Joe Flacco gave Cleveland Browns a spark vs. Los Angeles Rams

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- In his Cleveland Browns debut, 38-year-old quarterback Joe Flacco proved he still has something left in the tank.

But in the wake of a second straight loss, do the Browns themselves?

A battered offense seemingly being held together with Band-Aids, tape and now Flacco's big right arm did enough to give Cleveland a chance Sunday in a 36-19 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. But suddenly, a banged-up defense once on a historically dominant pace is leaking oil everywhere.

At 7-5, Cleveland remains strongly positioned to earn a wild-card spot in the AFC playoffs -- they have a 66.2% chance to make the playoffs, per ESPN Analytics. But to make the postseason, the Browns will likely have to grind out three more victories in their final five games against the Jaguars (8-4), Bears (4-8), Texans (7-5), Jets (4-8) and Bengals (6-6).

Can they get there?

"I always feel good about this team," said defensive end Myles Garrett, the latest Cleveland star player to battle injury. "We know exactly what the mission is -- doesn't change."

What has changed is Cleveland's degree of difficulty due to a rash of injuries that have kneecapped the offense and are now hampering the defense.

Despite wearing a sling on his injured left shoulder a week before, Garrett played Sunday in Los Angeles. But for the first time in his career, he finished a game without a single tackle. Garrett didn't make excuses afterward, but the shoulder injury appeared to affect him.

"No one asked for the situation that we're in, but we're in it," Garrett said. "Can't complain. Can't moan about it. Just gotta go out there and put the work in and find a way to win."

Getting Garrett healthier and Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward returning from his shoulder injury will be paramount in Cleveland bouncing back and rediscovering its groove defensively.

On Sunday, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz couldn't be as aggressive as usual without Ward, who has been locking down opposing offenses' top receiver in man coverage all season. Minus Ward, Cleveland blitzed just 18.9% of the time in Los Angeles, down significantly from its season average (33.0%). And with Garrett struggling to create pressure, Cleveland's pass rush against Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford was nonexistent.

Stafford completed 22 of 37 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns without an interception or a sack. And Garrett generated just two quarterback pressures, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, his lowest pressure rate in a game in two years.

On Monday, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski pushed back on the notion his defense is wearing down. Either way, the defense is not at the level it was during the first half of the season.

"Obviously, there's things that we can do better on defense," Stefanski said. "We know that. There are plays that we can clean up, and that's really our focus. Our focus is finding those ways in-game to make a play here and there."

The never-ending string of bad luck continued offensively, too.

Leading wideout Amari Cooper left the Rams game in the first half and is now in concussion protocol, putting his status for Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (1 p.m. ET, CBS) in doubt. The Browns have lost quarterback Deshaun Watson and starting right tackle Jack Conklin for the season, and are still without left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. (knee), who remains on injured reserve. All-Pro running back Nick Chubb has started traveling with the team again, despite being on crutches, serving as a constant reminder of what this offense could've been before his season-ending knee injury in Week 2 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Still, Flacco's arrival has provided the Browns with a glimmer of hope.

Despite signing with the team less than three weeks ago, Flacco showed little rust while delivering a surprisingly crisp performance in Los Angeles. His fourth-quarter interception, which Flacco called a "bad decision," was costly. But until then, the former Super Bowl MVP was terrific. He finished 23-of-44 passing for 254 yards and two touchdowns and boasted the arm strength to push the ball downfield from the pocket. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Flacco's 19 attempts over 10 air yards were the most by a Cleveland quarterback in five years. He completed eight of them, stretching the defense. On top of that, Flacco brought a calm to the huddle, according to his teammates.

"We have a guy who can run this offense. We have a guy who's smart, his execution is there," said right guard Wyatt Teller. "Definitely took control of that huddle. ... He's a fighter. He's a dog. He was putting the ball where it needed to be."

Stefanski hasn't announced whether Flacco will start this Sunday over rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who remains in concussion protocol himself after being knocked out of the Week 12 loss to the Denver Broncos. And although Thompson-Robinson was beginning to thrive against Denver, Flacco appears to be the answer the Browns have been searching for after cycling through four starting quarterbacks -- Watson, PJ Walker, Thompson-Robinson and Flacco -- for only the third time since at least 1950.

"He brings a presence to the team," said receiver Elijah Moore, who, with 83 receiving yards Sunday, had his best game of the year. "I feel like we just need more time."

Cleveland's defense might be ailing, and the offense can't afford to lose anyone else. But the Browns still have time to regroup.

They also have a veteran quarterback in Flacco who just might have enough left to push these Browns into the postseason.