Why Joe Flacco, Browns must not be counted out in AFC

Has Joe Flacco been the missing piece for the Browns all along?

Joe Flacco, "Playoff Joe"

Don’t lie, whether you’re a Cleveland Browns fan or not, it’s shocking to see that this year’s team is in playoff contention. Who am I kidding? It’s shocking to ever see the Browns in playoff contention any year.

Though it was just back in 2020 when they last appeared in the postseason, going 11-5 and losing in the divisional round to the Kansas City Chiefs, the eventual AFC Champions, the playoffs are not a familiar place to the Browns. Before 2020, the Browns’ last playoff appearance was in 2002 when they were bounced out of the first round. They haven’t won a playoff game since 1994 when they beat the New England Patriots in the Wild Card round.

Currently, the Browns are holding on to the 5th seed on the AFC side of the playoff picture after having a comeback win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday to move them to 9-5 and into second place in the AFC North. And while a lot of that will be credited to their impressive defense, recently acquired quarterback Joe Flacco deserves his fair share of flowers too.

Joe Flacco is the quarterback the Browns needed

Joe Flacco for the Browns and with the Ravens holding Super Bowl trophy

Signing as a practice squad member on Nov. 19, the 38-year-old was eventually made the starter in Week 13 when the Browns faced the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium. Cleveland lost that game, but Flacco was just getting started.

Coming from a guy who was just sitting at home most of the season waiting for a phone call, Flacco threw for 254 yards, completing 23-of-44 pass attempts for two touchdowns and one interception in a 36-19 loss. Since then, Flacco and the Browns are 2-0, beating an AFC South-leading Jacksonville Jaguars and the Bears in consecutive weeks.

While the win over a then 5-8 Bears team wasn’t overly impressive, it was how Flacco responded after starting poorly that has to give Browns’ fans hope. Through three quarters, Flacco completed a putrid 54% of his passes, going 17-for-31 for 162 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions, putting the Browns trailing by 10.

In the fourth quarter, “Playoff Joe” looked resurrected, realizing the circumstances his team was in with postseason aspirations on the line. He only missed on two passes, going 11-of-13 for 212 yards and a touchdown and led the Browns to score 13 unanswered to help them win 20-17. The comeback would give Flacco his 20th career fourth-quarter comeback and 26th game-winning drive.

With Flacco’s 212 fourth-quarter passing yards, it was the most for a Browns quarterback in a single quarter in 45 seasons, according to SI. His 939 passing yards over the last three weeks are also the most by a Browns quarterback through three starts in franchise history.

Joe Flacco has kept the Browns playoffs hopes alive

So while the curse that has followed the Browns for what seems like a century seemed to turn back up during Sunday’s game for three quarters, Flacco in just one quarter looked like a curse killer — which is exactly the type of quarterback this franchise has needed for decades. Sure, it’s only three games, which is a small sample size, even for a veteran quarterback the likes of someone like Flacco who is playing in his 16th season. But with as many times as the Browns have looked to fill this void in franchise history, perhaps this is the most Cleveland way to do it.

The Browns have had a revolving door at quarterback for decades, starting over 30 since 1999. Flacco at first seemed like just another to add to the ever-growing list. And he still could be. This team is still one that fights more than just fellow NFL teams on Sundays but also a history worth of bad luck. But that’s why Flacco seems fitting for the task.

With a Super Bowl title to boast, Flacco has a playoff record of 10-5 that’s good enough for a .667 winning percentage, according to StatMuse. You’d have to go back to 1972 to add up enough Browns playoff games to equal Flacco’s. That’s why with just three regular-season games remaining, you can’t count the Browns out of the AFC at this point. Never count out “Playoff Joe.”

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