OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Joe Flacco isn't elite. He's overpaid, and he's not a passionate leader.
These are the criticisms that have dogged Flacco throughout his up-and-down 11-year career with the Baltimore Ravens. The one knock you'll never hear is a lack of professionalism.
In the most humbling moment of his professional life, Flacco handled his benching with class. He expressed disappointment about the decision but didn't complain about losing his job to injury. Flacco even complimented Lamar Jackson and insisted he'll remain prepared because he didn't want to do a disservice to his teammates in the midst of a playoff run.
There was no sense of entitlement from someone who has been a Super Bowl MVP, has thrown four times as many touchdown passes as any other Ravens quarterback and has won the fifth-most games by any NFL quarterback since 2008.
John Harbaugh's decision to stick with Jackson and demote Flacco to backup represents one of the most pivotal points in this franchise's 23-year history. This officially begins the Lamar Jackson era and ends the Joe Flacco one.
But there was no drama, vitriol or a hint of a quarterback controversy because Flacco chose not to make this transition into an awkward one.
"It’s out of my hands," Flacco said in his first comments since injuring his right hip on Nov. 4. "I got hurt. They drafted Lamar in the first round. At some point, something was going to happen between the two of us, and who knows what that was going to be? This is just what it is at this point. I’ve obviously had five weeks to think about it and prepare myself for this situation and the possibility of it. Yes, I’m disappointed that I can’t be in that locker room in the same capacity that I’ve always been. But this is my situation right now, and I’m going to do my best to handle it the right way."
Flacco has braced for this painful quarterback switch ever since the Ravens traded into the bottom of the first round to take Jackson with the No. 32 overall pick on April 26.
Harbaugh called Flacco minutes after Baltimore drafted Jackson. "You're still our starting quarterback," Harbaugh said.
Flacco's response? "You took me in the first round, and I played right away," he said.
In 2008, the Ravens' plan was to sit Flacco as a rookie and start either Troy Smith or Kyle Boller. But Smith suffered a severe case of tonsillitis and Boller injured his shoulder, which pushed Flacco into a starting role in his first year.
Eleven years later, Flacco's hip injury provided the opening for Jackson, who was also expected to be given time to develop. Losing his starting job to injury is a bad break for Flacco after never missing a game in nine of his previous 10 seasons.
"I know I wanted to get out there and play the week after it happened," Flacco said. "We had a bye week, and I wanted to go play. At the end of the day, what I can say is that what did happen, the risks of going back out there and playing, at the end of the day, were just a lot."
What should never be forgotten is how Flacco brought stability to one of the most unstable quarterbacks situations in the league. Before Flacco arrived in Baltimore, the Ravens started 15 quarterbacks in 12 seasons, from Vinny Testaverde to Trent Dilfer to Boller to Troy Smith.
Flacco's legacy is the 10 postseason wins, three trips to the AFC Championship Game and an unreal run to the 2012 Super Bowl, which proved to be the peak of his career and the ultimate downfall. The Ravens rewarded Flacco with the richest deal in NFL history at the time, giving him $120.6 million over six years.
Flacco never came close to living up to expectations of being the league's highest-paid player. Since hoisting up the Lombardi Trophy, Flacco has a 43-42 record and has missed the playoffs in four of the past five seasons. He's thrown 116 touchdowns and 82 interceptions, the fourth-most in the NFL over that time.
Now, it looks like Flacco's last games in a Ravens uniform will be on the sideline, unless Jackson sustains an injury.
"Joe has been great. Joe is a leader," Harbaugh said. "Hey, everybody wants to play. Every football player wants to have the biggest role they can possibly have; I’m sure Joe is no different. Any player we have feels the same way, but Joe is a pro. He has class. He has complete respect in the locker room."
When Flacco takes the field Sunday, it will be the first time in 164 games that he won't be the starter. Flacco is in unchartered territory. But, during his 11-minute, 22-second session with reporters, he dealt with a tough situation like an experienced veteran.
"I want to play football," Flacco said. "It’s been different the last four weeks. I’ve never been inactive. It’s not easy standing on that sideline knowing you have no hand in what’s going on. So, this is a little different role, too. It’s obviously going to take some getting used to, and you’re not going to get the reps and things like that. But like I said, you have to be a professional about it."