never said we'd be a juggernaut today, or yesterday."
The Browns have turned over the roster, with 52 of the 90 players either rookies, or first- or second-year players. Only 17 of the Browns have five or more years experience.
This is the building program the Browns have undertaken. The emphasis is on young players, collecting draft picks and growing under a coach they believe in.
That didn't make Friday's game easier to watch, though, as the Browns are trying to put together a team with a new quarterback, new right tackle and new center. The top three receivers caught one pass in the NFL last season, and one will be suspended for four games.
Among the issues in a winless preseason in which the Browns have been outscored 71-31:
- An offense that has produced big plays, but not consistent drives. Jackson attributed some of the struggles to not running the ball well enough. He pointed out that Isaiah Crowell had some good runs, but "it was nothing sustainable that you can hang your hat on."
- The play of Griffin, who has come up with big plays but Friday failed to convert five third downs in a row and was sacked five times. He had two big pass plays, but on 12 others he threw for 32 yards. Jackson said Griffin was not holding the ball too long, that the protection simply needs to be better and that the offense as a whole contributed to the sacks. He also had generally positive thoughts on his quarterback. "I thought he did some really good things, under duress obviously," Jackson said. "He continues to find ways to make plays down the field. He's putting the ball in the right spots and putting his eyes in the right spots."
- The much ballyhooed debut of the team's receiving corps led to two big plays for Josh Gordon, but no completions to first-round pick Corey Coleman. Jackson said the attention might have gotten in Coleman's head. "So much has been said about this great receiving corps we have, but at the same time I think I think they understand you have to prove that on the field," Jackson said. "Sometimes there's a lot of anxiety that can be built up from that."
- The defense has struggled in every preseason game. Jackson said he hopes some of that goes away when the experimenting with players stops. "I think what is important now is that we really start putting our units together and let them go play together,' Jackson said.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Matt Judon led college football with 21 sacks last season at Grand Valley State, and he hasn't slowed down in the NFL with a sack in each of his first two preseason games.
So, is Judon an impact pass-rusher or is this the result of playing against backups? The Baltimore Ravens want to know. That's why the rookie fifth-round pick is expected to get snaps with the first-team defense in Saturday's preseason game, especially with Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Za'Darius Smith not scheduled to play.
"We need to put him in that position," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "What better time? I don’t want to wait until Buffalo to find out."
It was well known that the Ravens wanted to get young pass-rushers in this year's draft. Judon, however, was not well known among most of the team's fan base.
He's a small-school player who put up big numbers at Grand Valley State, a Division II school in Western Michigan that currently has five players in the NFL. He was so dominant at that level that he once had three sacks in four plays.
After being the 146th player drafted this year, Judon had a quiet start in Baltimore. He didn't make any memorable plays in offseason practices or in training camp.
Then, when the preseason started, Judon took off. Playing against the second- and third-string players, he leads the Ravens with nine tackles and would have three sacks if the NFL counted the one he had on a two-point conversion.
"He’s a gamer, I guess," coach John Harbaugh said. "He’s playing pretty good in practice, but he’s playing really well in the games."
Judon has earned the right to get time with the starters, and it works out well because Baltimore is low on pass-rushers. Smith is dealing with an ankle injury, and Suggs and Dumervil aren't expected to play after recently being activated off the physically unable to perform list.
When looking at Judon, the Ravens see a tough, physical rusher with a good burst off the edge.
"I think he’s going to grow into a big guy, kind of like ‘Sizz’ [Terrell Suggs] is," Pees said. "I wouldn’t compare him to him in any way, shape or form right now, but I think he’s that style of guy."
Prior to that touchdown throw, the offense struggled and the defense looked anemic. At certain points, it would have been hard for the Browns to look worse, which is concerning given it was the third preseason game, which by most accounts is supposed to be the most important one.
With the starters on the field, the Browns didn't rush the passer, didn't stop the pass, didn't pass the ball, didn't protect the quarterback and didn't tackle on special teams.
"We sprung a leak in a lot of different places," coach Hue Jackson said.
Were it not for Gordon, they would not have come close to scoring. His 44-yard catch on the first third down of the game set up a field goal, and his acrobatic catch of a 43-yard touchdown late in the half gave the Browns their only TD.
Those two plays accounted for 87 of the team's 163 total yards.
The two plays count, but take them away and Robert Griffin III was 6-for-12 for 32 yards. He was sacked five times. He fumbled once. And after converting his first two third downs on throws to Gordon and Gary Barnidge, he missed his next five -- and was sacked on three of them.
Griffin has been productive in the preseason when he can throw the ball deep to one of the Browns receivers running down the sideline, but the third preseason game did little to prove he's past the pocket passing issues that dogged him in Washington.
"We cant just live by the long ball," Jackson said. "It's good. We're scoring. We'll take that, but at the same time we have to have other elements of our offense show up."
Credit him and Gordon for the deep balls, but at this point of the preseason, it would have been nice to see the offense operate a little more efficiently and the defense at least provide token resistance to Jameis Winston.
This was a bad third preseason game.
"I'm not going to accept this," Jackson said. "We're going to go back to work and fix this."
QB depth chart: Jackson gave Griffin one half, then went right to Josh McCown. There will be no change in this depth chart. Griffin will be the Browns' starter.
Maybe that player could start: The Browns have this receiver who will be suspended the first four games of the season. Guy named Gordon, first name Josh. Guy who's tall, can run like a gazelle, has amazing ability to get balls that are up for grabs and who makes a quarterback better. Jackson probably can't wait for the fifth game.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Browns looked ... : Brutally overmatched, which isn't good given this is the "key" preseason game. At one point, the Bucs were doing everything they wanted and led 27-3 with six minutes left in the second quarter. Consider these first half stats: Winston threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns. The Bucs had 305 yards to 163 for the Browns. And the Bucs passing game produced 259 yards to the Browns' 98. Big plays to Gordon or no big plays, this was a dud.
One reason to be concerned: Danny Shelton was the 12th overall pick in the 2015 draft, the first of two first-round picks. Though he forced a second-half fumble, he has not been very visible in preseason. Whether that is cause for concern is up for debate, but Shelton has gone two games in a row in which he played in the third quarter. That is not typical for starters.
Protection or decisions? On two third downs in the first half, Griffin was sacked. On both, he had time to throw and either saw nobody to throw to or did not make a decision. Or, according to Jackson, he ran out of time. "We're not holding the ball too long," Jackson said. The concern: That kind of play from the pocket cost Griffin his job in Washington. He has the confidence of his coach in Cleveland, but it would have been nice to see him make a throw from the pocket. His big plays in the preseason have all been on throws when he flung it deep to receivers running down the sideline.
Excitement fizzles: There was a lot of chatter about getting Gordon, Terrelle Pryor and first-round pick Corey Coleman on the field for the first time. Gordon produced on two deep balls. Pryor had two receptions for 15 yards and after missing one third down, complained to the official about a penalty that was not called. Coleman had one reception, but it was called back by penalty. He had two other targets, but did not have a reception. Clearly there is work to be done.
Special failures: It wasn't just the offense and defense that let down. Special teams contributed, as well. The starters gave up a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first half, the backups a 43-yard return that set up a field goal in the second half. This was not a good night for the team.
NEW ORLEANS -- So that's what the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense looks like.
After weeks of injuries, a player suspension and spotty preseason football from the reserves, the Steelers walked their stars onto the Mercedes-Benz Superdome field and dissected the New Orleans Saints' defense as if it was routine, like lunch or a nap, in a 27-14 win on Friday night.
These were not routine numbers, preseason or not: 12-of-17, 148 yards, two touchdowns on two drives for Ben Roethlisberger in his first action of the preseason.
Roethlisberger connected with six different playmakers on his first eight completions, including a 5-yard score to Jesse James off a scramble to cap a smooth 15-play, 74-yard drive.
Nothing like the Saints' defense to boost morale -- Landry Jones tore it up, too, completing 12 of his first 15 passes for 116 yards and a score -- but the performance was impressive, and much needed.
The Steelers are at their best when in the no-huddle offense like on that first drive, Roethlisberger said. In that set, Roethlisberger calls plays from the line of scrimmage along with offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
"I think our base offense is going to be uptempo," Roethlisberger said.
Le'Veon Bell was a tease, because he looked explosive coming off knee surgery, and now he's out until late September because of the three-game suspension for missed drug tests. His ability as a receiver (five catches, 37 yards) reminds that he can help offset the losses of tight end Ladarius Green (ankle) and Martavis Bryant (suspended). Save his second-quarter fumble on 3rd-and-18 -- and he rarely fumbles -- Bell looked excellent.
Bell, who split snaps with DeAngelo Williams and played well into the second half, said he felt he showed he was back.
"Get hit, get tackled, go to the ground a couple of times, shake the rust off a little bit -- it felt good," Bell said. "I definitely still felt a little rusty."
And don't sleep on this fact: Roethlisberger threw to new slot receiver Eli Rogers on four of his first 14 attempts. It's obvious that he trusts Rogers, who finished with two catches for 17 yards.
There were no questions that the Steelers would have a potent offense in 2016. But as Roethlisberger's 57-yard teardrop to Antonio Brown for a touchdown reminds, this group is good enough to thrive despite a few moving parts.
QB depth chart: Roethlisberger left the game after two series and Jones deftly took over, hitting a streaking Markus Wheaton for a 36-yard play and finding Sammie Coates in the corner of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown. Coates and Jones connecting is a positive sign after they struggled to connect a week ago, resulting in two interceptions. Jones looked much improved playing alongside some of the starters, which is to be expected, but that doesn't erase the four interceptions from the previous week.
Maybe that dude could start: James looked right at home with the first-team offense, catching three passes for 23 yards and a score. James isn't a downfield burner, but he has sure hands and is a huge target at 6-foot-6. His run blocking appears adequate most of the time. If Green is out awhile, James showed Friday that he can at least keep the position afloat.
Who got hurt?: Defensive end Cam Heyward (ankle) and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (elbow) both left the game and didn't return. Heyward was carted off, and Gilbert threw his helmet after his last play in the game. They are being evaluated. These are very important players whose injuries will be monitored closely. Safety Shamarko Thomas hurt his groin in the first quarter.
Surprise players who impressed: Reserve outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo was around the ball on almost every down he played. Tight end Xavier Grimble showed up at a crucial time in the race for a roster spot. Linebacker L.J. Fort forced a fumble on a running play early in the fourth quarter.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Steelers looked ...: Mighty comfortable. While the offense ran through the Saints, the defense acquitted itself well by allowing one first down on the Saints' first two drives. The Saints drove downfield on the third, but by then Pittsburgh had worked multiple backups into the rotation. On the Saints' first team's only touchdown, the Steelers had Willie Snead triple covered and he made a ridiculous catch. Hard to argue with that.
One reason to be concerned: The No. 3 cornerback role remains unresolved. Rookie Sean Davis has played most of the slot cornerback snaps, and though he's up to the challenge, the team drafted him as a safety. First-rounder Artie Burns has been out most of the preseason with a quad injury. The Senquez Golson injury hurts more by the week. That's why I'm not writing off the team potentially signing free agent Keenan Lewis if his health gets right. Or the team can take a chance on Donald Washington, Montell Garner or Doran Grant.
Big shot: The Steelers signed linebacker Vince Williams to a three-year deal this week in part because he's a physical tackler. But Williams earned a 15-yard penalty for a helmet-to-helmet shot on running back Daniel Lasco. Williams and Fort both connected with Lasco, resulting in a fumble.
Getting tackled to the ground for the first time is considered a milestone of sorts.
Le'Veon Bell understands this. But tearing two ligaments in his right knee in Week 8 of last season against the Cincinnati Bengals hasn't changed his overall mentality when it comes to running the football: He never wants to be tackled.
"I'm going to avoid trying to get hit," Bell said. "If I do happen to get tackled, then I get tackled."
Bell is expected to play along with the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers' starters at 8 p.m. ET tonight against the New Orleans Saints. This group could play well into the first half, depending on pace and production. If the offense scores on the first two drives, for example, Ben Roethlisberger and Co. will likely take a seat.
Bell will inevitably have the shortest leash. Get him a few carries, then see you in Week 4. Bell can't return to practices until Sept. 26 after serving a three-game suspension for missed drug tests.
Bell hasn't lost support in the locker room despite starting back-to-back Week 1s on the shelf because of NFL discipline. He is generally viewed as a hard worker more than a character concern. Guard David DeCastro said "I don't really care" what might be holding Bell back off the field, and that's been the general mentality of the group. Work with who's here, no hard feelings.
That's why the offense would be happy to see a productive and healthy Bell for the first time in about 10 months.
Bell has fully participated in every practice this offseason, though he runs with a protective bubble to shield would-be tacklers.
Bell is admittedly eager to perform again.
"It's always good to kind of get your feet wet, get some live action before you hit a real game," he said. "I haven't played for a long time. It will be fun. This is the best I've felt since the injury. I feel a lot faster and quicker."
What to expect from Bell tonight ... At least a few reps out wide as a receiver, possibly on something deep, like a hitch-and-go, along with a few traditional carries. The injury to Ladarius Green makes Bell all the more valuable as a receiver.
Don't be surprised if Bell gets the ball on the team's first offensive play of the game, a re-initiation of sorts.
Robert Griffin III tried to downplay things, but folks around the NFL will do the opposite.
Josh Gordon, first-round pick Corey Coleman and Andrew Hawkins will play for the first time this preseason, joining Terrelle Pryor and giving fans and the rest of the league a look at what the Browns could be.
They won't be together in a game that counts until Week 5, thanks to Gordon's four-game suspension, but the hope is that Griffin and this receiving crew provide the big plays the Browns' offense needs.
Griffin said he wouldn't think in terms of talent but rather in terms of making the right read and throwing the ball to the right guy, but even in talking about that approach he showed the feeling about the potential with the receiving group.
"There's a lot of fish in the tank," Griffin said. "And it's up to us to feed them the right way."
It is an unknown in some ways. The group is talented, but questions need to be answered.
Gordon is coming off a yearlong suspension and has missed 27 of the past 32 games to suspensions. Pryor is trying to move from quarterback to receiver. Coleman is a talented but unproven first-round pick. And Hawkins has averaged 35 catches in his five seasons.
But this is Cleveland, where hope always springs eternal, especially with the Browns and most especially in preseason.
"We've got a lot of talent on the field," Coleman said. "It's kind of scary. So many guys can do different things."
"I don't want to put bulletin-board material and stuff on there because we're all pros out here," Pryor said. "We're all going to battle. But if you look at just the size and the speed of what me and Josh have, of course, it's somewhat of a disadvantage [for defenses].
"We've got great talent. Corey is coming back. Hawk's coming back. We're starting to get our guys back. So it's exciting."
Gordon talked openly of being a group that can stretch the defense, and of how the deep ball will be part of the Browns' offense.
"We've got the ability and the talent to stretch the field in every direction," Gordon said.
Gordon has received positive reviews since he returned from a quadriceps injury that delayed his reinstatement return for two weeks. Cornerback Jamar Taylor told cleveland.com that Gordon can be "a terror." Joe Haden called Gordon "a freak."
Pryor has done nothing but impress from the offseason through the preseason. Even coach Hue Jackson said the fourth-year player has been "excellent" through camp and preseason.
Coleman had an excellent two weeks of practice before straining his hamstring. The Bucs game will be his NFL preseason debut.
Does all that translate into regular-season success? Time will tell. The Browns' recent history is filled with regular-season disappointment that followed preseason hype.
But with the receivers at least there is a starting point. Add Griffin's ability to throw the deep ball and the Browns' offense becomes much more intriguing with its top players on the field.
"They provide us with some opportunities to do some things that we like to do," Jackson said. "We have a lot of good guys, a lot of different pieces that we can use ... we just have to keep getting better."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Keenan Reynolds has yet to make a catch this preseason, and he didn't get a chance to return a kick in last week's game.
Based on this picture, it looks like the converted Navy quarterback is on the verge of sliding off the roster bubble. The Baltimore Ravens see it differently.
Coaches are raving about Reynolds' aggressiveness on coverage teams, his work ethic, and his athletic skills.
"He is America's finest in my view," special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "You see him in the meetings, see him on the field. He is doing everything he can to get good at a lot of things, and we are practicing him at a lot of places. He has to find a place, and we have to find a place for him in the games. He is ready to roll.”
Reynolds was one of the most decorated players in Navy history as a triple-option quarterback, finishing as the FBS all-time leader in total touchdowns and winning more games than any other quarterback in school history. The Ravens were elated to draft him in the sixth round with the intention of switching him to a wide receiver and returner.
In two preseason games, Reynolds has struggled to get separation and has had only one pass thrown in his direction. He acknowledged the process has been "humbling."
"This is the highest level and this is the best players in the world," Reynolds said. "It's definitely difficult no matter if you've been playing receiver position your whole life or a few months. I think I've gotten better throughout offseason workouts and [training] camp. I will continue to build on that."
As a returner, Reynolds has had his troubles fielding punts. It seemed like he had one drop a day in training camp, and he has yet to return a punt in a preseason game (one fair catch). The Ravens didn't give one opportunity to Reynolds for a punt return in last week's preseason game.
Reynolds' biggest competition for the returner job is Michael Campanaro, and coach John Harbaugh indicated that Campanaro is "our best guy" for that position at this point.
The Ravens have used Reynolds on special teams beyond the returner role. Reynolds made two tackles in the second preseason game, leading Rosburg to jokingly say, "His first two tackles he ever had in his life happened to be in the NFL."
"He did a great job as a gunner. He ran the show," Rosburg said. "He was aggressive down the field in coverage."
The Ravens must get down to 53 players by Sept. 3. In terms of wide receiver, there are five players who have earned a spot: Steve Smith Sr., Mike Wallace, Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman, and Chris Moore.
This means Reynolds, Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, and Chris Matthews are fighting for one spot or possibly two openings. Reynolds has looked like a practice squad candidate (if he clears waivers) by his slow development as a receiver and return man. What Reynolds has working for him is his versatility.
"As I’ve described before, our returners need to be able to do something more than just be a returner, and he really demonstrated that the other night," Rosburg said. "He’s improving in his catching skills. You know he can run the ball when he has it, so he continues to develop. Positive progress.”
The deal about the deal is that the Browns whiffed on another first-round pick. Another high first-round pick.
The poor record of the Browns' top picks would make anyone sick. Add in that many were top-10 picks and it's worse.
Since the Browns took Joe Haden in 2010, the first-round picks have gone this way:
- DT Phil Taylor, 21st overall — Did well for Browns, was recently released by Denver. Will always be "the guy the Browns acquired when they gave up the right to draft wide receiver Julio Jones."
- QB Brandon Weeden, 22nd overall — Now a backup in Houston.
- RB Trent Richardson, third overall — Out of the NFL.
- Mingo, sixth overall — Traded to New England.
- QB Johnny Manziel, 22nd overall — Out of the NFL.
- CB Justin Gilbert, eighth overall — Fighting for a roster spot.
- C Cam Erving, 19th overall — Slated to start at center, but results have been mixed on his play.
- NT Danny Shelton, 12th overall — Starting nose tackle, but played in the third quarter of preseason game two, which usually is a sign team is concerned with him.
- WR Corey Coleman, 15th overall — Looked very good in initial practices; just coming back from a hamstring issue.
Does losing Mingo matter?
Not much. Ray Horton coached Mingo in 2013; he coached him again. It says something that Horton could not find a spot for him.
Mingo proved to be what the knock against him was when he came out of LSU: Too thin to play in the more demanding NFL. Weight was always an issue for Mingo. This season he supposedly put on 20 pounds, but it never showed on the field, in practice or games.
He was not strong enough to play every down, not talented enough to rush the passer, not skilled enough to play in coverage. When Horton tried him inside in camp, it was a sign the Browns were flailing. He leaves Cleveland with seven sacks, three of them in his first three games, four in his last 43. Somehow the Browns got a fifth-round pick for a player with those numbers.
This regime has no ties to past high picks. Since March, Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson have let two go, via release and trade: Manziel and Mingo.
The remaining ones have yet to prove themselves. Gilbert is fighting for a roster spot. Erving and Shelton will be on the team, but their future in Cleveland probably depends on how they play this season.
Going back and ripping draft picks is always easy. A couple of the Browns' picks made sense at the time and didn't work out. A couple were slated for problems from the second they were picked.
Regardless, the bottom line is the bottom line: From 2007 through 2014, the Browns had 10 first-round picks. Three remain on the roster -- Joe Thomas, Haden and Gilbert.
So, does Flacco want to take a shot in his preseason debut Saturday?
"I don’t need to get hit, no," Flacco said after Thursday's practice. "But if I do, it’s not a bad thing either."
Flacco, who sat out the first two preseason games, is expecting to play about a half Saturday night against the Detroit Lions. He has looked sharp in training camp, but he's done so while wearing a red jersey, which signifies no contact.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked if he has confidence that Flacco can take a hit and shrug it off.
"If I wasn’t, he wouldn’t be out there," Harbaugh said.
Flacco tore his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee last November, when backup left tackle James Hurst was pushed back into him. When Flacco takes the field at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday, it will be 279 days since he last played in a game.
The Ravens are expecting some degree of rust from the long layoff.
"I’m sure that’s going to be a factor," Harbaugh said. "But I’d rather have it be in this game than two weeks from now against the Bills."
Before the injury, Flacco had started 122 straight games, the fifth-longest streak by a quarterback in NFL history. Team officials applauded Flacco this offseason for the way he attacked his rehab, and he hit the targeted return date of the first day of training camp.
Flacco hasn't missed a rep of practice since coming back and is ready to suit up Saturday, which is 15 days away from Baltimore's season-opener against Buffalo.
"I really don’t feel like I need to play in games to get ready to play in Game 1," Flacco said. "I want to put myself through that whole process. I don’t need to, but I want to. I think I’ll be better for it."
Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said this week that Flacco has answered all of the injury questions by the confidence level he's displayed in moving in and out of the pocket. Harbaugh reiterated that there's really no doubt, because the Ravens have seen how he's practiced every day this summer.
"But football is always risky, for everybody," Harbaugh said. "That’s just the way it works. You have to weigh the benefits with the risk and put him out there. But Joe’s the quarterback. He’s not going to break."
By what he's done in training camp, Flacco has answered all of the questions coming off last year's season-ending knee injury.
"He practices at full speed," Trestman said. "He’s made it a point to work in the pocket and getting himself outside of the pocket, throwing on the run and moving around. I think he’s completely confident in his ability to move around and have the mobility in the pocket that he needs and to be able to scramble when necessary."
Flacco has been impressive this summer, from the accuracy on his throws to playing every rep on a surgically repaired left knee. He's one of the few older players on the team who hasn't taken a practice off.
The Ravens have played it cautiously by sitting him in the first two preseason games and starting Ryan Mallett. Saturday's game against the Detroit Lions will be Flacco's first since tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee last Nov. 22.
What are the Ravens looking for out of Flacco?
"We just want to keep him safe out there and give him the opportunity to throw the football and do what we want to do during the season, so we’re not going in there with any parameters other than get some good work, get in the red zone and score," Trestman said.
Some will call it a snub, such as ESPN's John Clayton. But based on what Flacco has done since the Ravens won the Super Bowl after the 2012 season, it's understandable.
Flacco has built a reputation for being a winning, durable and big-armed quarterback. During the last three seasons, the Ravens have a 21-21 record with Flacco as the starter. He missed the last six games of 2015 with a knee injury and ranks 13th with 31 completions on passes that have traveled at least 25 yards.
His uneven performances aren't all his fault. Left tackle Eugene Monroe proved unreliable. His favorite target, tight end Dennis Pitta, fractured his hip twice. Speedy first-round pick Breshad Perriman has yet to play a game. And Ray Rice, the franchise's all-time leader in yards from scrimmage, suffered a major decline before a high-profile domestic-violence incident led to his release.
When focusing on Flacco's performance, he hasn't come close to reaching the same level of the 2012 postseason. Since the Super Bowl, Flacco has thrown the third-most interceptions (46) and has a 82.0 passer rating, which is 31st in the league.
An argument can be made that Flacco deserves to be on the list because Tony Romo (No. 62), Philip Rivers (No. 77) and Eli Manning (No. 78) made the cut. Still, it's not like Jay Cutler or Sam Bradford were put on there ahead of Flacco.
That being said, Flacco has a very good shot at making the top 100 next season. He has more weapons in the passing game than in previous seasons with the free-agent signings of Mike Wallace and Benjamin Watson along with the return of Steve Smith Sr. and Pitta. He will be protected by Ronnie Stanley, the Ravens' first top-10 pick in 13 years.
The bigger slap in the face is actually ESPN's fantasy rankings. Flacco is ranked No. 243, and there are 14 kickers ahead of him.
After being released by the New Orleans Saints on Friday, cornerback Keenan Lewis might wind up in a familiar landing spot. He is heading to a visit Tuesday with his original team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to a source.
Lewis, 30, will have to show the Steelers he is close to returning from a lingering hip injury that became a source of contention between him and the Saints.
Lewis said recently that he expects to be close to 100 percent by Week 1. But he only practiced once during training camp and made it clear he didn’t want to rush back and risk a setback. Coach Sean Payton expressed frustration while saying Lewis' release came down to "availability."
ESPN Steelers reporter Jeremy Fowler said the Steelers could use an established third cornerback to complement William Gay and Ross Cockrell. With rookie cornerback Artie Burns nursing a quad injury and rookie safety Sean Davis playing nickel cornerback out of necessity, Lewis' playmaking skills would be welcome. And he certainly knows Pittsburgh's system.
Lewis’ medical history will be the issue, though. Fowler said the Steelers will be skeptical unless Lewis passes the team’s medical evaluation. If he does, the Steelers will evaluate cost-effective measures to sign him.
Lewis first suffered the hip/sports hernia injury during the 2015 preseason. He then required three surgeries between September and January while playing in only six games with zero starts last season. He said recently that he suffered another setback while working out in June.
Lewis also told ESPN that he never meshed well with new Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen -- dating all the way back to when Lewis was coming out of college in 2009. However, when asked if he noted any tension between Lewis and the Allen, Payton said, "I don’t think so. We didn’t have a chance to. He wasn’t on the field."
When healthy, though, the 6-foot-1, 208-pounder was playing at nearly a Pro Bowl level as New Orleans' No. 1 cornerback from 2013-2014. Before that, he impressed as a young cornerback with the Steelers, who drafted him in the third round out of Oregon State in 2009.
Lewis had a whopping 23 pass break-ups in his final year with the Steelers in 2012. He has seven interceptions and 53 PBUs in his seven-year career.
The source said that up to six teams have expressed interest in Lewis. His Pittsburgh visit was first reported by NOLA.com.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have spent much of this preseason without back-to-back first-rounders Bud Dupree and Artie Burns. In a routine all too familiar, Dupree and Burns do light work under the supervision of trainers while the rest of the Steelers practice.
Burns, the Steelers' new cornerback and No. 25 overall pick in 2016, said last week he feels like he's close to returning.
Dupree thinks he's close, too, and he even practiced twice recently. When he's moving around normally, he feels great. But that groin injury sometimes flares up when the 2015 first-rounder tries to do the things for which the Steelers drafted him, such as exploding off the line of scrimmage or sprinting.
This is one injury to monitor. Dupree said he's eyeing a swift return but isn't sure where things stand.
"I keep trying to go out there too quickly," Dupree said. "I can't be a speed dude and look slow. I can't be a non-explosive guy when everybody knows I'm explosive. That's got to be (a departure) from why the Steelers picked me."
And that's the core issue. Dupree could probably participate more in practices, but the team wants Dupree at full strength upon his return. Dupree wants that, too. And so everyone waits.
This is no cause for alarm halfway through the preseason, but the threat of playing Week 1 without a potential breakout pass rusher was not in the Steelers' plans. Dupree lost nearly 20 pounds this offseason and looks poised for a rebound from his sluggish late-season stretch in 2015 (no sacks in the second half of the year).
Asked if he might miss the rest of the preseason, Dupree said he hopes not and plans to be back "very soon," but the injury is truly week-to-week.
Burns is dealing with a similar plight. He's missed much of the preseason with a left quad injury and vows to remain patient, even if the Steelers could use him.
"It's kind of tough," Burns said. "I just have to stay patient and wait for my opportunity. If I get impatient, I might lose my opportunity when it shows."