The Cleveland Browns' quarterback roller coaster continued in Week 11 with the news that starter Deshaun Watson would miss the rest of the season with a new shoulder injury. Attention immediately turned to who'd be up next, with P.J. Walker and Dorian Thompson-Robinson both struggling in relief opportunities previously this year.
Despite flirting with an outside addition of veteran Joe Flacco, it was Thompson-Robinson who got the nod against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He came up big when it mattered most, engineering a game-winning drive just before time expired to earn Cleveland its seventh victory of the campaign.
Everyone is celebrating DTR's gutsy performance, and rightfully so considering the progress he's made since his last start. That being said, the Browns are now set to sign Flacco, and that's absolutely the right call.
Thompson-Robinson's performance on Sunday was a step in the right direction. He put the ball the hands of his best playmakers, leading to nice outings for Elijah Moore (5 receptions, 60 yards) and David Njoku (7 receptions, 56 yards). His picture-perfect throw to Amari Cooper on the game-winning drive was also crucial to getting Cleveland into field goal range.
Still, the rookie has a ways to go. His chemistry with his top targets was clearly off, as several drops during the contest seemed to indicate QB and receiver expecting two different things on the same play. He finished the afternoon just 24-of-43 for a meager 165 yards, and his inability to hit his pass-catchers deep nearly hamstrung the offense.
There were several errant throws on Sunday as well that could've proved costly, with the third-quarter interception chief among them. He had a chance to hit Cooper on this play for a nice gain, but instead threw it behind him, opening up the chance for disaster to strike.
The fact of the matter is, the Browns could've had a much easier victory in Week 11 with better quarterback play. That's not fully on Thompson-Robinson, who's still incredibly green and not even truly settled into being an NFL pro yet. But it should keep the QB1 conversation open at the very least.
The almost 39-year-old Flacco knows what it takes to win at a high level. While no longer in his prime, he showed he's still capable of being productive and throwing at a high volume this past season, when he racked up 901 yards and 5 touchdowns (with just 1 interception) on 155 attempts during a three-game stretch for the New York Jets.
The Browns need to be able to move the ball down the field through the air to truly compete. Flacco would provide that ability as starter, while entrusting DTR to do that is an incredibly risky proposition at the moment.
Signing Flacco doesn't mean he needs to take over as starter now, or even a few weeks down the line, either. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the team is looking at the former Super Bowl champion as a third-QB addition who'll join the practice squad, at least to start. That would keep Flacco in the bullpen and give Kevin Stefanski time to evaluate who gives this budding contender the best chance to win.
It's a legit possibility DTR emerges down the stretch as well. And in that case, Flacco still provides value as a mentor. The rookie admitted Watson's guidance during the Steelers game helped keep him composed with the game being tight the entire second half.
With Watson headed for surgery and some likely recovery time at home, Flacco could fill that void, giving Thompson-Robinson another established QB talent to lean on as he learns the complexities of the NFL.
Flacco is a possible Watson replacement, both on the field and sideline. That's why Cleveland needed to still pursue a deal despite a rousing Week 11 win.
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