As QB Joe Flacco stood on the field at Cleveland Browns Stadium after the Browns beat the Jets to clinch a playoff berth and wrapped up a postgame interview, his five kids ran over to stand in front of their father.
His face lit up as they surrounded him, and Flacco handed a "Tuddy Buddy" teddy bear to his daughter.
The surreal moments keep on coming for Flacco this season. Thursday night – with his children in attendance as the Browns clinched a playoff berth and sharing time with them on the field following game – is one that will last a lifetime.
"You don't know how many of these moments you're going to get," Flacco said. "Not too many people get the opportunity to have kids as old as mine and that understand what's going on—get to witness this. And I think it's cool for them, but ultimately, it's really cool for me. I'm going to remember this for the rest of my life. And anything that you get to do with people that you love, especially your children, they just make everything that much more special."
It's a movie in the making for Flacco in his 16th year in the NFL. Just about six weeks ago, he was not on an NFL roster. Fast forward to Dec. 29, he led the Browns to their 11th win of the season and clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2020.
He's made five consecutive starts since Week 13 and has led the Browns to four consecutive wins – capping it off with the most recent 37-20 victory over his former team in the Jets.
Flacco threw for 296 yards in the first half on Thursday night, and finished the game with 309 passing yards, three touchdowns and an interception. It was his fourth consecutive game that he's thrown for over 300 yards and is the only Browns player to throw for over 300 yards in four straight games.
He also 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. He also joined Brian Hoyer of the Bears in 2016 as one of two players in NFL history to record at least 300 passing yards in four of his five games with a team.
"I'm just happy for Joe," HC Kevin Stefanski said. "I'm happy for him having this success, being a part of a football team. He's got something left in the tank."
As the Browns have dealt with a number of injuries across the board and have started four quarterbacks this season, Flacco has been a calming presence since his arrival in Cleveland. His teammates quickly embraced the new edition to the locker room and have relied on his veteran experience to lead them to necessary wins.
"Flacco's been doing a heck of a job leading us, being that coach leader out there on the field for us, making every pass on the field," RB Kareem Hunt said. "He's calm, cool, and collected, That's a great quarterback."
And the city of Cleveland has done the same.
At different points during Thursday night's game, chants of "Flacco, Flacco, Flacco," echoed throughout Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"Yeah, it's cool," Flacco said with a smile. "I mean, just put yourself in that position, you can't deny it. I said it from the very beginning. I mean, the city has been unbelievable. My teammates have been unbelievable in terms of just embracing me onto this football team. So, it's all been great, and it makes it that much more special to be able to come in here and play some good football."
Flacco has said he hasn't spent much time throughout this stretch with the Browns thinking about all that has occurred in six weeks. And when thinking about clinching a playoff berth with the Browns in the fashion they did through all the adversity, he wasn't quite ready to take a step back just yet. He wanted to stay in the moment as long as possible and soak in the joy of accomplishing a feat the Browns have not done since 2020.
At some point, he'll reflect on his journey from watching NFL games from the comfort of his more mere weeks ago, to starting for the Browns and helping them clinch a spot in the playoffs. For now, he's relishing the experience.
"I mean, this is obviously a very unique situation for me," Flacco said. "So, a lot of different emotions are going through my head. And just the city has been so unbelievable, and you can tell how hungry they are for good football, and they've been getting it all year. And it makes a difference to go out there and play in front of a crowd like that week in and week out. […] And this city, you can just tell they love football and it's special going out there and playing for them."