Nov 26, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco (15) on the sidelines during the second half against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco named Browns backup QB, gets first-team reps

The Cleveland Browns confirmed Wednesday that Joe Flacco is the primary backup quarterback and will get the start this week if Dorian Thompson-Robinson is unable to clear concussion protocol.

Flacco, 38, took the first-team reps in Wednesday’s practice after Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski announced the move. The Browns (7-4) visit the Los Angeles Rams (5-6) on Sunday.

Flacco, who has played in 183 games (180 starts), last played — and started — in a Week 17 game for the New York Jets early last January.

Thompson-Robinson exited late in the third quarter of last week’s game against the host Denver Browns with a concussion and was replaced by P.J. Walker.

The Browns signed Flacco to the practice squad last week in the wake of Deshuan Watson’s season-ending shoulder injury.

Flacco appeared in five games (four starts) with the New York Jets last season. He threw for 1,051 yards with five touchdowns and three picks.

Flacco has amassed 42,320 yards through the air with 232 touchdowns and 147 interceptions for the Baltimore Ravens (2008-18), Denver Broncos (2019) and Jets (2020-22).

Flacco led Baltimore to a Super Bowl in 2013 and was named MVP as the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers 34-31.

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2023; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) drops back to pass the ball in the first quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Browns QB Deshaun Watson to start vs. Cardinals

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will start Sunday’s game against the visiting Arizona Cardinals, coach Kevin Stefanski announced Friday.

Watson took all the first-team reps in practice Friday as he continued to recover from a strained rotator cuff. He was listed as a limited participant in practice on both Wednesday and Thursday.

“He’s comfortable,” Stefanski said. “He looks good.”

Watson initially was injured on Sept. 24 and was replaced in the Oct. 12 game against the Indianapolis Colts by P.J. Walker, who has started three games and gone 2-1. That includes last week’s loss at Seattle, when an interception on third-and-short late in the game gave the Seahawks possession to drive for a game-winning score and dropped the Browns to 4-3.

Watson, 28, has thrown for 683 yards and four touchdowns against three interceptions in four games this season.

Walker, 28, has completed just 49.5 percent of his passes for 618 yards with one TD and five picks in three games.

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2023; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) drops back to pass the ball in the first quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Browns QB Deshaun Watson to return to practice

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was expected to practice on a limited basis Wednesday, coach Kevin Stefanski announced.

Watson, who did not participate in practice at all last week, is recovering from a rotator cuff strain in his right shoulder.

“I’m not making any game-day decisions today,” Stefanski said. He later added that PJ Walker will start for the Browns (4-3) in Sunday’s game against the visiting Arizona Cardinals (1-7) if Watson is not cleared to return.

Watson attempted to return against the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 22 before exiting in the first half due to injury. He then sat out this past Sunday’s game, a 24-20 setback to the Seattle Seahawks.

Watson, 28, has thrown for 683 yards and four touchdowns against three interceptions in four games this season.

Walker, 28, has completed just 49.5 percent of his passes for 618 yards with one TD and five picks in three games.

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2023; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) drops back to pass the ball in the first quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Coach stands by QB Deshaun Watson as Browns’ leader

Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski asserted Monday that quarterback Deshaun Watson remains “the leader” of the Browns.

Watson did not return to Sunday’s 39-38 win over the Indianapolis Colts despite being cleared after a concussion check in the first quarter.

Stefanski insisted after the game that he was protecting Watson, who had missed the two previous games with a shoulder injury.

Stefanski repeated that sentiment on Monday.

“I’m always going to be protective of my players, especially at the quarterback position,” Stefanski said. “Just felt like the right thing in that moment was to hold him out of that game.”

Watson completed just 1 of 5 passes for 5 yards with an interception before leaving. He was replaced by P.J. Walker, who guided the Browns (4-2) to a victory for the second straight week.

Stefanski declared after the game that Watson would be back for Sunday’s road game against the Seattle Seahawks (4-2).

“He’s our starter moving forward,” Stefanski said. “He’s our starter in Seattle. I just — it’s always going to be my decision to protect our players.”

Watson said after the game that he accepted Stefanski’s decision to keep him on the bench.

“I want to compete. I’m a competitor,” Watson said. “I want to go out there and try to help the team as much as possible, and go out there and play and perform and compete. But the decision was best for the team and they felt that was the best, and P.J. did a great job of finishing the game.”

Walker was 15-of-32 passing for 178 yards and one interception against the Colts.

Watson, 28, has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 683 yards, four touchdowns and three picks in four starts this season.

–Field Level Media

Sep 28, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) is upended against the Detroit Lions during their football game on Thursday, September 28, 2023, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Mandatory Credit: Tork Mason-USA TODAY Sports

Packers RB Aaron Jones (hamstring) returns to practice

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones returned to practice Monday after missing the team’s Week 5 game with a hamstring injury.

The Packers had their bye this weekend.

Starting safety Darnell Savage (calf) was also back at practice after leaving early in the Packers’ 17-13 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Oct. 9.

Also, starting linebackers Quay Walker (knee) and De’Vondre Campbell (ankle) were working out on the side with trainers. Campbell has missed the past two games. Walker exited the Raiders’ game early.

The Packers (2-3) play at Denver (1-5) this Sunday.

Jones was injured in the season-opening victory against the host Chicago Bears, then didn’t play until Sept. 28 in a limited role in a 30-24 home loss to the Detroit Lions. He played 20 snaps in that Thursday night game, ran five times for 18 yards and caught one pass for minus-4 yards.

Jones, 28, has 14 carries for 59 yards and one touchdown, and three receptions for 82 yards and a score in two games this season.

Savage has 33 tackles on the season in five starts. Walker has 51 tackles and an interception returned for a touchdown in five starts. Campbell has 22 tackles in his three starts.

–Field Level Media

Jan 14, 2023; Santa Clara, California, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III (9) runs away from San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw (57) for a second quarter touchdown run during a wild card game at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Seahawks RBs Zach Charbonnet, Kenneth Walker III out with injuries

The Seattle Seahawks will be without their projected top two running backs for some time.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters Sunday that rookie running back Zach Charbonnet is out “indefinitely” with a shoulder injury, and No. 1 back Kenneth Walker III is currently considered week-to-week with a groin injury.

Walker was an early-second round draft pick in 2022 after a breakout college season at Michigan State. He was the runner-up for Offensive Rookie of the Year after gaining 1,050 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in 15 games (11 starts) for Seattle.

“He doesn’t feel bad. It’s not a terrible injury or anything like that,” Carroll said of Walker. “We just don’t want to aggravate it now and make it something that lingers through camp.”

The Seahawks drafted Charbonnet in the second round of the 2023 draft and the expectation was the UCLA product would complement Walker.

Charbonnet gained 3,346 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns across four seasons at Michigan (2019-20) and UCLA, with career highs of 1,359 yards and 14 scores in 2022.

Carroll did not have a timetable for Charbonnet’s return.

Seattle activated tight end Noah Fant off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list on Sunday, but other Seahawks players who remain on the list include three key defensive starters — Pro Bowl cornerback Tariq Woolen (knee), safety Jamal Adams (quadricep) and inside linebacker Jordyn Brooks (knee).

–Field Level Media

Dec 11, 2022; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) catches a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers during the second quarter at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Seahawks’ Kenneth Walker III questionable, Tyler Lockett out

Wide receiver Tyler Lockett was officially ruled out for Week 16 with a hand injury, and the Seattle Seahawks are crossing their fingers running back Kenneth Walker III can play.

Walker is officially questionable with ankle and back injuries. The team’s leading rusher with 696 yards and nine touchdowns, Walker failed to top 50 rushing yards for the fourth consecutive game last week.

The backup to Walker, DeeJay Dallas, was listed as questionable with an ankle injury.

Lockett is 12th in the NFL in receptions with 78, one behind teammate DK Metcalf, and leads Seattle with eight TD receptions. He underwent surgery for the broken finger he sustained during his team’s final drive in last week’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The team is hoping he can return for the final two regular season games.

Seattle also ruled out nose tackle Al Woods (Achilles) and safety Ryan Neal (knee).

Tight end Noah Fant (knee) and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (wrist, ankle) are questionable.

–Field Level Media

Nov 27, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) watches from the sidelines during the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers release QB Baker Mayfield

The Carolina Panthers waived erstwhile starting quarterback Baker Mayfield at his request on Monday.

Mayfield will hit the waiver wire later in the day, and positioning for the former No. 1 overall pick could be intriguing with subplots aplenty.

The move comes as the Panthers (4-8) come out of their bye week.

The Panthers play at Seattle this week and it’s not clear who will be the starter — Sam Darnold or PJ Walker. Darnold made his season debut as the starter in Carolina’s Week 12 game against Denver, leading the Panthers to a win while throwing for 164 yards and a score.

Mayfield, 27, started six of the seven games he played in this season, completing 57.8 percent of his passes for 1,313 yards and six touchdowns against six interceptions.

Mayfield was in his first season in Carolina, which acquired him from Cleveland in July for a 2024 conditional fifth round pick. The pick will remain a fifth-rounder since Mayfield didn’t play 70 percent of the team’s snaps at QB. The Panthers paid $5 million of Mayfield’s fifth-year option while the Browns paid about $10.5 million. Mayfield agreed to cut the remaining $3 million-plus off his fifth-year salary to facilitate the trade.

Mayfield is 30-35 as a starting QB in 65 starts as an NFL quarterback since being selected No. 1 by the Browns in 2018. He’s thrown for 98 TDs and 62 INTs for his career.

The Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams all stand in front of the 49ers in the waiver order and could make a claim to block division-leading San Francisco from picking up Mayfield. The 49ers have lost quarterbacks Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo to season-ending injuries.

The Rams sit fourth in the current waiver order. They are likely without quarterback Matthew Stafford (spinal contusion, concussion) with a 3-9 record and parted with their 2023 first-round draft choice in the Stafford deal with the Detroit Lions. The Houston Texans, also unsettled at the position, are No. 1 in the waiver order.

A team claiming him would owe Mayfield $1.3M for the rest of this season. He would become an unrestricted free agent if he goes unclaimed.

Arizona has a 4-8 record coming out of a Week 13 bye. Before the draft, the Cardinals were among teams to host Mayfield, who met with general manager Steve Keim. Arizona underwent a rapidly spun quarterback carousel and changed coaches, picking Josh Rosen in the same draft the Browns selected Mayfield. But after the Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury in 2019 as head coach, they reset the depth chart again by selecting Kyler Murray No. 1 in 2019.

Kingsbury and Mayfield have a complicated history from their time as coach-QB at Texas Tech. The friction pushed Mayfield to transfer to Oklahoma, where he won the Heisman Trophy. Mayfield said in 2019 the two patched out their friction-filled relationship, which might open the door to the Cardinals claiming him for the final month of the season.

San Francisco leads the NFC West but Garoppolo is out the rest of the season after suffering a broken foot on Sunday. Brock Purdy is currently QB1 for the Niners.

–Field Level Media

Aug 26, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) scores a touchdown while defended by Buffalo Bills cornerback Jordan Miller (32) during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers to start Sam Darnold at QB vs. Broncos

The Carolina Panthers plan to start Sam Darnold at quarterback in Sunday’s Week 12 contest against the visiting Denver Broncos.

Darnold has yet to play this regular season after going down with an ankle sprain late in the preseason. He was activated off injured reserve to resume practice in October.

Darnold will be the third different player to start at quarterback this year for Carolina (3-8), following Baker Mayfield and P.J. Walker. According to the Panthers, interim coach Steve Wilks made the decision Tuesday and informed Darnold and his fellow quarterbacks.

Mayfield started the first five games, then returned to the lineup after recovering from an ankle injury. Walker started Weeks 6-10 and went down with his own ankle injury.

Mayfield went 21 for 33 for 196 yards and two interceptions on Sunday in a 13-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

In 2021, his first season in Carolina after a trade from the New York Jets, Darnold played in 12 games (11 starts) and completed 59.9 percent of his passes for 2,527 yards, nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The former No. 3 overall draft pick from 2018 missed five games with a shoulder injury.

–Field Level Media

Aug 13, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) and Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) participate in warmups prior to the game against the Washington Commanders at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers undecided on QB1 for Week 12

Interim head coach Steve Wilks said the Panthers are not ready to name a starting quarterback for Week 12.

Wilks was still smarting from Sunday’s 13-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens when he met with media on Monday. The Panthers and Ravens were tied 3-all most of the fourth quarter, but three turnovers late in the game handed the Ravens a victory.

“It’s tough to say right now,” Wilks said of how the Panthers can fix the offense.

There will be no official word from the Panthers (3-8) until Wednesday, Wilks said, adding that he plans to use time to review film before picking a starter to face the Denver Broncos (3-7) this week.

Mayfield started the first five games, then returned to the lineup after recovering from an ankle injury to replace P.J. Walker. Walker went down with his own ankle injury but multiple reports indicate there are veterans in Carolina pushing to give Sam Darnold a shot. Darnold was on injured reserve with an ankle issue until he resumed practice in October.

Mayfield was intercepted twice in the fourth quarter, once on a tipped pass, and said the answer is only found when looking beyond the team’s record.

“Look at how we’re losing. You have to fix those things,” Mayfield said. “It’s like (Hall of Fame coach Bill) Parcells said, you have to learn how to stop beating yourself before you learn how to win. Right now, I think today’s a pretty good example of that. We have to fix a lot of our own mistakes before we can even be in a position to win.”

–Field Level Media