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Browns undecided on starting QB

Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco prepares to take a snap during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

BEREA — The Cleveland Browns’ quarterback situation remains cloudy, and somewhat convoluted.

At least they’re consistent.

Coach Kevin Stefanski declined to announce his starter for this week’s game against Jacksonville on Wednesday, saying he wants to evaluate practices before choosing between Joe Flacco and rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

“We’ll make that decision at the appropriate time,” Stefanski said before practice. “But I want to see how this week goes.”

It’s possible Stefanski has already settled on the 38-year-old Flacco, who was recently signed by the Browns and played beyond expectations in his first start in nearly a year last week.

It’s also possible that Stefanski wants to keep the Jaguars (8-4), who are dealing with their own QB issues after starter Trevor Lawrence suffered an ankle injury on Monday night, guessing as long as possible.

And, there’s also a chance he goes back to Thompson-Robinson, who made two straight starts before sustaining a c oncussion on Nov. 26 at Denver.

Flacco’s strong performance against the Rams — his first game in 11 months — would seem to make him the possible favorite. The Super Bowl 47 MVP passed for 254 yards with two touchdowns in a 36-19 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

While he showed little rust, Flacco did throw a costly interception in the fourth quarter that led to the Rams scoring the game’s final 16 points and handing the Browns (7-5) their second straight loss.

Thompson-Robinson returned to practice but remains in concussion protocol after taking a nasty hit against the Broncos.

Before Thompson-Robinson went down, the fifth-round pick from UCLA who was thrust into Cleveland’s starting lineup when Deshaun Watson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, showed major improvements in his all-around game.

Stefanski wouldn’t say if Thompson-Robinson will regain his starting job once he clears the league’s protocol for head injuries.

“We’ve got to see how it goes,” Stefanski said. “I think that’s what’s important in this situation. Dorian obviously hasn’t cleared just yet, but he’s going to practice, so I want to see how it looks.”

Stefanski may have his preference for a starter, but that doesn’t mean it aligns with the plans of Cleveland’s front office or ownership.

The Browns have already displayed faith in Thompson-Robinson by making him the backup before the season and by returning to him following a rough NFL debut earlier this season against Baltimore.

“Dorian continues to get better,” Stefanski said. “Just think back to preseason — he got better throughout the preseason, I think has gotten better throughout this season. I think we’ve all seen his skillset and know what type of player he is, but I think he’s working very hard to continue to improve as this season wears on.”

But with playoff implications riding on the outcome, do the Browns risk playing a rookie over a veteran who has made 181 career starts?

Flacco’s mere presence on the field seemed to have a calming effect last week for the Browns, never mind that Cleveland’s offense moved more crisply with him behind center than it has since Watson got hurt.

The 6-foot-6 Flacco isn’t nearly as mobile as Thompson-Robinson, but he makes up for any deficiencies as a runner with his arm and vast experience.

While RPOs (run-pass options) and elusive QBs are in vogue, Stefanski agreed there is still a place in the game for pure pocket passers such as Flacco.

“Obviously, yes, in his instance,” Stefanski said. “We’ve all seen that this position go through different changes. I was just talking about Randall Cunningham yesterday, where he was ahead of his time just thinking about what he would be doing in this league.

“It’s cyclical maybe. There’s multiple ways to play this position. There’s multiple ways to be impactful for your offense and regardless of who our quarterback is, you have to play through the strengths of your quarterback.”

NOTES: CB Denzel Ward returned to practice after missing two games with a shoulder injury. Cleveland’s secondary has sorely missed Ward, who was having an All-Pro-caliber season before getting hurt. … WR Amari Cooper (concussion), RB Kareem Hunt (groin) and DT Maurice Hurst II (calf) were all out. … DE Myles Garrett, LG Joel Bitonio and TE David Njoku were not on the field but normally get rest on Wednesday.

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