On Monday night, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco took the type of hit to his knee that could have ended his season. A little tweaking of a few variables -- how his foot was positioned, the amount of force striking his leg, a slightly different angulation on the blow -- and we might be discussing whether Flacco would be ready for the start of the 2014 season. Instead, he escaped with a mild MCL sprain to his left knee and we're not even concerned about him starting the next game (and he's No. 21 among QBs in our Week 16 rankings).
Flacco acknowledged he was a bit concerned after his knee got bent inward following the hit from the helmet of Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy but realizes it could have been far worse. "It was a little scary," Flacco said, according to ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley. "I've never really had a severe knee injury, so you don't know what is what. So when you feel something, you definitely get a little bit scared." The fear was alleviated once Flacco saw he could put weight through the leg and it would still support him, but that doesn't mean he'll turn down a little bit of extra protection Sunday.
He has been outfitted with a brace, similar to the style worn by other quarterbacks who have suffered major knee injuries like Tom Brady and Robert Griffin III, and is sporting it in his light practices this week. He plans to wear it for the game because, as Flacco points out, "There's no reason not to."
The primary reason for wearing the brace is to offer Flacco's knee some support while also providing protection from the type of blow he took Monday night. While bracing does not render an athlete entirely injury-proof, this type of brace provides solid protection in the direction in which Flacco was hit, a bowing inward of the knee from a force on the outer aspect of the joint (also called a valgus stress). Valgus forces stress the inner side of the knee joint, which is reinforced by the medial collateral ligament. That MCL -- while intact if Flacco suffered only a mild sprain -- still sustained trauma and tissue damage and could be at risk for further injury from a similar blow. Flacco has been experiencing some stiffness and soreness in his knee, not uncommon after even a mild sprain, and his mobility may be somewhat challenged by the injury. By finishing out the game Monday night, he proved that he could play through the injury, and the rest and treatment he has been receiving early in the week should help.
Nonetheless, it will be in Flacco's best interest not to test the resiliency of his injured knee. Ideally, he will avoid getting piled on in the pocket and may be encouraged to release the ball a bit sooner. While Flacco is not known as a scrambler, he certainly picks up yards when he needs to and doesn't hesitate to slide, something that is a bit harder to do with a sore MCL. He may opt to head out of bounds when he is forced to run as opposed to sliding underneath (or into) defenders for yardage. In other words, he has to be mobile enough to escape further injury, something the Ravens have no doubt evaluated in terms of allowing him to play. After all, Flacco got through Monday night's incident without any major injury, keeping his six-year streak of consecutive games alive. He doesn't want to tempt fate twice.