The 38-year-old Flacco, who was only signed three weeks ago by the Browns (8-5), delivered the kind of performance he had almost annually as a visitor with Baltimore. Flacco went 26 of 45 and improved to 10-2 as a starter in Cleveland.
Lawrence played despite spraining his right ankle Monday night. He threw a season-high three interceptions before bringing the Jaguars (8-5) back in the fourth quarter.
His third TD pass – to Evan Engram with 1:33 left – pulled the Jaguars within four points. Cleveland’sMyles Garrett then sacked Lawrence on the 2-point conversion, and the Browns recovered an onside kick to close it out.
Flacco threw two TD passes in the first half to tight end David Njoku and completed a 41-yarder to wide receiver David Bell in the fourth quarter when the Jaguars gambled with an all-out blitz on fourth down.
The Browns have been forced to play four QBs due to injuries and are putting their playoff hopes in Flacco’s hands. He’ll lead their stretch drive.
The Jaguars suffered their second loss in six days despite having Lawrence. The quarterback wasn’t on his game early and finished 28 of 50 for 257 yards.
Lawrence was without one of his top receivers after Christian Kirk was placed on injured reserve earlier this week.
Jacksonville is banged up on both sides of the ball as the first-place Jaguars, who lost for the first time in seven road games, try to hold off Houston and Indianapolis in the AFC South.
Martin Emerson had two of the picks against Lawrence, who threw an incompletion on fourth down with 3:30 left.
The Browns then took a 31-21 lead when Dustin Hopkins kicked a 55-yard field goal with 3:10 remaining.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski never announced his starting quarterback, preferring to keep the Jaguars in the dark.
Flacco didn’t waste time showing why he was the obvious choice over rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, completing 4 of 4 passes for 66 yards as the Browns went right down the field to take a 7-0 lead.
Cleveland brought in its “heavy” package on third-and-1 at the Jaguars’ 34. Flacco faked a handoff that fooled Jacksonville’s defense as Njoku was left uncovered down the left side for a 34-yard touchdown.
Flacco’s second TD pass was equally easy. Njoku wasn’t initially picked up after the snap, caught a pass over the middle, broke a tackle inside the 10-yard line and scored. It’s the first multi-TD game of Njoku’s career.
Jacksonville’s defense came up with a turnover to set up the Jaguars’ lone score in the first half as safety Andrew Wingard stripped away Amari Cooper after a 19-yard gain.
Two plays later, Lawrence connected with Engram for a 10-yard TD to pull the Jaguars within 14-7.
Lawrence didn’t appear to have any issues with the ankle, but he wasn’t very accurate, completing 11 of 22 passes for 100 yards in the first half.