CLEVELAND (AP) — Joe Flacco threw for 311 yards and three touchdowns in his home debut for Cleveland, and the Browns survived a late rally by Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars to win 31-27 on Sunday.
The 38-year-old Flacco, who was signed by the Browns (8-5) just three weeks ago, has produced performances like this almost every year as a visitor with Baltimore. Flacco scored 26 of 45 points as the starter in Cleveland and improved to 10-2.
Lawrence played Monday night despite a sprained right ankle. He threw a season-high three interceptions before leading the Jaguars (8-5) back in the fourth quarter.
His third TD pass – to Evan Engram with 1:33 remaining – pulled the Jaguars to within four points. Cleveland's Myles Garrett sacked Lawrence on the 2-point conversion, and the Browns received an onside kick to cap it off.
Flacco threw two TD passes to David Njoku in the first half and completed a 41-yarder to wide receiver David Bell in the fourth quarter after the Jaguars gambled with an all-out blitz on fourth down.
The Browns have been forced to play four QBs due to injuries and are putting their playoff hopes in the hands of Flacco. He will lead their stretch drive.
Despite Lawrence, the Jaguars suffered their second loss in six days. The quarterback was not on his game early and went 28 of 50 for 257 yards.
Lawrence was without one of his top receivers after Christian Kirk was placed on injured reserve earlier this week.
Jacksonville has been beaten on both sides of the ball as the first-place Jaguars, who lost for the first time in seven road games, try to hold off Houston and Indianapolis in the AFC South. The Texans and Colts both lost on Sunday.
Martin Emerson had two options against Lawrence, who threw an incomplete ball on fourth down with 3:30 remaining.
The Browns then took a 31–21 lead when Dustin Hopkins kicked a 55-yard field goal with 3:10 remaining.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski never announced his starting quarterback, preferring to keep the Jaguars in the dark.
Flacco wasted no time in showing why he was the obvious choice over rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, completing 4 of 4 passes for 66 yards as the Browns marched right down the field to take a 7-0 lead. gone.
Cleveland brought its "heavy" package on third-and-1 at the Jaguars' 34. Flacco faked a handoff that fooled the Jacksonville defense as Njoku was left open down the left sideline for a 34-yard touchdown.
Flacco's second TD pass was equally easy. Njoku was not initially picked off after the snap, he caught a pass over the middle, broke a tackle inside the 10-yard line and scored. This is the first multi-TD game of Njoku's career.
Jacksonville's defense forced a turnover to set up the only score for the Jaguars in the first half, as safety Andrew Wingard picked off Amari Cooper after a 19-yard gain.
Two plays later, Lawrence connected with Engram for a 10-yard TD to pull the Jaguars within 14–7.
Lawrence did not appear to have any ankle problems, but he was not very accurate, completing 11 of 22 passes for 100 yards in the first half.
Jaguars: LT Ezra Cleveland, who was replacing injured starter Walker Little (also a backup), went out with a knee injury in the second quarter. ... S Andre Sicco (groin) left in the second half.
Browns: Starting C Ethan Pocic suffered a neck injury in the first quarter and did not return. Nick Harris filled in...DT Jordan Elliott suffered an injury in the first half. ... S Grant Delpit suffered a groin injury in the fourth quarter. ... S Juan Thornhill (calf) was a game-time scratch. Undrafted rookie Ronny Hickman took his starting spot.
Jaguars: Host Baltimore on Dec. 17.
Browns: Host Chicago on Dec. 17.
Copyright 2023 The associated Press, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.