It wasn’t a pretty Thursday night game, but the Cleveland Browns aren’t in a position to turn down wins.
In fact, it might fit under the old cliche of a character-building win.
One play from the banged-up Browns epitomized their 17-14 win over the Denver Broncos. Up 10-7 in the third quarter, they went for it on fourth-and-3 deep in Broncos territory. Case Keenum, pressed into starting at quarterback, tried to run for it. It looked like he was going to be stopped short. He made linebacker Curtis Robinson miss. Then he was hit by linebacker Justin Strand short of the sticks, but kept driving and somehow got the first down. A play later, the Browns scored a touchdown. That was the difference in the game.
It wasn’t a majestic play. But it was a tough one and it got the job done, like the Browns on Thursday night.
Browns started well
The Browns were beat up coming into the game. Quarterback Baker Mayfield, running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and tackle Jack Conklin didn’t play. Many others, including receiver Odell Beckham Jr., played despite being very questionable in the hours leading up to the game.
It didn’t matter. The Browns took the opening possession and marched right downfield with third-string running back D’Ernest Johnson capping it with a touchdown. Meanwhile the Broncos, who did have most of their starters available, had two first downs the entire first half.
It was an embarrassing performance for the Broncos, who aren’t fully healthy but had less injury excuses than the Browns. The Broncos started the season 3-0. They lost three in a row heading into Thursday night. The third loss in that streak came to the Las Vegas Raiders, who’d just had coach Jon Gruden resign under fire. The Broncos were demolished in that game and many fans in Denver were calling for change after it.
Then came Thursday night, which might have been even worse considering the circumstances.
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Broncos coach Vic Fangio will spend the rest of the season on the hot seat, and it seems hard to imagine he’ll be back in 2022. Broncos fans were already impatient after two losing seasons with Fangio. New GM George Paton has no ties to Fangio. The last two losses let everyone know that the Broncos’ 3-0 start was due to playing the Giants, Jaguars and Jets, and when the schedule got even a little tougher they folded.
The version of the Browns we saw on Thursday night should have been a beatable opponent. The Browns showed a lot of heart, especially on defense. While the Broncos’ offense was ugly, Cleveland had plenty to do with that. The Broncos had a couple nice drives in the second half to get back in the game, but they wasted the entire first half with some miserable offense.
When the Broncos did score in the fourth quarter to cut the Browns’ lead to 17-14, Cleveland went on a game-clinching drive. Johnson had some big runs, including a third-and-7 run to pick up a first down to ice the win. He finished with 146 yards in his first start. Keenum was efficient and didn’t turn the ball over, and he also had the clutch fourth-down run. The Browns got only 17 points, but the defense held Denver to 14.
It wasn’t a win that’ll end up going down in franchise lore. But it was necessary as the Browns hopefully get a little healthier.