EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — This wasn't exactly the story line most envisioned when the NFL schedule came out a few months ago and they saw the Baltimore Ravens at the New York Jets in Week 1.
But it's still unexpectedly intriguing.
The Lamar Jackson vs. Zach Wilson showdown was scratched with Wilson sidelined until at least Week 4 with a knee injury. Instead, it'll be Jackson squaring off with Joe Flacco — his one-time teammate and the quarterback whose job he took while on his way to becoming one of the league's most exciting players.
“Actually, I’m not going against Joe — the defense is," Jackson clarified. "I’m going against the Jets' defense, but he meant a lot. Playing with a Super Bowl quarterback, seeing what he did on the field, stuff like that, how he took apart the game, took apart practice and stuff like that.
“Seeing him sling the ball from one side of the field to the next side of the field, from our 20 (-yard line) to the opposite opponent’s 20 ... it was ridiculous. It will be great seeing him.”
The 37-year-old Flacco still holds a prominent spot in Ravens history, having led them to a Super Bowl victory with an MVP-winning performance to cap the 2012 season. He remains the team's career leader in just about every passing category. So it's not lost on him that it will be a bit strange lining up against Baltimore for the first time as an opponent.
“I’ve played enough to know that at some point there’s going to be the time, maybe the first snap or two will be even extra kind of crazy feelings that go into it,” Flacco said. “But after that, I’ve been a part of a bunch of playoff games and all those things and it’s a football game at the end of the day. It’s just a matter of when it settles in and when you can let your mind calm down a little bit.”
Flacco played for Baltimore from 2008 to 2018 before being traded to Denver — making way for Jackson to be the Ravens' starter. He was a backup with the Jets the past two seasons, going 0-5 as a spot starter. Flacco will be under center again Sunday with Wilson out, and the Ravens are ready for his familiar face.
“Probably before the game, it will be good to say hello, but once you get into the game, it’s the game," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. “We have to defend their offense and Joe's ability to play in that offense, and that’s really what we’re looking at.”
Robert Saleh and the Jets' defense have spent weeks watching film of Jackson, running and throwing his way past frustrated opposing defenses.
Jackson is also on the verge of making history. He has 10 career 100-yard rushing games, tied with Michael Vick for the most in the regular season. Jackson's 12 overall such games, including the postseason, are already an NFL record.
“He is special,” Saleh said. "It’s basically the wildcat offense with him. His ability to tuck the ball and run, they’ve always had an extra gap, and then his speed to capture edges. He’s one of the most dynamic football players in the league and he’s an absolute bear to prepare for, so this is the ultimate challenge — and it’s in Week 1.
“So thankfully we’ve had all offseason to prepare. We’ll see how it works out.”
The Ravens ranked No. 1 in the NFL against the run last season, but last against the pass. They replaced defensive coordinator Don Martindale with Mike Macdonald, who spent last season in the college ranks in the same role at Michigan.
Baltimore also tried to revamp its secondary, drafting safety Kyle Hamilton in the first round and signing safety Marcus Williams.
“I think turnovers will be a big thing for our defense this year,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “I’m just ready to put it all on the field and just let it loose.”
The Jets' first four draft picks in April each have a chance to make an immediate impact.
Cornerback Sauce Gardner, the No. 4 overall pick, won a starting job. Wide receiver Garrett Wilson, taken six picks later, will be a prominent part of the offense. Defensive end Jermaine Johnson, picked 26th overall, will be in the rotation for perhaps the team's best and deepest unit.
Running back Breece Hall, a second-rounder, is part of a 1-2 backfield punch with Michael Carter.
Baltimore traded Marquise Brown in the offseason, leaving second-year man Rashod Bateman as the top returning wide receiver. Beyond him, the Ravens have several less-proven players at the position, such as Devin Duvernay and James Proche. Baltimore also added veteran Demarcus Robinson recently.
The presence of tight end Mark Andrews should take some of the pressure off the wideouts, but it’ll be interesting to see if any unexpected contributors emerge.
The Ravens open their season with four straight games against the AFC East, while the Jets have four in a row against the AFC North.
The only other teams to open with opponents from an entire division since the league went to eight divisions in 2002 are the Giants in 2002 (NFC West) and New Orleans in 2004 (NFC West).
AP Sports Writer Noah Trister in Owings Mills, Maryland, contributed.
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