BEREA, Ohio – No one will feel sorry for Joe Flacco. He won a Super Bowl MVP and earned more than $175 million in his career. He is winning in life.
There’s something about Flacco’s 16 years in the NFL that nagged at me as I watched this incredible renaissance of the latest chapter. He has always been good, always consistent in his best period, but never completely elitist.
He never received a single MVP vote, but Carson Wentz, Derek Carr and Tony Romo did.
He never even appeared in a Pro Bowl. He was invited once but passed because his wife was having their third child.
He was beloved – still is – by most Baltimore fans, yet he was always overshadowed by Hall of Famers like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. That Ravens defense still gets most of the credit for its Super Bowl ring.
That’s why what’s happening here is so absurd, no NFL or Hollywood screenwriter could have made it plausible. Does a quarterback who hasn’t performed well in a decade go on this type of heater? Throwing for more than 300 yards in three consecutive games for the first time in his career, leading the league in passing yards since becoming the Browns’ starter in Week 13, and tying the league lead in touchdown passes during that span as well?
Drug testing for everyone.
Flacco is taking all the credit now, just weeks shy of his 39th birthday. He quickly captured the attention and admiration of a city that was once divided by Deshaun Watson’s trade.
NFL leaders since Week 13:
1. Joe Flacco 1,307
2. Jake Browning 1,288
3. Brock Purdy 1,179
1t. Joe Flacco 10
1t. Brock Purdy 10
1t. Matthew Stafford 10
— Dan Murphy (@DMurph_BrownsPR) December 26, 2023
He’s surrounded by an excellent defense again, but no one here outside of Myles Garrett is on the gold jacket trail at this point. Here, Flacco is the same as always. He is the adult, the professional who calmly goes about his business. There is no drama, no cloud of controversy. He shows up, does his job and fulfills his obligations every day.
Now, in the twilight of his career, in a city that detests everything associated with the Baltimore Ravens, Flacco has stolen the heart of a city desperate for someone to love. This is Rocky getting applauded in Russia or Jeter getting a standing ovation in Boston.
“The city was incredible. I can’t say enough about how welcoming everyone has been,” Flacco said Tuesday. “I’ve been from Baltimore for a lot of my career… It’s definitely been a little surreal in terms of how people have treated me around here.”
If this is his career victory lap, Flacco should take his time getting around the track. He embraces everything. Regardless of how he ends up, he has already done enough to always be a Cleveland folk hero. He will be welcomed back and applauded here as the crowd roars for Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson at Cavs games and for Rajai Davis at Guardians games. Without even playing a postseason game, he has exceeded expectations in part because there were none when he arrived. His three wins in four games here match his total in his last four years as an NFL starter.
Since leaving Baltimore, Flacco has gone 3-14 in 17 NFL appearances in Denver and New York. He is 3-1 in Cleveland.
Make sense of it.
With the Jets coming to town on Thursday night, and in addition to the fact that Flacco played in Cleveland, of course, New York executives would probably want a mulligan on how they’ve handled this season following Aaron Rodgers’ torn Achilles. The Jets and Browns started the year with similar rosters and expectations. Both were playoff contenders in a crowded AFC and both lost their quarterbacks early. The Jets collapsed and the Browns thrived.
When they signed Flacco, I thought rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson should remain the starter. Based on his record and numbers since leaving Baltimore, and the fact that no team called him up for the first 12 weeks of the season, Flacco looked like nothing more than an emergency option for a team that has been on the phone with emergency services for quite a while during this period. season.
Then Thompson-Robinson suffered a concussion in Denver and Flacco immediately began exceeding everyone’s expectations to the point where he did too good a job. It’s hard to see how the Browns could bring him back next year. Do they really want to give three spots on the 53-man roster to quarterbacks? Do they want to give Flacco a few million in salary when every dollar counts against their cap?
This is Watson’s team. His ironclad contract makes him so and, fortunately, after some bumpy stretches, the last memory we have is of him going 14 of 14 in the second half (with a broken shoulder) to beat a Ravens team that seems the best ever. the championship today. Watson remains the last quarterback to beat Baltimore and he did it on the road.
Thompson-Robinson was chosen to be the long-term backup behind Watson. None of that has changed. Flacco’s presence here next year might just risk dividing a locker room the first time Watson struggles. For a quarterback this close to 40, it’s simply not worth it. The sequel is never better than the original. Flacco wants to play next year too or not, it’s up to him to decide, but he can’t be in Cleveland.
So enjoy it for what it is: an amazing story, the best in the NFL right now. And a highly respected veteran who gets his due.
The Browns caught a Hurricane in a basket. Hold on tight and enjoy the ride wherever it blows.
When it’s over, it’ll really be over.
(Photo: Cooper Neill/Getty Images)