New York Jets quarterback Joe Flacco celebrates after the team...

New York Jets quarterback Joe Flacco celebrates after the team defeated the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 18, 2022. Credit: AP/David Richard

Joe Flacco walked into the visiting locker room in Cleveland, where Robert Saleh was waiting to greet him with a bear hug. Then Flacco’s teammates started screaming and pushing him. Flacco, with a huge smile, was at the center of a scrum, bouncing off teammates and jumping up and down during a joyous celebration.

Flacco instantly went from Joe Cool to Joe Acting a Fool. It was well deserved after he led the Jets to a miraculous and thrilling victory over the Browns last Sunday, even if Flacco lightheartedly wishes the celebration hadn’t been caught on video. “It’s a shame that everything is so open these days,” he said with a smile. “It’s all good, it’s all fun, and you’re glad that people kind of get to see all that. But obviously when we’re doing that, I have no idea that that’s going to get out there on social media and those kinds of things.

“I probably wouldn’t have done it. It would’ve been like me at a wedding. I would’ve been standing at a table, making sure I’m not on somebody’s camera.”

Make no mistake, Flacco enjoyed himself, and rightfully so.

“I’m feeding off everybody else,” he said. “I come in the locker room, Saleh gives me a hug, guys are going nuts. Dude, that moment is special.”

The 37-year-old quarterback had just thrown for 307 yards and four touchdowns. Two came after the Jets trailed 30-17 with 1:55 remaining. This was his one shining moment as a Jet — his first victory in seven career starts. He’d like to show he has another one in him.

The Jets are Zach Wilson’s team. Saleh has made it clear that when Wilson is able to return from his knee injury, he will be the Jets’ QB1. It could happen next week, so Sunday’s game against the Bengals could be Flacco’s last as the Jets’ starter.

His performance last week created a debate about whether the Jets should ride the hot hand and stick with him if he has another good game and let Wilson watch and learn. An argument can be made for both sides.

Flacco, a former Super Bowl MVP with the Ravens, is solely focused on this game. He has come to grips with the fact that this may be his fate at this stage of his career. In his last three jobs, he served as a backup to a high draft pick — Sam Darnold with the Jets in 2020, Jalen Hurts with the Eagles in 2021 and Wilson last season and this one.

“When you sign up to be on a football team and you make that decision to commit to a football team and you make a roster, you’re there to do what you’re there to do,” Flacco said. “That’s all you can worry about. That’s all of us. If you can keep that kind of focus on what we can control, that’s when a team comes together and everything takes care of itself.”

Flacco’s selflessness, overall approach and demeanor have endeared him to coaches and teammates. That’s why the reaction was what it was when he entered the locker room. It was genuine respect and happiness for the graybeard quarterback who still has something left in that big arm.

“I don’t think I have to prove it to myself,” he said. “I believe that I can do that. It’s obviously nice that I can confirm it. I wasn’t even thinking about the fact that it was four touchdowns and all that in that moment. We won the game, and especially in that fashion

That’s all that mattered to Flacco, and he said it didn’t have any more meaning because it was his first win as a starting quarterback since he was a member of the Broncos in 2019.

“I don’t actively think about it,” he said. “You know it. But I’m not actively thinking about it or listening to anything like that. Wins are huge. It’s tough to explain how much they mean, not necessarily personally. It’s just in the moment as a part of a team. A win or a loss for me personally over the grand of schemes, what’s it matter? Right now, in the moment, it matters. It’s everything. It’s everything and it has the power to change things for the better, so it is a big win.”

So much is made about Flacco’s ability to stay cool under pressure, earning him the nickname “Joe Cool.” It was on full display in the last two drives of that game. Flacco was 7-for-11 for 123 yards and the two touchdowns. His passer rating was 141.3.

“I was happy for him,” quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese said. “He didn’t push. He didn’t try to make the play that wasn’t there. He actually protected the ball and got rid of it when he could and let the game come to him. Just to see him after the game, you knew what it meant to him and how much time and effort he put into it, so I was very happy for him.”

Calabrese, a former East Islip High School star, said the biggest thing Flacco did was play the quarterback position the way it’s supposed to be played throughout the game, but especially at the end.

“Those moments in the two-minute drive,” Calabrese said, “that’s when you’re going to play quarterback and go be Joe Flacco.”

That also earned Flacco some street cred with his children.

Flacco and his wife, Dana, have five, all born between 2012 and 2018. They were either too young to remember or not born when Flacco was in his prime and winning games with Baltimore.

He said his kids have told him “you stink” more than once because of his recent history. Flacco Googled old highlights of him playing and made them watch to show his sons he doesn’t stink. They got to see it live last Sunday.

“They saw the video from the locker room,” Flacco said, “so they were just all laughing at me and saying ‘Dad, why were you doing this when you came to the locker room?’ All those things, so very cool. Very grateful for the opportunity to be able to play football games where they actually understand what’s going on. So pretty neat to be able to do that.’’

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