Joe Flacco, other Browns starters to sit finale against Bengals to rest for playoffs; Driskel at QB

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Joe Flacco is ending the season where he started it — off to the side.

Flacco won’t start Cleveland’s regular-season finale at Cincinnati — along with some other regulars — so they’ll be rested for the playoffs, and the Browns will go with Jeff Driskel, their franchise-record fifth starting quarterback this season.

Coach Kevin Stefanski said the Browns (11-5) have “earned the opportunity” to sit players after clinching a wild-card berth last week with a win over the New York Jets and the No. 5 seed in the AFC.

With little to play for against the Bengals (8-8) in a mostly meaningless game on Sunday, Stefanski intends to give most of the team’s best players a day off.

A bigger game lies ahead.

“We’ve earned the ability to do this, the flexibility to do something like this,” Stefanski said. “We’re going to utilize it. We’re going to take advantage of it. But the guys understand that it’s important that we handle this week this week. We’ll worry about next week next week.”

Stefanski wasn’t specific about which players he’ll rest (don’t expect to see Myles Garrett, Amari Cooper, Joel Bitonio or Denzel Ward), but he did reveal that Flacco, who has played beyond expectations in going 4-1 as a starter while throwing for 1,616 yards and 13 touchdowns since being signed by the Browns on Nov. 20, will sit.

Before Stefanski spoke, Flacco said his preference was to play.

“As players, you always want to get out there and strap ’em up,” he said. “In my experiences, coaches don’t usually leave that up to the players. They make the decision and they run with it.”

So in this Year of the Backup Quarterback, the team that has epitomized that the most will roll out its fifth starter in Driskel, who was signed to Cleveland’s active roster off Arizona’s practice squad last week.

The Browns are the eighth team since 1950 to win with four quarterbacks in one season. Only one team, the 1987 New England Patriots, has won with five QBs — and Cleveland can match them with a victory this week.

It’s been a QB juggling act for months for the Browns, both before and after Deshaun Watson went out with a season-ending shoulder injury. P.J. Walker and rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson also made starts before Cleveland signed the 38-year-old Flacco.

Beyond playing well, Flacco joked that he’s become something of a father figure to some of his new teammates.

“This the 16th year that I’ve been in this league,” he said. “I always say it, if I messed up in high school, I could be these kids’ dads.”

Flacco was the fourth quarterback to play for Cleveland, which needed to add another QB late in the season when Thompson-Robinson sustained a hip injury against Houston on Dec. 24.

Enter Driskel. QB5.

Stefanski said Walker will back up Driskel, who has made 11 career starts for Cincinnati (5), Detroit (3), Denver (1) and Houston (2). The 30-year-old Driskel has passed for 2,228 yards with 14 TDs and eight interceptions in 23 games.

It’s possible Driskel could be Flacco’s backup in the playoffs, but Stefanski isn’t ready look that far ahead.

“I’m not going to name backups for the playoffs,” he said. “But definitely want to now give Jeff an opportunity to get out there and see what he can do.”

Flacco has been the NFL’s hottest quarterback over the past month, and since his arrival, Cleveland’s offense has clicked as well as it has in two seasons. But both he and Stefanski downplayed the idea that they could lose momentum by sitting starters.

“Hitting your stride definitely matters, but each week is its own,” Flacco said. “I don’t know if anything really matters besides getting in and once you get in, it kind of starts over at that point.”

NOTES: DE Ogbo Okoronkwo (pectoral) practiced for the first time since getting hurt on Dec. 10 against Jacksonville and missing two games. “He’s trending in the right direction,” Stefanski said. “He’s put in a ton of work. I’m excited to have him out there.” … Stefanski had no update on K Dustin Hopkins (left, plant hamstring), who missed last week’s game. … The Browns signed veteran G Rodger Saffold, who has made 173 career starters, to bolster their depth. Saffold was thrilled to be back home in Cleveland. Hall of Famer Jim Brown was a family friend, and Saffold remembers being at the infamous 2001 ”Bottlegate” game where Browns fans littered the field with bottles and other debris after a controversial call. “I wasn’t going to throw anything because I was a young guy,” he said. “But I was there, man. I lived and died with this team.”



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