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Around the AFC North: Joe Flacco and Browns Thriving on Comeback Wins

Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco (15) passes the ball with pressure from Chicago Bears defensive tackle Justin Jones (93) in the first half of an NFL football game in Cleveland, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco (15) passes the ball with pressure from Chicago Bears defensive tackle Justin Jones (93) in the first half of an NFL football game in Cleveland, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023.

Cleveland Browns: Another Comeback Win Boosts Playoff Hopes

Joe Flacco and the Browns are riding some positive vibes.

Trailing 17-7 with 55 seconds left in the third quarter on Sunday, Flacco rallied the Browns (9-5) to a dramatic 20-17 victory over the Bears.

According to Next Gen Stats, the Browns had a win probability of just 10.7% late in the third quarter, but the Browns have been comeback kings this season. Cleveland has won an NFL-high four games in which its win probability dropped below 15%.

"Who could have written this story?" Cleveland's star defensive end Myles Garrett said via The Associated Press. "Not even Dr. Seuss. It doesn't get more abstract than what we've gone through."

Flacco is Cleveland's fourth starting quarterback this season, but the 38-year-old former Raven has sparked the offense in his three games as the starter. He still has the clutch gene and showed it again Sunday. After throwing three interceptions, Flacco (374 yards passing, two touchdowns) was torrid down the stretch and threw gorgeous strikes to Amari Cooper and David Njoku as part of Cleveland's rally.

The Browns nearly lost on the final play of the game, but Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney couldn't hold onto Justin Fields' Hail Mary.

Asked how he shook off his early turnovers, Flacco said he relied on experience.

"Part of you wants to crawl into a hole somewhere and hide from everybody," Flacco via the Browns' website. "You can't do that. Especially somebody like me. I've been in this league a long time and you've seen so much happen. You just have to keep your eyes on what's next. Today it just happened to work out for us."

The Browns now have an 88% chance of making the playoffs, according to the New York Times playoff simulator, heading into their Week 16 road game against the Texans. Flacco led the Ravens to their last Super Bowl victory in 2012 and has been with winning teams most of his career. He believes the Browns' resiliency is due to the strength of their locker room.

"It just tells you a lot about the kind of guys that this organization has purposely picked to put on the roster," Flacco said. "It's one of those things your probably can't quite quantify. There's probably a little bit of luck involved in things like today, but I think it just speaks to the character of the guys in that room."

Pittsburgh Steelers: Mason Rudolph to Start at Quarterback in Week 16

The Steelers (7-7) are making another change at quarterback.

Head Coach Mike Tomlin announced Monday that Mason Rudolph will make his first start of the season Saturday against the Bengals. Rudolph replaced Mitch Trubisky in the fourth quarter of their 30-13 loss to the Colts in Week 15, which was Pittsburgh's third straight defeat.

"I'm not dumping the game at Mitch's feet, I'm not saying that," Tomlin said via "I'm saying the guy at that position is at the controls and does have a big say in how some things unfold. It's more about Mason Rudolph being deserving of an opportunity and us changing the trajectory of what has been transpiring."

Tomlin did not rule out the possibility of Kenny Pickett being available on Saturday. Pickett is still recovering from a high ankle sprain and has missed the last two games.

"His availability is not out of the question this week," Tomlin said. "At the front part of our week, our attention and emphasis will be on Mason Rudolph, and we'll leave the door ajar and see how Kenny responds to the work he gets today and the limited work he gets tomorrow."

The Steelers will be without starting safety Damontae Kazee for the remainder of the season, as he's been suspended after a vicious hit to the head of Colts receiver Michael Pittman Jr.

The Steelers (7-7) no longer control their playoff destiny and have dropped to the No. 10th seed in the AFC.

However, the Bengals have injury issues to overcome. They lost starting nose tackle D.J. Reader for the rest of season after he was carted off with what is believed to be a torn quadriceps tendon against the Vikings. Josh Tupou is expected to take over as the starting nose tackle, but the Bengals' run defense will be tested without Reader.

"It's unfortunate for DJ, unfortunate for all of us because he's such a big part of all of us," Head Coach Zac Taylor said via the Bengals’ website.

Wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase is "day-to-day" with a knee injury, according to Taylor.

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