The Cleveland Browns were moments away from their first 2-0 start in 29 years before squandering a two-touchdown lead to 1:55 in the Finals, losing 31-30 to the New York Jets and Joe Flacco on Sunday .
The 37-year-old quarterback fired a 15-yard touchdown pass at rookie Garret Wilson with 22 seconds left.
Cleveland’s defense had a major meltdown barely a minute earlier when Jets wide receiver Corey Davis got behind secondary and caught a 66-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to pull the Jets within 30-24 and give them hope give.
“Just a reassuring force,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said of his veteran field general. “He’s been in a lot of those situations and managed a bunch of young men. I thought he was cool, calm, put the ball where it needed to go and they left the door ajar.
From being MVP in Super Bowl XLVIII with the Baltimore Ravens to warming up the benches of three teams in as many years, Flacco has had to bid his time to go back to making his mark on an NFL game as a starter, just like he did on good ole days.
He was one of the last Jets players to leave First Energy Stadium on Sunday, and just as he was heading towards the entrance to the away team’s dressing room, he was joined by head coach Robert Saleh and Woody Johnson, with whom he celebrated.
‘HELL YES!’ yelled Flacco, who is also dubbed “Cool Joe” by his teammates because of his relaxed manner and ease before big games.
“Winning in the NFL is like a drug,” the former Broncos, Ravens and Eagles player told the New York Post in a post-game interview. “Not that I have any experience with drugs, but it’s addictive. It’s a powerful thing. This is my seventh start for the Jets and my first win. Do you see the ball right there? I kept it.’
Flacco decided to keep the cue ball on Sunday after pointing his way in the dressing room as he wanted a souvenir to commemorate the epic comeback.
“I took that last knee and I wanted to keep the ball,” the 37-year-old quarterback told The Post. ‘That means a lot. This team has been through a lot and I feel like I’ve been here a whole lot of it and it feels good.
Adding that he can’t remember the last time he founded an NFL, Flacco said, “Only that it was in Denver.”
That moment was about three years ago, on October 13, 2019, when the Broncos beat the Tennessee Titans 16-0. That day, Flacco registered 18 of 28 for 177 yards with no touchdown passes and an interception.
From that point on, ‘Cool Joe’ lost the next eight games he started for the Broncos before losing in all six games he started for the Jets. In 2019, Flacco was 2-12 as a starter and 6-17 in 2018 in his final season with the Ravens.
Now, however, Flacco is hoping the Jets can continue with their 1-1 start in the league while providing a calming influence as a starting quarterback while Zach Wilson remains on the sidelines with an ankle injury.
“When I threw the ball, I looked and saw that nobody was around him,” Flacco said of his 66-yard pass to wide receiver Corey Davis, which was just over a minute to play in the fourth quarter.
“It was really strange because it’s gotten so quiet here. I’ve never heard that before. It was so loud and suddenly it was quiet,” he added, speaking of the energy at First Energy Stadium.
According to ESPN Stats, the teams had won 2,229 straight games when they led by at least 13 points in the last two minutes — a stat the Browns don’t want to see.
The last team to lose such a lead was the Browns in the 2001 season against the Bears.
“When (offensive coordinator) Mike (LaFleur) announced the game, I had a smile on the inside,” Flacco said of his 66-yard touchdown pass. “Their safes played pretty soft, so I wanted to find a window to bring it to him.”
Greg Zuerlein made the crucial extra point to 31:30.
Cleveland had one last chance, but Jacoby Brissett, who injured his left ankle in the fourth, was intercepted by Ashtyn Davis with six seconds remaining.
It was a demoralizing loss for the Browns, who came close to going 2-0 for the first time since 1993 when Bill Belichick was their coach.
“This league is fun,” Brissett said. “This was tough. It just goes to show that you can’t take anything for granted in this league. Not even talked about the end of the game, a few games to start, bugs and things like that.
Brissett, who started while Deshaun Watson is serving his 11-game NFL ban for alleged sexual misconduct, tossed a TD pass to Amari Cooper and finished 22 of 27 for 229 yards.