The Cleveland Browns have pretty much had a quarterback problem all season long.
Early on, the play of Deshaun Watson came into question. Then he injured his shoulder. After he came back, he played two very good games. Then an ankle issue, followed by another shoulder issue that placed him on IR.
While Watson was out for four games, rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson had his first start against one of the better defenses in the league with the Baltimore Ravens. The end result was a 28-3 beatdown and displayed that DTR was a fifth-round rookie.
Also competing was journeyman P.J. Walker who went 2-1 in his three starts. He played well on some drives and then looked horrible on others.
With Watson now gone for the year, GM Andrew Berry knew he needed a veteran presence in the QB room. And there were plenty to choose from.
Except Berry only worked out one guy: Joe Flacco.
He was brought in before the win over the Pittsburgh Steelers and then signed to the practice squad on Monday. It is assumed that he will be elevated to the main roster as soon as he can grasp the offense.
Flacco, age 38, had his first practice on Wednesday. Beforehand, he held a press conference with members of the media regarding his new team which is currently 7-3-0, and own the Number 5 seed if the playoffs were to begin today. One of Flacco’s thoughts:
“I definitely believe I can still play.”
The Browns may or may not be dependent upon Flacco’s assessment of his current playing abilities. DTR played spotty at times against the Steelers to which the offense played well in the first half, then fell off the face of the earth in the final two quarters. The 10-0 halftime lead evaporated into a tie game. Luckily, Cleveland held the ball on the final possession after the defense once again stymied Pittsburgh’s ability to make first downs and get another drive going.
DTR then orchestrated a drive that would be the envy of many veteran signalcallers as he took the Browns down the field going 4-4 on pass plays before getting the team in field goal range. K Dustin Hopkins then drilled the game-winner. For the game, DTR played very well being just his second start, plus going against an excellent defensive unit with a set of backup offensive tackles.
So, it may become DTR for the remainder of the season. We will see. He is scheduled to start Sunday against the Denver Broncos and is assumed the coaching staff will stay with him until he messes up. Then everyone will see if Flacco takes over and provides the quality depth the team has experienced over the years with dependable backups Case Keenum and Jacobi Brissett.
OT Dawand Jones is set to return and the offense did get OG Michael Dunn back off IR for quality depth. Meanwhile, OT Geron Christian played well in his two starts, so the tackle position just may not be in such dire straits as assumed going forward.
It is also encouraging that TE David Njoku is having a good year just as several other receivers not named Amari Cooper have been contributing to this offense lately.
What the signing of Flacco means for the Browns, is now they have a seasoned veteran who has played a ton of games, gone to the playoffs, has won a Super Bowl, is used to the stress of the game, and can read a defense, and has a calmness about him on and off the field.
Flacco gave his take on why he is now in Cleveland:
“I’m a veteran guy that’s been around a lot at this point in the season with a team that’s doing well. So, I think there’s a lot of different things that I can bring to the table.”
Is Flacco here to become a mentor to DTR? Perhaps, and most certainly will become a tutor to the young buck. But mainly, Flacco is here to become the starter – if needed. And if DTR is off to the races, then that is okay with the coaching staff as well.
DTR is a gifted athlete and a runner just like Watson. Flacco is more of a pocket passer who will scramble for positive yardage when flushed, but don’t devise any running plays for him. For his now 16th season, he has 368 career rushes for 862 yards with 16 rushing touchdowns and 123 rushes converted for first downs.
Flacco, who is 6’-6” and 245 pounds, explained:
“Whatever my role ends up being and wherever this takes me, then I’ll do my best at that.”
Last year, he was with the New York Jets where he played in five games with four starts. The last game he played was in Week 17 against the Miami Dolphins in a key divisional matchup, an 11-6 Dolphins win. This means it is not like Flacco has been out of the game for a very long period. Yes, he hasn’t played a single snap this year, but Berry brought him into the fold after seeing his workout.
Browns’ fans may remember what Flacco did against them last year in Week 2 in a home 31-30 comeback loss. That was the game in which all Cleveland had to do was go victory formation three times, then kick a short field to go up by two scores, which would have left the Jets with just over 20 seconds left on the clock. Instead, Nick Chubb scored a touchdown and New York staged a huge comeback complete with a successful onside kick for the win.
In the game, Flacco was 26-44 for 307 yards with four touchdown passes, the final two with 1:55 remaining on the clock.
Flacco never retired. Instead, he worked out, watched what he ate, and waited for his agent to call. Surely there would be a team whose starter would either struggle or become injured. There is every year. Flacco gave these thoughts:
“As I sat at home for most of this year, I was probably beginning to lose a little bit of faith in that. I was excited to do (the workout). You want to go impress. It was cool and it was a good workout.”
One thing is for certain, Flacco knows the AFC North Division, as well as the AFC in general. He was drafted by the Ravens in the first round in 2008 and played there for 11 years. He was named the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year. Therefore, he realizes what the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals are like, and why beating these clubs is so important.
He played for the Denver Broncos for a single season before latching on with the Jets for three years including his last two seasons. The AFC is all he knows although he played the backup to QB Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2021.
Baltimore won Super Bowl XLVII after the 2012 season. That game has been called “The Harbaugh Bowl” because John Harbaugh coached the Ravens while the San Francisco 49ers were coached by his brother Jim, now the head coach of the University of Michigan. The Ravens won 34-31 played in New Orleans. Flacco was named the game’s MVP.
The playoffs are different. There is a lot more stress and tension in these games because of the finality of the loser going home while the winner advances. The playoff money is different as well as the winner banks twice the outcome, and then will be guaranteed at least one more playoff payout with the possibility of more. Flacco will be an asset in getting the roster ready for the post-season and what to expect.
Which is what Flacco brings to the table. He has extensive playoff experience.
In Flacco’s rookie season, the Ravens placed second in the division and then won the Wild Card plus Divisional Playoff rounds before losing to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.
During his tenure with Baltimore, Flacco played in 16 playoff games, winning 10. Three of these playoff games were the AFC Championship Game, where he went 1-2. Flacco’s teams captured the AFC North crown three times with six second-place finishes.
So how will he adjust to playing for a division rival? His response:
“I think it would probably be a little bit different if I was coming here four or five years ago. My 10-year-old son already has a long Christmas list with like 50 Browns things on it.”
As far as records go, Flacco owns a ton of them.
He holds 17 Ravens franchise records including “Most Career Passing Yards” (38,245), “Most Passing Yards in a Single Season” (4,317), and “Most Career Fourth Quarter Comebacks” (14), to name a few.
For the NFL record book, he holds the record for “The First Quarterback to Start and win a Playoff Game in Each of his First Five Seasons”, “Most TD Passes in a Single Post-season” (11), and “Most Consecutive Road Playoff Games with at Least Two Passing Touchdowns.” These three are some of the eight NFL records he holds.
And now, coming to Cleveland? He stated:
“I am focused on the day-to-day. As long as I can do that, whatever happens, and whatever my role ends up being, then I’ll do my best at that.”
The greatest aspect of Cleveland signing Flacco? Now the Browns have peace of mind that this team isn’t going to falter because of shotty quarterback play.
Flacco spent an entire season backing up the young, newly drafted quarterback. He can do it again if DTR does indeed become the hot hand. Or he can come in and provide the offense with a playoff-caliber starting quarterback who is a proven leader.
He is eager for either job.