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Browns QB Joe Flacco earns AP NFL 2023 Comeback Player of the Year honors

Cleveland's unlikely run to the 2023 playoffs couldn't have been done without Joe Flacco.

The 39-year-old quarterback made the most of his five late-season starts, leading the Browns to an offensive surge that amounted to a crucial four-game win streak resulting in Cleveland clinching a wild-card berth despite an injury-plagued campaign.

Flacco was named the 2023 Associated Press NFL Comeback Player of the Year award winner for his season-saving efforts on Thursday night at NFL Honors in Las Vegas.

Flacco's honor caps off a celebratory evening for the 2023 Browns that saw defensive end Myles Garrett awarded AP Defensive Player of the Year, Kevin Stefanski voted AP Coach of the Year and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz awarded AP Assistant Coach of the Year.

The Browns quarterback narrowly won the honor over Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin, 151-140, though Hamlin had 21 first-place votes to Flacco's 13. The rest of the finalists' tallies were: Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (93 points, 10 first-place votes), Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (30; one) and Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (21; four). 

The Browns' season was thought to be a lost cause once it was learned Deshaun Watson needed season-ending shoulder surgery after Week 10. Losing Watson was the latest blow to a campaign chalk full of season-ending injuries, including those of running back Nick Chubb, left tackle Jack Conklin and right tackle Jedrick Wills.

Cleveland signed Flacco on Nov. 19 as an insurance policy while rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was set to be the starter. Flacco's number was soon called once the rookie was made unavailable for Week 13, setting up the veteran's clock-turning comeback.

After one start allowed him to get a good feel for the new offense, Flacco turned the Browns into a serious offensive threat, beginning with a three-touchdown performance against the Jaguars in Week 14. Flacco's second start was enough for Stefanski to name him the starter for the remainder for the season.

He'd follow that win up with a season-high 374 passing yards against Chicago the following week, which included a fourth-quarter comeback that erased a 10-point deficit. Flacco would help make Browns history the following week, as wideout Amari Cooper set the franchise's all-time single-game receiving record with 265 yards in a victory over Houston.

With another three-TD effort in Week 17, his third in four games, Flacco led the Browns to a season-high 37 points against the Jets, a victory that clinched the Browns' postseason berth.

Cleveland's dream of a season would end in the Super Wild Card Round, but the virtue of Flacco's amazing turnaround was just as memorable as any other.

Flacco's 1,616 passing yards and 13 TDs are both the most in NFL history by a QB who made his debut in the final six games of a season, according to NFL Research. His 323.2 passing yards per game (minimum 200 attempts) led the league in 2023, and he became the first QB in Browns history to have 300-plus passing yards in four straight games.

Flacco's winding road to Cleveland came with plenty of adversity, having lost 10 of his last 11 starts with the Broncos and Jets from 2019-2022. The former Super Bowl MVP with the Ravens was a free agent for the majority of 2023.

It took a longtime AFC North rival for Flacco to nurture his late-career resurgence, making it all that more memorable. Flacco's remarkable season is now forever immortalized as the 2023 Comeback Player of the Year.

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