BEREA, Ohio — Joe Flacco 's second straight start for the Browns appears inevitable, if not essential.
It's just not official.
Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski remained noncommittal about his starter for Sunday's crucial game against Jacksonville despite Flacco getting all the first-team quarterback reps during the portion of Friday's practice open to the media.
Flacco had an impressive debut for Cleveland last weekend, the 38-year-old's first start in nearly one year, and is expected to play against the Jaguars (8-4).
But while Flacco seems to be his best choice — over rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson — for a game with massive AFC playoff implications, Stefanski said after practice he was not ready to publicly announce his starter.
“Both guys practiced this week. Both guys practiced well, I got faith in both guys,” Stefanski said.
Pressed on why he's not revealing his choice, Stefanski remained coy.
"You don’t have to, I guess is probably the best way of putting it,” he said.
While Stefanski has every right to keep his plans private, and in turn to keep the Jaguars guessing, Flacco's strong performance in his debut for Cleveland showed the 15-year veteran gives the Browns their best chance to make the playoffs.
In his first game in nearly a year, Flacco, who signed with the Browns on Nov. 20, passed for 254 yards and two touchdowns.
The former Super Bowl MVP did throw a costly interception in a 36-19 loss to the Rams, but Flacco had Cleveland's offense clicking better than it has since Deshaun Watson went down with a season-ending shoulder injury.
Flacco's showing didn't surprise receiver Elijah Moore.
“He’s brought a confidence and a swag,” said Moore, who played with Flacco with the New York Jets and had four catches for 84 yards last week. "We have a little bit of controversy with people getting hurt. So, I think that it brings confidence to know that we have someone in there that has been through it. It’s nothing but positive for us.”
Due to injuries, the Browns have started four quarterbacks for just the third time since 1950.
Flacco might still be in a backup role if not for Thompson-Robinson suffering a concussion in the third quarter of Cleveland's loss to Denver on Nov. 26. Thompson-Robinson finally cleared protocol and practiced Friday.
Afterward, the fifth-round pick from UCLA said he's grateful to possibly be playing again.
“I’m excited,” said Thompson-Robinson, who went 1-2 in three starts and was making major strides before getting hurt. “I’m ready to go if it’s me and my name’s called upon. Just more so excited to have football back.
"When you get stuff taken away from you, whether it’s injuries or whatever it is, that’s primarily the main focus, just getting back out on the field.”
Thompson-Robinson said the shot from Broncos linebacker Baron Browning may have been the hardest hit he's ever taken.
“That one one hurt for sure,” he said.
Equally painful for Thompson-Robinson was not being able to keep the momentum going.
In two starts after a rough debut against Baltimore on Oct. 1, when he filled in at the last minute for an injured Watson, the 24-year-old has shown why the Browns may be willing to play him in the biggest game this season.
“I’ve gone in there in an NFL game and started with no reps with being told last-second, so if I have to do it again, I can do it again,” he said. “I have those reps now. I’ve been trained for that scenario or anything that’s going to be thrown at me.”
NOTES: No. 1 WR Amari Cooper returned to practice after sustaining a concussion last week. He's listed as questionable. “He looked good,” Moore said. “It just depends on how he feels. He’s a pro. He’s always going to get it done.” ... Stefanski said starting RT Dawand Jones ”tweaked" his right knee. He's also questionable. The massive rookie has been a major positive since being thrust into the lineup after Jack Conklin suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener.