Interesting how a 38-year old sitting on the couch with his kids can have less rust than a six-year professional in his prime.
A bespoke moment occurred late in the Browns 31-27 victory over Jacksonville on Sunday, as Joe Flacco rolled to his right and fired the ball across the middle to WR David Bell for his first ever NFL touchdown.
Head Coach Kevin Stefanski, the forever even-keeled, tight-lipped and cool-headed presence, threw off his headset and started running down the sideline, smiling like a 10-year old kid.
Such an image makes one think about the tone of the Browns organization in recent memory compared to even the last two weeks, in which Flacco, ever the seasoned veteran, leapt off the couch with his kids and taken command of the wheel. He’s also done it rather quickly, without the need to “shake off the rust” despite being out of football until Week 12.
Stefanski’s reaction is quite a refreshing image in a season plagued by injuries, nonsense theatrics by the Browns $230 million quarterback and his toxic effect on the franchise as a whole. Despite the several holes exposed in the loss to the Rams in Los Angeles, the last two weeks have been a reminder of how much fun Browns football can be.
To see a quarterback start the week running the offense instead of making vague statements to the media or even hiding from reporters, self-diagnosing injuries that were never mentioned during the game, is as palette-cleansing as you can get. One can only imagine if Flacco was a few years younger; Cleveland would really have a team to jump on board with for the foreseeable future.
Anybody who knows anything about team sports knows the culture begets the big plays which begets winning. It starts from the bottom with the environment; the tone in the building. This has been ruined for years since Jimmy Haslam and his family entered their presence into every aspect of the organization like a dark cloud. That presence is closely intertwined with the acquisition of Deshaun Watson, the aura of which dampened even the most assuring of Browns victories this season and last.
Watson has been an utter failure as a Brown. Setting aside his avoidance of honesty about his various injuries, Watson has looked timid in the pocket, held onto the ball too long, resulting in needless sacks and turnovers, and mustered up a pitiful 61.4% completion percentage. His one superb half of quarterback play against Baltimore is misguided heralded as justification for guaranteeing him a quarter of a billion dollars and tossing three first-round draft picks in the garbage.
In fact, Watson’s strong suit – mobility – has been better displayed by thought-to-be statue Flacco in just two games. Several plays have shown Flacco’s sneaky ability to maneuver and slide in the pocket and make throws on target. His ability to cleanly roll out to find space to make downfield throws was showcased in both opening drives against LA and Jacksonville and his on-the-run throw to David Njoku for a first down late in the first half Sunday was a beautiful play. Elijah Moore looks like a totally different player than he was after an entire offseason with Watson.
Some will liken Flacco’s resurgence to Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh McCown’s bursts of magic as journeyman starters in the past. But they aren’t Flacco. They haven’t won a Super Bowl. They don’t have that kind of experience at the top of the mountain.
Flacco may be surely past his prime, but he may not be past his sell-by date. It’s about time the Browns had a quarterback who didn’t make fans repulsed or disgusted, either with his on-field or off-the-field performance. What the Browns will do is likely: bring Watson back in 2024 and try it all over again, complete with all new excuses as to why it didn’t work out the year before.
What they should do is forget all of that baggage and stress and take the potential gold mine they have: a Super Bowl winning QB and a talented young rookie to learn behind him.