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The Browns make their first postseason appearance since 1999 under Joe Flacco’s leadership

As the Browns punched their ticket to the playoffs on Thursday night, chants of “Fla-cco, Fla-cco” came from the crowd, and the celebration from the stands spilled into the locker room afterwards.

The Browns (11-5) under the direction of quarterback Joe Flacco defeated the New York Jets 37-20 to secure their first postseason berth since 2020 and only their third since the NFL’s return in 1999.

“Very memorable evening for this group,” Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski remarked. “Pretty special night for the fans out there.”

The Browns jumped on the Jets early and never let go in front of an electrifying crowd. In the first half, Flacco completed three touchdown passes, the longest of which was a 7-yard pass to running back Jerome Ford during the first drive.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Flacco passed for 296 yards in the first half, the most in any half of his career. Now that Cleveland has a four-game winning streak going, he has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of the wins.

“This is obviously a very unique situation for me, so a lot of different emotions are going through my head,” said Flacco, the first quarterback in NFL history to score multiple passing touchdowns and at least 250 passing yards in each of his first five games as a new team’s quarterback. “The city has been so unbelievable. … You can just tell they love football, and it’s special going out there and playing for them.”

Flacco did not even have a team six weeks ago.

After playing for the Jets for the majority of the previous three seasons, he went unsigned during the offseason. On November 20, after starting quarterback Deshaun Watson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, Cleveland added him to its practice squad.

Flacco is now leading this team into the postseason; he will turn 39 next month.

“Everybody always joked, even in Baltimore, was he elite?” Linebacker C.J. Mosley of the Jets said of Flacco, the 2012 Super Bowl champion with the Ravens. “He’s showing it. Not a lot of guys, especially veterans like him and his age, just coming from home, hanging with his kids, do what he’s done. I told him after the game it’s crazy to hear the Browns fans screaming, ‘Flacco!’ That was pretty wild to me, but I’m happy for him. Obviously, we wanted to get the win, but just as a friend, as a fan, I’m definitely happy for him.”

The Browns have made it to the postseason twice since rejoining the NFL in 2002 and 2020. Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the Cleveland stadium was largely empty when the team secured its postseason berth in the regular season finale three years prior.

The scene on Thursday was entirely different, with Browns supporters showing up early and staying late—well past the final whistle.

Tight end David Njoku, who finished with a game-high 134 yards on six receptions, said, “This meant the world, man.” “This team is resilient as f—, excuse my language. … There was so much adversity this year. But we overcame it. I’m so proud of these guys. But we’re not finished.”

The Browns are the only team in the AFC playoff picture ranked No. 5 despite losing several important players to season-ending injuries, including Watson and All-Pro running back Nick Chubb (knee). Cleveland still has a chance to win the AFC North division, the top overall seed, and a bye into the first round of the playoffs.

“It’s sweet going to the playoffs,”, according to running back Kareem Hunt. “But now we’re trying to not just make it to the playoffs — we’re trying to go the whole way.”

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