Joe Flacco is doing something no one thought possible

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There is a whole mess of teams clustered together with 7-6 records in the AFC. One of those teams is not the Cleveland Browns. Joe Flacco stepped in as a starting quarterback for the injured Deshaun Watson and Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Even with Thompson-Robinson now healthy, head coach Kevin Stefanski has named Flacco the starter for the rest of the season.

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The reason for that is the 38-year-old Flacco is using that golden arm of his to rev up the Browns’ offense. They defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars — who started a hobbled Trevor Lawrence — 31-27 on Sunday. Following that victory, the Browns, at 8-5, are the fifth seed in the AFC and technically still in the hunt for a division championship.

Lawrence’s bad ankle had nothing to do with Flacco passing for 311 yards and three touchdowns. His best plays looked nothing like him hanging in the pocket to launch a ball 50 yards in the air to a streaking Jacoby Jones that defeated the Denver Broncos in the playoffs 10 years ago. These were timing routes, a couple of which went for long touchdowns. He put David Njoku to work with six receptions for 91 yards and two scores.

In Week 13, Flacco played well enough to keep the Browns within one point of the red-hot Los Angeles Rams until he underthrew a deep pass to Elijah Moore. The pass was intercepted and returned deep into Cleveland territory.

Turnovers are a part of the deal with Flacco. Even when he was at his best with the Baltimore Ravens, if he was the starter for the whole season he threw double-digit interceptions. Flacco threw one in the second quarter against the Jaguars. The Browns were in Jags’ territory and up 14-0. They could have put the game out of reach on that drive.

The Browns certainly know that by giving Flacco the job for the rest of the season, he will sometimes give the ball away. He started three games for the New York Jets last season while Zach Wilson recovered from a knee injury. In Flacco’s final start, he completed just under 54 percent of his passes, threw two interceptions, and lost two of his three fumbles. The Jets didn’t even bring him back on the roster after Aaron Rodgers’ injury this season.

There is no replacing a starting quarterback, and Watson had barely played like one for most of 2023. Combine that with losing Nick Chubb in Week 2 for the rest of season, the game after right tackle Jack Conklin suffered a season-ending injury, and the Browns needed every stick of glue and roll of tape in Northeast Ohio to keep their offense together.

That is Flacco’s job for the next few games. He is being asked to keep the offense from falling apart. As a veteran quarterback with a good arm, Flacco can handle this responsibility for a few weeks. Even if he puts up a stinker later this month, the win against the Jaguars gives the Browns some cushion in the postseason race.

With one of the best defenses in the league, the Browns should be able to keep every game close the rest of the way.

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