Nov. 18—Two of the four starting quarterbacks in the AFC North had their 2023 seasons wiped out by injuries in a span of five days. How each team responds will provide clues about how seriously they plan to contend for a playoff spot.
Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson suffered a fractured right shoulder playing against the Ravens on Nov. 12, ending his season. Four nights later, also against the Ravens, coincidentally, Bengals star Joe Burrow suffered a torn ligament in his right wrist. Watson definitely needs surgery. Burrow likely will also need surgery, Bengals coach Zac Taylor told reporters.
The Browns (6-3) will play the Steelers at 1 p.m. Nov. 19 at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The winner will be alone in second place in the AFC North, one-half game behind 8-3 Baltimore in the AFC North.
The Bengals are 5-5 after losing to the Ravens on Nov. 16. They are 0-3 in the division.
Rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson is starting for the Browns against the Steelers. Jake Browning took over for Burrow when Burrow was injured in the Baltimore game. He has been around the NFL since 2018 when he signed with the Vikings as an undrafted rookie, but until he replaced Burrow a few nights ago, his only NFL action came in the 2023 opener against the Browns when he replaced Burrow in the final minutes of the game the Browns won, 24-3.
The Bengals aren't going far with Browning, and unless DTR plays dramatically better than he did when he played against the Ravens on Oct. 1, it is unfair of the Browns to expect him to carry the team to the playoffs with eight games left in the regular season.
"The Battle of Ohio" refers to the two games the Browns and Bengals play against each other during the regular season. Now The Battle of Ohio has a new twist — the battle to sign a veteran quarterback to save the season.
Joe Flacco, 38, was in Berea for a tryout with Browns on Sept. 17. He last played with the Jets in 2022. His career spanned 15 seasons with three different teams. Flacco was not signed immediately after the tryout, but that doesn't mean the Browns weren't impressed. He wouldn't play against the Steelers even if he did sign, but he might be added to the roster in the coming days.
Flacco could learn the Browns' offense quickly enough, but the question General Manager Andrew Berry has to ponder is whether Flacco could still win. Since finishing 9-7 as a starter with the Ravens in 2017, he went 4-5 with the Ravens in 2018, 2-6 with the Broncos in 2019 and then 0-4, 0-1 and 1-3 in three years with the Jets.
The Browns' offense is designed for mobile quarterbacks with Watson, Thompson-Robinson and P.J. Walker. Flacco is not mobile.
Colt McCoy, a third-round draft pick by the Browns in 2010, was surprisingly cut by the Cardinals before the start of the 2023 season. He has started only 15 games since going 4-9 for the Browns in 2011, but he would be a calming voice in the quarterback room even if he is signed by the Browns and didn't end up starting.
Nick Foles and Matt Ryan are two other veterans who last played in 2022. Both were with the Colts last season.
Trevor Siemian is on the Jets' practice squad. He would have to be added to the 53-man roster if the Browns or Bengals sign him. Siemian has made 30 career starts with the Broncos, Saints, Bears and Jets since 2016. He has thrown 42 touchdown passes and 28 interceptions during his career.
—Thompson-Robnson will catch a break when he faces the Steelers in the critical Nov. 19 game. Pittsburgh's starting safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick (hamstring) and Keanu Neal (ribs) are both out. So is Cleveland stating safety Juan Thornhill. The Browns are clear winners in the tradeoff.
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