CLEVELAND (AP) — When Joe Flacco arrived three weeks ago, Browns star Myles Garrett had his suspicions about what the 38-year-old quarterback had left.
Those doubts are gone.
“He's one us,” Garrett said. "And as long as he continues what he’s doing, he’s going to stay one of us.”
Flacco passed for 311 yards and three touchdowns — two to tight end David Njoku — in his home debut for Cleveland, and the Browns survived a late rally by Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars for a 31-27 win Sunday.
The 38-year-old Flacco, who was signed on Nov. 20 by the Browns (8-5), delivered the kind of performance he had almost annually as a visitor with Baltimore. Flacco went 26 of 45 and improved to 10-2 as a starter in Cleveland.
Flacco has thrown for 565 yards and five touchdowns in two starts. Although Browns coach Kevin Stefanski never announced his starting quarterback for this week's game, he quickly confirmed that he'll ride with Flacco the rest of the way.
“The guy doing it all,” Garrett said. "He’s just giving it all for this team and got respect from the rest of the guys as well.”
Flacco threw two TD passes in the first half to Njoku and then completed a 41-yarder to wide receiver David Bell in the fourth quarter when the Jaguars gambled with an all-out blitz on fourth down. As Bell streaked to the end zone, Flacco did his best to keep up — for an old guy.
The Browns are the eighth team in NFL history to win using four starting quarterbacks in the same season.
And now they're putting their playoff hopes in the hands of Flacco, who will lead their stretch drive.
Flacco wasn't sure if his career was over before the Browns called last month after Deshaun Watson was lost with a season-ending shoulder injury. Now he's back in a playoff race, something he knows well from his years in Baltimore.
“It’s unbelievable to be out there,” Flacco said after getting his 100th win as a starter. "It’s really a unique experience. To have children that are of the age where they understand what’s going on, and I’m going to remember these things forever.
“I’m just trying to stay in the moment and be as grateful as possible and keep getting better.”
Lawrence played despite spraining his right ankle Monday night. He threw a season-high three interceptions before bringing the first-place Jaguars (8-5) back in the fourth quarter.
His third TD pass — to Evan Engram with 1:33 left — pulled the Jaguars within four points. Garrett then sacked Lawrence on the 2-point conversion, and the Browns recovered an onside kick to close it out.
The Jaguars suffered their second loss in six days despite having Lawrence. The quarterback wasn't on his game early and finished 28 of 50 for 257 yards.
“We just shot ourselves in the foot over and over,’” Lawrence said. "It was not one of our cleaner games. Just too many mistakes. We were so inconsistent and didn’t get into rhythm. There were too many miscommunications.
"There were too many things that we turned into turnovers or sacks or bad plays. There is stuff I didn’t do well today.”
Jacksonville, banged up on both sides of the ball, lost for the first time in seven road games. The Jags are trying to hold off Houston and Indianapolis in the AFC South. The Texans and Colts both lost Sunday.
Martin Emerson had two of the picks against Lawrence, who threw an incompletion on fourth down with 3:30 left.
The Browns then took a 31-21 lead when Dustin Hopkins kicked a 55-yard field goal with 3:10 remaining.
Garrett called a penalty on the officiating crew, calling its performance “a travesty.”
“It was honestly awful,” he said. “And the fact that they’re letting them get away with hands to the face, holding, false starting. I know they called a couple, but damn, they could have called it all game.”
Garrett's comments came one week after Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt was highly critical following a game against Arizona.
“Respect to those guys, it’s a hard job," Garrett said. “But hell, we have a hard job as well. You can’t make it harder by throwing holding and hands to the face out the rulebook. I got a lot of respect for those guys, but we get scrutinized for the plays that we don’t make. So, someone has to hold them accountable for the plays or the calls they don’t make.”
Jaguars: LT Ezra Cleveland, who was filling in for injured starter Walker Little (also a backup), went out with a knee injury in the second quarter. ... S Andre Cisco (groin) went out in the second half.
Browns: Starting C Ethan Pocic suffered a neck stinger in the first quarter and didn't return. Nick Harris filled in. ... DT Jordan Elliott suffered a concussion in the first half. ... S Grant Delpit (groin) got hurt in the fourth quarter. ... S Juan Thornhill (calf) was a game-time scratch. Undrafted rookie Ronnie Hickman took his starting spot.
Jaguars: Host Baltimore on Dec. 17.
Browns: Host Chicago on Dec. 17.
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