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Joe Flacco Is Making The Most Unexpected Comeback in The NFL

“I feel like a 10-year-old kid out there.”

An illustration of veteran Cleveland Browns QB Joe Flacco for a feature story about his unexpected NFL comeback
Credit-Getty Images/Joker Mag

“I was just like anyone else in America.”

Every Sunday for the first 12 weeks of the 2023 NFL season, Joe Flacco watched football from his living room couch.

He hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass in 14 months.

And despite a growing need for his services, no teams were calling.

Starting quarterbacks around the league were going down with injuries at a record pace.

Aaron Rodgers, Anthony Richardson, Kirk Cousins, Daniel Jones, and Joe Burrow – all lost for the season.

Back-up QBs took over with varying degrees of success.

Teams were desperate for an experienced signal-caller to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Yet, Flacco’s phone stayed silent.

He was a forgotten man.

“As I sat at home for most of this year, I was probably beginning to lose a little bit of faith.”

So he fell into the typical American weekend routine – spending time with family, cooking up some food, and watching the 1 o’clock football games.

Joe Flacco on being ignored for the first 12 weeks of the 2023 NFL season: "I wasn't hearing anything. I was just kinda sitting at home."

“I wasn’t hearing anything,” he told Pat McAfee. “I was just kinda sitting at home.”

To stay in shape, he tossed a ball around on a local Pee Wee field with his father and brother twice a week.

It became a ritual.

  • Toss a heavy 15-ounce baseball to get warmed up
  • Long-toss with a normal baseball
  • Switch to a football to simulate game situations

His father ran routes, wearing gloves to keep his hands from stinging amid the dropping temperatures.

“Joe’s thrown a ton of footballs, obviously, so we were really just trying to keep him loose and feeling good about his arm,” said his dad, Steve.

“That’s really all it was.”

After their workouts, they’d recap the NFL’s weekly slate – often discussing the latest quarterback injury.

“We’re like, ‘Has anybody reached out? They got to have called you, right?” Joe’s brother, Tom, said.

“And Joe’s like, ‘Nah, no one’s called me.’ And it’s like, ‘What the hell?'”

But just as the Flacco family was losing hope, everything changed.

The Cleveland Browns announced that QB Deshaun Watson needed season-ending surgery.

Shortly after, the team called Flacco to line up a workout.

It was the first time since the 2008 draft that he needed to prove himself in front of NFL coaches.

But what took so long for his phone to ring?

“I’ve been around a while,” Flacco told ESPN. “I’m probably not looked at as the most sexy option out there.”

Interesting choice of words for a guy who was once voted the most attractive player in the NFL.

From the time Flacco showed up at the Browns’ facility, the 38-year-old has exceeded all expectations.

“When he first got in the building…everyone was like ‘Ooh, that looks good. Like it looks good coming out of his arm,'” said receiver Amari Cooper.

What began as the 4th quarterback on the team’s never-ending QB carousel quickly evolved into much more.

The veteran won over everyone in the organization – from the players to the coaches, to executives and fans.

“He came in with a positive attitude and aura around him, of just wanting to listen and learn and be around the guys,” said Myles Garrett.

“He throws a very easy-to-catch ball,” Cooper added. “It’s like one of those balls that you don’t have to think about catching.”

After dropping his first game as a starter in Week 13, Flacco led the Browns to four straight victories – helping them clinch their first playoff berth in three years.

In just five games, he’s thrown for 1,616 yards and 13 touchdowns – the most since his last full 16-game season in 2017.

Just a month earlier, he was slinging passes on a Pee Wee field.

Now he’s back under the bright lights of NFL stadiums, playing meaningful football in front of thousands of fans chanting his name.

While he’s never been to a Pro Bowl, Joe Flacco looks like a dark horse candidate for Comeback Player of the Year as he nears his 39th birthday.

As sports writer George Marinos told me, “It’s almost like it’s 2012 Flacco all over again, getting hot as fish grease for like 3 months. He’s playing stupid good right now.”

For the rest of the NFL, the 2012 version of Flacco is a frightening prospect.

That year in the playoffs, he threw for 1,140 yards with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions on his way to a Super Bowl MVP award and his first ring.

A quote from Browns QB Joe Flacco that says "When you sit out half a year, you don't take opportunities to play for granted...I feel like a 10-year-old kid out there."

We’ve already seen backup quarterbacks take the reigns, catch fire, and lead their team to a Super Bowl.

The latest to do it was Nick Foles with the Philadelphia Eagles. Before him, it was Doug Williams – the unlikely hero of Washington’s Super Bowl run. Sure, both were much younger than Flacco is now, but the principle is the same.

Anything can happen in the playoffs.

When the weather gets colder, the hot hand is all that matters.

It’s hard to put into words what a Browns’ Super Bowl would mean to Cleveland.

“If they go all the way,” said Scott Nunnari, a Browns superfan who leads tailgates every Sunday, “that Cavs championship parade is going to look like somebody’s local parade for their small town.”

Regardless of how the season shakes out, Joe Flacco is writing one of the most unexpected comeback stories of the modern-day NFL.

He’s living proof of the old quote that success happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Flacco stayed prepared, kept the faith, and found an opportunity. Now he’s making the most of it.

“When you sit out half a year, you don’t take opportunities to play for granted,” he said.

“I feel like a 10-year-old kid out there.”

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Written By

Division III baseball alum (McDaniel College) and founder of Joker Mag. Sharing underdog stories to inspire the next generation.

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