At some point, the sight of a one-time Super Bowl MVP for the Baltimore Ravens starting for a former rival will feel normal and regular. We are not at that point yet.
When Joe Flacco trots onto the field today at 4:25 p.m. ET to lead the Cleveland Browns against the Los Angeles Rams, it'll punctuate one of the more unexpected quarterback turns during a season that has been full of them. Off his couch, Flacco, 38, will start for a team he used to battle twice a year, a team that also has a legit chance at making the playoffs despite losing star QB Deshaun Watson.
What do those still associated with the Ravens think of this turn of events?
"It's not like he's going to the Steelers, man!" said former Baltimore great and Hall of Fame safety, Ed Reed, who won Super Bowl XLVII thanks in part to Flacco's historic run through the playoffs. "He's somewhere that actually has a connection to Baltimore. But I'm all for it. It might be a Cinderella thing, it might be awesome, if Joe can get them to the playoffs."
As Reed notes, Flacco was his best in similar moments in Baltimore.
"He's won a Super Bowl, and not many quarterbacks can say they won a Super Bowl," Reed said. "He played his ass off during those whole playoffs."
Reed noted that this Cleveland team seems to have some core principles similar to his Ravens teams, including a culture that can help an organization win. Reed was asked if this is the craziest thing he's heard.
"Nah, it's not the craziest," Reed said. "Joe wasn't even retired. (Expletive), I can still throw the ball 60, 70 yards on a dime and I'm 45. Joe's just in his 30s -- and he played QB. I think once he gets his feet under him, he'll be fine."
Earlier in the week, Flacco was asked about going from his couch to playing so quickly.
"It's definitely exciting, the idea of it," Flacco told reporters. "There are a lot of things about being at this point in my life that make it really exciting, even besides just playing the game of football. There are so many things that add to it now, having young kids and feeling their excitement about it. And when you are away, it puts things in perspective a little bit. You just try to let these opportunities take care of themselves and do your best to be ready for them."
Flacco said it took him a few minutes to get back in the groove of calling plays in the huddle, to find his comfort zone. Thankfully, it was clear all week that he would start.
"You got to get used to hearing them and then actually seeing them, not just picturing them on a screen," Flacco said. "It's so valuable to be able to get some reps like that in the case that you do play because, that's easy stuff, but you do take it for granted. I definitely have the years of experience that help me out a little bit."
It sounds like practice was solid for Flacco, with one source describing it as "seamless." The veteran has played for several teams, including the Broncos, Jets and Eagles after leaving Baltimore, and his time under Gary Kubiak with the Broncos and with Mike LaFleur when he was the Jets offensive coordinator should help the acclimation. Those foundations of the Browns offense should translate and help today.
Cleveland boasts a top-five defense and a top-five rushing attack, the same formula as those Ravens teams used to reach the playoffs and eventually win the Super Bowl. Reed saw the similarities, too.
"If they can get on a run and Joe protects the ball the way Joe knows how, the coach is going to put Joe in position to be successful," Reed said. "We're going to see how far they can go."