Browns Diary, Week 17: In Flacco We Trust
Cleveland 37, N.Y. Jets 20
When the 1999 season started, the idea that Dick Vermeil —DICK VERMEIL!—would ever be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame was plainly laughable. He was already 62 years old and had a 63-70 career record as an NFL coach. He had coached the Eagles to the 1980 Super Bowl, which was noteworthy for sure, but, you know, Bobby Ross had coached a team to a Super Bowl, too, and so had Sam Wyche, and so had Raymond Berry and Red Miller and John Rauch.
Anyway, less than two years later, Vermeil quit in the middle of the season, having burned himself out. He returned after many years to coach the St. Louis Rams, and they were absolutely terrible, and then, during the 1999 preseason, their starting quarterback and hope for turning things around, Trent Green, was badly injured and would have to miss the entire season.
Around St. Louis, they were calling Vermeil “Mr. Magoo.”
The idea THAT GUY was going to the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Ridiculous is not strong enough a word.
And then a fella from Iowa named Kurt Warner showed up.
THAT is the story that comes to mind for this Cleveland Browns football team. That is the story that comes to mind as everything—and I mean EVERYTHING— seems to go right for this team (even as everything goes wrong at the same time). That is the story that comes to mind as our guy Kevin Stefanski heads for what sure looks like his SECOND NFL Coach of the Year award.
Man, an out-of-nowhere quarterback can change absolutely everything.
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The Browns utterly destroyed the Jets on Thursday night and clinched a playoff berth before the final week for the first time in 30 years. They played a first half for the ages; they scored 34 points in that first half, and, had their backup kicker made an extra point, it would have tied the franchise record for most points in a first half, a record set when Otto Graham was the quarterback and Paul Brown was the coach.
What? How? We probably don’t need to mention this every time, but how can you not? This team lost their best offensive player, Nick Chubb, in Week 2. They lost their All-Pro tackle, Jack Conklin, in Week 1. They lost their other tackle, Jedrick Willis—the 10th pick in the 2020 draft and co-star in those awesome Baker Mayfield Progressive commercials—a few weeks later.
The quarterback they gave everything to get—absolutely everything — was a mixture of pretty good, terrible and either hurt or not hurt (nobody knew) before he, too, was knocked out for the season.
The team was a mess. And yet, somehow, they won games. Well, it wasn’t about “somehow,” it was about a world-class defense giving them chance after chance. After 11 games, with three different starting quarterbacks, the Browns were 7-4 and were barely clinging to an unlikely dream.
Then a fella who played football at Delaware named Joe Flacco showed up.