Cleveland Browns

Browns make wild NFL history after clinching playoff berth

The Browns rolled out several different starting quarterbacks en route to their second playoff berth since 2002

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Having to roll out several different starting quarterbacks isn't typically a recipe for success in the NFL.

But it has been for the Cleveland Browns in 2023.

Cleveland punched its ticket to the playoffs with a 37-20 victory over the New York Jets on Thursday Night Football. And the quarterback who was under center for the team's playoff-clinching win wasn't even on the team -- let alone an NFL roster -- when the season began.

Deshaun Watson started Cleveland's first three games before going on the shelf with a shoulder injury. Rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson then took over the reins for one game -- a blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens -- before Cleveland turned to P.J. Walker. Walker started in Week 6, relieved an injured Watson early in Week 7 and then made another start in Week 8.

Watson returned to the lineup in Week 9, but the Browns soon had to deal with more quarterback upheaval. During Cleveland's thrilling Week 10 comeback win versus Baltimore, Watson sustained a season-ending shoulder injury. While Cleveland then decided to give Thompson-Robinson another shot, the franchise also brought in a veteran signal-caller and longtime AFC North rival off the streets: Joe Flacco.

The Browns signed Flacco to their practice squad on Nov. 20, one day after Thompson-Robinson quarterbacked a 13-10 Week 11 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in his return to the starting role. After DTR sustained a concussion in Week 12, head coach Kevin Stefanski handed the keys to the 38-year-old Flacco. And the rest, as they say, is history -- literally.

The Browns became the first team in NFL history to reach the playoffs after having four different quarterbacks make multiple starts.

The Flacco renaissance has been one of the more stunning NFL storylines in recent memory.

Flacco, who hadn't started more than four games in a season since 2019, is now 4-1 with the Browns after a fourth straight win, taking them from 7-4 to 11-5. He's passed for over 300 yards in each of the last four games and has thrown three touchdowns three times over that span.

Flacco and Co. still have a path to the AFC North title, too. If Cleveland beats the Cincinnati Bengals on the road in Week 18 and the Ravens drop their final two games (home against both the Miami Dolphins and the Steelers) then the Browns would be division champs for the first time since 1989.

NBC Sports' Jay Croucher breaks down the wild outlook that is the 2023 NFL Playoffs heading into Week 17.
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