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Case Keenum, D'Ernest Johnson Guide Injury-Riddled Browns Past Broncos on TNF

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVOctober 22, 2021

AP Photo/Ron Schwane

No Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt, no problem for the Cleveland Browns.

The shorthanded Browns defeated the Denver Broncos 17-14 in Thursday's AFC clash at FirstEnergy Stadium. Case Keenum and D'Ernest Johnson led the way for the victors, who improved to 4-3 and snapped a two-game losing streak.

LeBron James @KingJames

D’ Ernest Johnson on 1 tonight!! Love to see it! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Browns?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Browns</a>

Two solid drives in the second half weren't enough for the 3-4 Broncos, who continued to fall with their fourth consecutive loss.


Notable Player Stats

  • Case Keenum, QB, CLE: 21-of-33 passing for 199 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
  • D'Ernest Johnson, RB, CLE: 22 carries for 146 yards, 1 TD; 2 catches for 22 yards
  • Teddy Bridgewater, QB, DEN: 23-of-33 passing for 187 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
  • Javonte Williams, RB, DEN: 4 carries for 20 yards; 6 catches for 32 yards, 1 TD
  • Melvin Gordon III, RB, DEN: 8 carries for 18 yards; 2 catches for 14 yards, 1 TD

Case Keenum, D'Ernest Johnson Save Browns with Late Runs

Suffice to say, a starting backfield of Keenum and Johnson was not what the Browns—Super Bowl contenders—envisioned for this season.

Yet things appeared on track as Cleveland marched down the field for a Johnson touchdown on the opening drive. Jarvis Landry found openings in the secondary in his first game since Sept. 19 and helped Keenum move the chains, and the offense played with a rhythm while converting nine of 15 third downs.

In fact, the home team dominated possession to the tune of 21 of the 30 minutes in the first half, though its lead was just 10-0 because two of the drives ended in field-goal attempts. What's more, one of those kicks was blocked.

NFL @NFL

Five plays. And just like that the <a href="https://twitter.com/Browns?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Browns</a> take the lead! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Browns?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Browns</a><br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DENvsCLE?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DENvsCLE</a> on NFLN/FOX/PRIME VIDEO<br>📱: <a href="https://t.co/4XwfB5iYvA">https://t.co/4XwfB5iYvA</a> <a href="https://t.co/KPo6a8RoFA">pic.twitter.com/KPo6a8RoFA</a>

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The missed opportunities weren't the only concern for the Browns, as Odell Beckham Jr. landed hard on his injured shoulder, though he remained in the game.

The Broncos closed the gap to 10-7 on the first drive of the second half, but Keenum powered his way through two tackles on 4th-and-3 at the Denver 6-yard line to keep the ensuing drive alive. He then flipped a touchdown pass to Johnny Stanton on the next play in one of the most important sequences of the game.

Things looked dicey late in the fourth quarter when Denver again trimmed the deficit to three and Landry and Denzel Ward having exited with injuries.

However, Johnson played the role of hero. He churned out physical run after physical run in the final five minutes and never let the Broncos get the ball back. It was such a notable performance that he could get carries even when Chubb returns.


Too Little, Too Late for Broncos Offense 

Thursday was a golden opportunity for the Broncos to get back on the right side of .500 and end their losing streak. The Cleveland game is one of the more challenging ones on their schedule, but the Browns were notably shorthanded.

That figured to make a quick start all the more imperative, but Denver couldn't get going.

The defense lost Von Miller to injury and was gashed by backups throughout the first half, while the offense was even worse. Even when Courtland Sutton made an incredible one-handed catch on a promising drive, Teddy Bridgewater threw a terrible interception in the end zone to John Johnson III.

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The result was that 10-0 deficit at intermission, which spelled trouble for the visitors. Jake Trotter of ESPN noted Denver was 0-11 in games it trailed by double digits under head coach Vic Fangio.

There was some hope for the Broncos when they looked like a different team during a 13-play drive to start the second half. It ended with Melvin Gordon III's touchdown catch, and Bridgewater appeared far more comfortable in the pocket.

It wasn't even Denver's longest drive, as it pulled within 17-14 via a 17-play drive in the fourth quarter. That featured a 4th-and-1 conversion and Javonte Williams' touchdown on a screen pass, which put plenty of pressure on Cleveland.

But that was the last time Bridgewater and Co. touched the ball.                


What's Next?

Both teams are home in Week 8, when the Browns face the rival Pittsburgh Steelers and the Broncos play the Washington Football Team.

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