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Ravens Insider: Joe Flacco’s improbable comeback has Browns in playoffs, eyeing bigger wins


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CLEVELAND — In a surreal moment seemingly clipped from a Disney movie, Joe Flacco stood on the field and posed for a family photo with his wife, Dana, and their five children as delirious Browns fans serenaded them with chants of “M-V-P, M-V-P.”

Welcome to Cleveland.

Or in Flacco’s case, Dreamland.

Another chapter was added to the NFL’s most improbable story of 2023 Thursday night when Flacco — who stayed in shape in the offseason by throwing passes to his brother, Tom, in New Jersey while waiting, and wondering, if a team would call — led the Browns into the playoffs for just the third time since 1999.

That’s right, with a 37-20 win over the New York Jets, the Browns (11-5) clinched a postseason spot while riding the rifle arm of a 38-year-old quarterback who spent most of his career beating them with rival Baltimore.

This wasn’t in the script, so to speak. But then again, little has gone as planned in Cleveland this season.

The Browns haven’t let significant injuries slow them down. In fact, the adversity has only bonded them while they put together a run to the playoffs few thought possible.

Not after All-Pro tackle Jack Conklin tore up his knee in the opener. Not after star running back Nick Chubb’s season ended the same way a week later in Pittsburgh. Not when starting tackles Jedrick Wills Jr. and Dawand Jones both suffered season-ending knee injuries.

And not after quarterback Deshaun Watson’s shoulder fractured during his best game in two seasons.

No other team has started four quarterbacks and kept winning. No other team has endured more than these Browns, who just might be the league’s most dangerous team as big December games become bigger ones in January.

No other team has Flacco.

He has the Browns and their fans believing anything is possible.

“We find a way — no matter what,” running back Kareem Hunt said. “Flacco’s been doing a heck of a job leading us, being that coach leader out there on the field for us, making every pass. He’s calm, cool, and collected. That’s a great quarterback.”

Flacco’s numbers are mind-numbing.

He’s passed for 1,616 yards and 13 touchdowns in five starts (both league highs in that span), and the former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player is the first quarterback in league history to pass for at least 250 yards and two touchdowns in his first five games with a team.

He’s thrown for 300 yards in four straight games, and in Thursday’s playoff clincher, Flacco passed for 296 yards and three scores — in the first half.

After the game, as the nearing-midnight sky above Cleveland Browns Stadium lit up with fireworks, Flacco spent a moment at midfield chatting with Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback who was supposed to save the Jets — the same Jets who felt Flacco could no longer help them.

Looking back, New York’s mistake helped Flacco.

It all worked out. He’s found a new home, Cleveland.

“This city,” he said. “You can just tell they love football and it’s special going out there and playing for them.”

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