Flacco throws 3 TD passes as Browns clinch playoff spot

Published 12:01 am Friday, December 29, 2023

CLEVELAND (AP) — Joe Flacco has turned a seemingly cursed season into a charmed one.

Cleveland’s quarterback for just over a month, Flacco passed for 309 yards and three touchdowns and the Browns clinched an unlikely playoff berth — just their second since 2002 — despite numerous injuries this season with a 37-20 win over the New York Jets on Thursday night.

The Browns (11-5) are assured of a wild-card spot and still have a chance to win the AFC North and maybe the conference’s No. 1 overall seed, something that seemed unfathomable just weeks ago as major injuries piled up.

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But things have changed since Flacco arrived.

The 38-year-old quarterback improved to 4-1 as a starter with the Browns, who plucked the Super Bowl 47 MVP off his couch in New Jersey last month to hopefully rescue their season. He’s done that and more.

In the final minutes, Browns fans chanted “Flac-co! Flac-co!” to a quarterback they once reviled with Baltimore and now revere.

“You don’t know how many of these moments you’re going to get,” Flacco said. “I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.”

Flacco threw two TD passes to Jerome Ford in the first half as the Browns built a 20-point lead over the Jets (6-10), who chose not to re-sign the 15-year veteran after he spent three seasons with them — and after Aaron Rodgers tore his left Achilles tendon in Week 1.

Flacco torched New York for 296 yards in the first half and became the first QB in 34 games to go over 300 yards against the Jets. He’s also the first Cleveland quarterback to pass for more than 300 in four straight.

While Flacco insisted revenge wasn’t on his mind, but Jets receiver Garrett Wilson said the QB was out to prove something.

“He’s wound like that,” Wilson said. “He told me at the end of last season, he wasn’t going to be a backup. He was going to play and he held to that. Joe’s a great guy. The type of teammate you want. He deserves everything.”

The atmosphere was electric from the start inside Cleveland Browns Stadium as fans who have felt mostly heartbreak for decades got a chance to celebrate.

“It was special,” Flacco said. “This is obviously a unique situation for me, so I’ve got a lot of different emotions running through my head.”

The Jets were forced to start Trevor Siemian for the second week in a row with Zach Wilson sidelined by a concussion.

Siemian had some nice moments, but an overthrow late in first quarter was returned 30 yards for a TD by safety Ronnie Hickman to put the Browns up 20-7.

New York allowed a season-high in points and yards (428). Although the Jets gave up just 61 yards in the second half, they dug themselves too big a hole.

Jets linebacker Jermaine Johnson had a pick-6 in the second quarter when he beautifully deflected Flacco’s pass to himself and returned it 37 yards.

Nothing has been easy this season for the Browns, who have continued to win despite being overrun by injuries since the opener. Flacco is their fourth starting quarterback, they’re missing both first-team offensive tackles and 12 players — including QB Deshaun Watson and running back Nick Chubb — are on injured reserve.

So, it was fitting they went into their biggest game this season missing their starting kicker, punter and wide receiver Amari Cooper, who was coming off a franchise record-setting 265-yard performance on Sunday in Houston.


The Browns got their first looks at kicker Riley Patterson and punter Matt Haack, both signed earlier this week.

Patterson, filling in for an injured Dustin Hopkins, went 4 of 5 on extra points and made a 33-yard field goal with 2:54 left.

Haack averaged 51.7 yards on three punts.


Browns star defensive end Myles Garrett ended a five-game streak without a sack by taking down Siemian in the first half.

Garrett played with a heavy heart, disclosing after the game that his uncle, Chris Johnson, died on Christmas.

“Still hard to believe,” he said. “I was speechless then. I really just don’t know how to put it into words now. I’ve had headaches just daily just because I don’t know how to handle it emotionally. So it just comes out in different ways, like just pains. I feel like sometime in a fog.”

Wilson went over 1,000 yards receiving for the second straight season. He also did it as a rookie in 2022 and is one of 10 active players with two 1,000-yard seasons to start their career.


Browns wide receiver Elijah Moore suffered a head injury in the second quarter.

After catching a 22-yard pass from Flacco, Moore’s helmet was driven into the turf as he went down. He rolled onto his back and appeared to twitch as teammates quickly called for medical personnel.

Moore, who spent the past two seasons with the Jets, was helped off the field and escorted to Cleveland’s locker room.


Jets: WR Allen Lazard (illness) was among the team’s inactives. … RG Jacob Hanson suffered a concussion and was replaced by Xavier Newman, who was helped off the fourth quarter with an unspecified injury.

Browns: Cooper came in listed questionable, but was expected to play. However, after he tested a heel injury during an on-field workout, the Browns opted to have him sit rather than risk more damage. … CB Mike Ford Jr. (calf) got hurt covering a kick in the first quarter.


Jets: At New England on Jan. 7.

Browns: At Cincinnati on Jan. 7.

N.Y. Jets 7 10 0 3 20
Cleveland 20 14 0 3 37

First Quarter

Cle–J.Ford 7 pass from Flacco (Patterson kick), 11:10.

NYJ–Bre.Hall 21 pass from Siemian (Zuerlein kick), 8:06.

Cle–Hunt 7 run (kick failed), 4:43.

Cle–Hickman 30 interception return (Patterson kick), 2:01.

Second Quarter

Cle–Moore 8 pass from Flacco (Patterson kick), 6:15.

NYJ–Johnson 37 interception return (Zuerlein kick), 2:02.

Cle–J.Ford 50 pass from Flacco (Patterson kick), 1:25.

NYJ–FG Zuerlein 46, :00.

Fourth Quarter

NYJ–FG Zuerlein 44, 8:50.

Cle–FG Patterson 33, 2:54.


First downs 16 20
Total Net Yards 361 428
Rushes-yards 21-107 28-127
Passing 254 301
Punt Returns 2-30 0-0
Kickoff Returns 4-94 0-0
Interceptions Ret. 1-37 1-30
Comp-Att-Int 32-45-1 19-29-1
Sacked-Yards Lost 2-8 1-8
Punts 5-42.6 3-51.7
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 4-2
Penalties-Yards 12-75 4-26
Time of Possession 31:43 28:09



RUSHING–N.Y. Jets, Bre.Hall 13-84, Siemian 4-13, Gipson 1-8, Abanikanda 2-3, G.Wilson 1-(minus 1). Cleveland, J.Ford 12-64, Hunt 10-31, Strong 4-29, Flacco 2-3.

PASSING–N.Y. Jets, Siemian 32-45-1-262. Cleveland, Flacco 19-29-1-309.

RECEIVING–N.Y. Jets, Bre.Hall 9-42, G.Wilson 5-50, Conklin 5-46, Gipson 4-33, Abanikanda 4-27, Brownlee 2-28, Yeboah 2-28, Bawden 1-8. Cleveland, Njoku 6-134, Moore 5-61, J.Ford 2-57, Bryant 2-14, Da.Bell 2-7, Akins 1-28, Tillman 1-8.

MISSED FIELD GOALS–N.Y. Jets, Zuerlein 31.