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In the injury-riddled NFL, Joe Flacco arrives at the right time for the Browns

Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco throws a pass.
Mark J. Terrill
Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, in Inglewood, California.

Despite a loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Browns quarterback Joe Flacco was impressive in his team debut this past Sunday, boosting fans hopes for a playoff run. The 38-year-old former Super Bowl MVP is the team’s fourth quarterback this season following Deshaun Watson’s season-ending shoulder surgery.

Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto said the Browns aren’t the only team struggling with quarterbacks this season.

“In front of every franchise, just about, they should post the sign: ‘Always hiring quarterbacks’ because it's not just the Browns. There have been at least 55 different starting quarterbacks in the NFL this year, and it's a staggering number. Last year there were 66. But remember, this year there are still basically five games to go for each team,” Pluto said.

Pluto said injuries aren’t the only reason.

“There's sort of a kind of an impatience with the quarterback, too. If he's not playing well, (the coach says) ‘I'll put the other guy in and maybe he'll win a couple of games.’ You know, coaches feel the pressure to keep their jobs,” Pluto said.

As for Flacco, the veteran quarterback was unsigned and looking for a team. He was spending his time playing catch with his kids and training with his brother, who is a former college football quarterback.

Then the Browns called.

“I'm sure Flacco's agent was calling, probably the 84th time he's called Cleveland to say, ‘Don't you remember Joe Flacco? He killed you guys when he was at Baltimore all those years,’” Pluto said.

During his 11 seasons in Baltimore, Flacco had an 18-3 record against the Browns.

The Browns signed Flacco to their practice squad on Nov. 20. Less than two weeks later, he was named the starter when backup Dorian Thompson-Robinson was ruled out with a concussion. Against the Rams, Flacco went 23 of 44 for 254 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a 36-19 loss.

Pluto said it was impressive for the 38-year-old who didn’t attend training camp and had very little practice time.

“When a guy has played so many games like that, whatever playbook and all of those things, he's gone through all those steps and immediately he understands the offense. And most of the guys have played against Joe Flacco, (they) know who he is. In other words, he came in with instant credibility. A lot of the other ones had to prove something,” Pluto said.

Despite the loss to the Rams, the Browns remain in the playoff chase. In their AFC North division, Baltimore is 9-3, Cincinnati is 6-6 and Cleveland and Pittsburgh are both 7-5.

“There's a whole bunch of these teams, like seven or eight of them playing, it looks like, for about three wildcard spots,” Pluto said.

Next, the Browns host the Jacksonville Jaguars. They’re 8-4 on the season, but their starting quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, remains questionable (as of Tuesday) after suffering an ankle injury on Monday Night Football.

As for the Browns, Pluto said Flacco should be the team’s starter for the rest of the season if he stays healthy.

“My view is, you're 7-5. You got a shot to make the playoffs because everybody else's quarterbacks are hurt and everything. So, pick the veteran guy that might help you get there,” Pluto said.

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