Late interception thwarts strong start from Joe Flacco, dooms Browns vs. Rams in QB's Cleveland debut

Joe Flacco started strong in his Cleveland Browns debut Sunday before a late interception helped seal a 36-19 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

The former Super Bowl MVP took over at quarterback two weeks after agreeing to join the Browns with Cleveland hoping to remain in playoff contention. He led Cleveland to what looked like a game-tying touchdown midway through the fourth quarter on a play-action pass to tight end Harrison Bryant.

Dustin Hopkins missed the extra point, leaving Cleveland trailing, 20-19. The Browns then had a chance to take the lead after their defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing Rams possession. But Flacco underthrew Elijah Moore on a deep ball that John Johnson III intercepted.

The turnover set the Rams up for a late touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Cooper Kupp to extend L.A.'s lead to 27-19. Cleveland turned the ball over on downs in its ensuing possession, and the Rams held on for the win.

It was a disappointing end to a promising start for Flacco that dropped the Browns to 7-5, leaving their playoff hopes floundering in the face of multiple key injuries. Flacco finished his Browns debut completing 23 of 44 passes for 254 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

Joe Flacco looked strong early in his Browns debut before a costly late mistake. (Harry How/Getty Images)
Joe Flacco looked strong early in his Browns debut before a costly late mistake. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Will Flacco start moving forward?

Head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters postgame that Flacco "did some really good things today" while declining to name him Cleveland's starter moving forward.

"I'm not going to get into all that," Stefanski said.

Flacco joined the team because starting quarterback Deshaun Watson sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 10. He got the call to start Sunday with Dorian Thompson-Robinson sidelined in concussion protocol.

All-Pro running back Nick Chubb is also sidelined with a season-ending knee injury, and the Browns played a second straight game Sunday without injured Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward. Cleveland is still very much alive for the postseason, but injuries have taken their toll in consecutive losses.

Flacco, 38, hadn't played a game since last season. He played 11 seasons with the Ravens and earned MVP honors in Super Bowl XLVII. A 16-season NFL veteran, he started four games for the New York Jets last season as a fill-in last and last played in an 11-6 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 17.

The Rams improved to 6-6 with Sunday's win to keep pace in the NFC playoff race. The Browns will look to regroup against the AFC South-leading Jacksonville Jaguars next week amid continuing questions at quarterback.