Heading into the AFC Wild Card game on the road against the AFC South champion Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns fans were completely swept up in Joe Flacco pandemonium. Everywhere you looked, fans were galvanized by the idea of Flacco leading the Browns on a deep playoff run reminiscent of his Super Bowl run with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012.
While Flacco quickly became a fan favorite in Cleveland, I wasn't buying it.
Once Flacco took the reins as Cleveland's starting quarterback, it seemed like everybody forgave and forgot about his time as a Raven, but I couldn't get myself to root for Flacco as the Browns starting quarterback. Of the Browns’ three foes in the AFC North, Baltimore is clearly the biggest rival.
Given how the Ravens came to be, Browns fans are never going to give them a warm welcome when they come into the Dawg Pound. On Nov. 6, 1995, Art Modell announced that the Browns would leave Cleveland and head to Baltimore. Since coming to Baltimore, the Ravens have won seven AFC North division titles, they’ve won two Super Bowls (Super Bowl XXXV and Super Bowl XLVII), and they could be on the verge of capturing their third this season.
The juxtaposition is that the Browns have never been to a Super Bowl, let alone won one, while the other three members of the AFC North have at least reached a Super Bowl. Since 2002, every team in the AFC North has won a division title except for the Browns.
Over the past few seasons, the Ravens and the Browns have played in many consequential games in some fashion. The Ravens hosted the Browns in Week 17 of the 2018 season with the AFC North on the line. If Cleveland had beaten Baltimore, then Pittsburgh would’ve won the division, but if Baltimore beat Cleveland, then the Ravens would’ve won the division. Baltimore narrowly won that game 26-24.
Fast forward to Week 14 of the 2020 season, when the Ravens were 7-5 and the Browns were 9-4. The two teams engaged in a fierce battle that the Ravens would win 47-42. This gave Baltimore the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Browns come playoff time. It’s important to note that, in these two games, Lamar Jackson was the starting quarterback for the Ravens as Flacco had already moved on (Flacco played for the Denver Broncos in 2019 and the New York Jets from 2020 to 2022).
I correctly predicted that the Browns would host the New York Jets in their home opener of the 2022 season and I thought the Browns would win that game fairly easily. With 1:40 remaining in regulation, the Browns led the Jets 30-17, but New York scored two touchdowns in a span of 90 seconds to stun Cleveland 31-30. This comeback was of course led by who? The one and only Joe Flacco.
Even after Flacco left the Ravens, he still found a way to come into Cleveland and break the hearts of Browns fans yet again. In his career, Joe Flacco was 18-3 against Cleveland, yet when he led the team to four straight wins against the Jaguars, Bears, Texans, and Jets, the city embraced him as one of their own.
Flacco was with the Ravens from 2008 to 2018. In that time, he might as well have been a partial owner of the Browns because he hardly ever lost against Cleveland! Flacco’s first career loss against the Browns was on Nov. 3, 2013, when Cleveland defeated Baltimore 24-18 in the Dawg Pound. The Browns got Flacco again on Oct. 11, 2015, in Baltimore by a score of 33-30. Finally, Cleveland defeated Flacco and the Ravens on Oct. 7, 2018, by a score of 12-9 in overtime.
After a season on the quarterback carousel with the likes of Deshaun Watson (who beat Lamar and the Ravens in Week 10 with an injured shoulder), P.J. Walker (who beat the San Francisco 49ers in Week 6), and Dorian Thompson-Robinson (who beat the Steelers in Week 11), the Browns were looking for stability and decided that four good games from Flacco were stable enough. It’s similar to what happened in the NBA with the New York Knicks when Jeremy Lin was the talk of the town after only 13 games and it became “Linsanity!”
With Deshaun Watson having trouble staying on the field since he came to Cleveland, the Browns need to have a good insurance policy behind him. They had that in 2022 with Jacoby Brissett, who beat Tom Brady in his final game against the Browns in Cleveland, but the club didn’t re-sign him. This season, desperate times called for desperate measures, and the Browns were so desperate that they turned to a former rival in Flacco to come save them.
Now these sides will need to consider if another year together makes sense. GM Andrew Berry doesn't seem too confident in a reunion happening, which isn't too much of a bad thing, considering Flacco was never truly a Brown in the first place.
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