Brady Quinn was gunning to be the first Cleveland Browns quarterback to win his first NFL start since Eric Zeier in 1995. Unfortunately, the Browns accomplished a different kind of first in franchise history. They blew 13-point leads in consecutive games for the first time in franchise history, falling 34-30 to the Denver Broncos.
Quinn was impressive in his debut, going 23 of 35 for 239 yards and a pair of touchdowns while looking cool, calm, and collected all night long. He was outdone by Broncos QB Jay Cutler who put up a gaudy line of 24 of 42 for 447 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. It was the seventh 400-yard passing game in Broncos history.
After Denver jumped out to a 7-0 lead on a Ryan Torain touchdown, Quinn led the Browns on three consecutive scoring drives. He sandwiched a pair of touchdown passes to Kellen Winslow around a Phil Dawson field goal. Quinn benefited from some big runs by Jamal Lewis and Jerome Harrison, while he seemed to pick apart the Broncos’ defense, hitting Winslow at will.
It culminated in a 17-7 Browns lead after the second touchdown strike to Winslow.
Matt Prater and Dawson traded field goals to end the first half with a 20-10 advantage. Denver, who had already put running backs Michael Pittman and Andre Hall injured reserve lost Torain and Selvin Young in the first half and were forced to turn to rookie fullback Patrick Hillis. It looked to be an advantage for the Browns, but it turned out to be anything but.
After Prater and Dawson again traded field goals, this time to start the second half, to make the score 23-13, Winslow’s night started to take a turn for the worse. On 3rd-and-6 from the Denver 41, Quinn hit Braylon Edwards on an out route for the first down, but the play was nullified by an offensive pass interference call on Winslow.
The Browns were forced to punt, and Dave Zastudil pinned the Broncos at their own seven. Cutler responded by hitting Eddie Royal for a 93-yard touchdown on a slant-and-go route at the expense of Brandon McDonald, who was picked on all night long. Suddenly, the Browns' lead had shrunk to 23-20.
On the ensuing possession, Quinn hit Winslow to convert a 3rd-and-5, but Winslow fumbled the ball away to the Broncos at the 45. McDonald attempted to one up Winslow, as he dropped a surefire interception on the second play of Denver’s drive.
Cutler shook it off and kept feeding Royal, as the Broncos effortlessly drove down the field. On 3rd-and-11 on the Browns’ 28, Cutler hit Daniel Graham, who brushed off tackles by D’Qwell Jackson and Mike Adams to stroll into the end zone for a 27-23 lead.
Quinn seemed up to the task, as he utilized an end around to Josh Cribbs and a 30-yard strike to Winslow to put the Browns in scoring position. A dump off to Lewis put the ball on the six-yard line. Lewis pounded the ball across the goal line on 3rd-and-goal to give the Browns a 30-27 lead with just under five minutes remaining.
Five minutes is an eternity in a football game, and it seems like more than that with the Browns' defense. Hillis set the tone on the drive by bowling over Kamerion Wimbley for 10 yards. Cutler then started picking apart the defense, especially McDonald, and hit Brandon Stokley to set up a 4th-and-1 on their own 45. Sean Jones hit Hillis in the backfield but was carried forward for the first down.
Cutler then turned to his legs, scrambling to a first down on 3rd-and-1 at the Browns’ 35 and ran for 11 to get to the 11 with less than two minutes to go. Culter then victimized McDonald one final time, hitting Brandon Marshall for a 34-30 Broncos lead.
Brady Quinn took over at his own 33 with 1:10 left in the game and faced a 4th-and-1 of his own, this one from his own 42. He threw right between the arms of an open Winslow, and the ball sailed right between them. Game, set, match Broncos.
A tough pill for Winslow to swallow, as he arguable had his best game as a professional, catching 10 balls for 111 yards and the two touchdowns. But his stat line will be overshadowed by his crucial penalty, fumble, and drop.
McDonald and the defense had more of the blame to shoulder, as Cutler and the Broncos shredded the defense for 564 yards, 441 via the air, most of it looking effortless. Torain averaged 5.7 yards per rush before he got hurt, and Royal ended with six receptions for 164 yards (27.3 yards per catch). Tight end Tony Sheffler, who had an injured groin, averaged 23 yards a catch as well.
While the Browns may have found the quarterback of their future, their present says they still have a plethora of holes, especially on defense, to fill. Those holes were exposed by a Broncos team that had lost three games in a row.
The Browns now sit at 3-6 and face an 11-day layoff before facing the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football. For now, all they can do is wonder how they blew a two-touchdown lead...in consecutive games...at home. A long 11 days it will be.