Losing Joe Flacco makes Ravens a favorite for No. 1 overall pick

BALTIMORE -- The season-ending knee injury to quarterback Joe Flacco defined a season gone terribly wrong. It was the knockout blow in a year filled with crushing injuries to the Baltimore Ravens.

And it officially makes the Ravens a favorite to land the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

With Flacco, the Ravens could hold out hope for a late-season run to respectability. Without him, Baltimore is a shell of a team that many believed would be a Super Bowl contender.

After Sunday's 16-13 win against the Rams, Baltimore (3-7) is one game ahead of the Cleveland Browns, San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans for the worst record in the NFL. Should they fall to Browns at home on Nov. 30, the Ravens could move into the inside track for the top pick.

"We’ll be fine as a football team," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. "We’ll bounce back, that’s what you do."

That's what you can say when it's "next man up." For the Ravens, it's next, next, next man up.

The Ravens have lost their top two wide receivers (Steve Smith Sr. and Breshad Perriman), top two running backs (Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro), top tight end (Dennis Pitta) and starting center (Jeremy Zuttah). Baltimore was without two other offensive linemen (left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele) by the end of Sunday's game.

The decisive shot was the news that Flacco was finished for the season. The Ravens might have had a chance to upset the Browns or Dolphins or Chiefs with Flacco. Now, no one would be stunned if Baltimore lost its final six games.

Flacco wasn't having his best season, but he admirably kept the Ravens in games. Before gutting out the final plays with torn knee ligaments, Flacco rallied Baltimore from a 13-3 deficit in the fourth quarter by completing 9 of his final 12 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown. His fourth-quarter rating of 137.2 trailed only Tony Romo on Sunday.

How are the Ravens going to win games now? How are they going to score? What the Ravens are left with is Matt Schaub (who has lost his last six starts) handing off to Buck Allen or throwing to Kamar Aiken and Chris Givens. This is what you would expect to see in the second half of preseason games, not the second half of a regular season.

"Matt Schaub can play quarterback, and he’s going to come in [and] he’s going to play very well," Harbaugh said. "Those who want to consider themselves amateur evaluators, they can say what they want. It’s OK, we’ll rally behind Matt. We’ll rally behind the rest of our running backs, because we’re a football team. We are a team, and that’s how we approach it.”

The Ravens' reaction to Flacco's season-ending knee injury tells the story of a nightmare campaign.

Flacco had never missed a football game in his life. Not in high school, college or the NFL. He had the fifth-longest consecutive games streak for a quarterback in NFL history.

But the biggest surprise was that few in the Ravens' locker room was shocked by the loss of one of the most durable quarterbacks in football.

"Obviously, it's the way our season has been going," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "At this point, you kind of expect it. It's the way things are going this year."

This will go down as the most painful, disappointing and bizarre season in the Ravens' 20-year history.

Last week, Baltimore lost a game that the NFL later acknowledged the Ravens should have won. This week, the Ravens won a game that will be remembered by the tremendous loss of Flacco.

He was on pace for a career-high 4,465 yards. He accounted for Baltimore's last seven touchdowns, whether it was throwing or running it in himself. He hobbled for the final three plays because he wanted to win so badly.

"To lose him is tough," linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. "It still feels a little surreal."

The truly surreal moment could come in five months, if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks to the podium and announces, "With the first pick in the 2016 NFL draft, the Baltimore Ravens select ... ."