Joe Flacco capped off an unexpected, yet unforgettable, 2023 season on Thursday, as he was named the AP Comeback Player of the Year at NFL Honors in Las Vegas.
Flacco saw the start of the NFL's 2023 season come and go, and he was not on an NFL roster. He watched games from the comfort of his home but continued to work his throwing arm and stay ready if an opportunity presented itself.
The season continued, but nothing changed. That is, until mid-November when Flacco got a call from Cleveland to come and work out for the Browns. Cleveland announced on Nov. 15 that QB Deshaun Watson was out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. Flacco was then later signed to the Browns practice squad on Nov. 20.
"Joe Flacco, from the couch into the starting lineup," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "It was fun for me to watch and I had a pretty good view of it all. What he was able to do on the field and off the field was really remarkable and I'm so proud of Joe."
In five regular season games, Flacco completed 123-of-204 passes for 1,616 yards and 13 touchdowns. Flacco was named the backup quarterback heading into Week 13, and then earned his first start with the Browns in Week 13 against the Rams.
He then led the Browns to four consecutive wins in the month of December and helped them clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2020 on Thursday Night Football in Week 17.
"Joe, he played winning football for us," Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry said. "He did a great job of coming in and really playing at a high level that allowed us to go on a run at the end of the year. Played really good football in December, even if maybe we ended a little bit with a thud against Houston in the Wild Card round. Really pleased with what Joe did on the field, pleased with who he was as a teammate."
He led the Browns to a 4-1 record as a starter and became the first player in NFL history to record at least 250 passing yards and two touchdown passes in each of his first five games with a team. Flacco also became the first Browns player to throw for 300 yards in four consecutive games. Flacco finished the regular season completing 123 of 204 passes for 1,616 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Flacco was nominated for FedEx Air Player of the Week for four consecutive weeks beginning with Week 14 and won the honor in Week 16.
"Joe was awesome for this football team," Stefanski said in his end-of-season press conference on Jan. 14. "He did a great job, battled like crazy. I know he enjoyed it. […] I have a ton of respect for Joe and what he was able to do."
From the moment Flacco stepped into the Browns' locker room through the end of the season in a disappointing defeat to the Texans in the Wild Card round, Flacco held a level of respect from his teammates. They knew his 16 years of experience in the league would prove beneficial as they made their playoff push.
"I was so fortunate to become a part of this team," Flacco said on Jan. 13. "It's a special group. And I know a lot of people can say that, but it really is. To be given a chance to do this with those guys, I'm super grateful for it."