Browns vs. Broncos recap: D'Ernest Johnson lights up Denver defense as banged-up Cleveland prevails
Cleveland improves to 4-3 on the season
The Cleveland Browns moved to 4-3 on the season after defeating the Denver Broncos on "Thursday Night Football" 17-14. Filling in for the injured Baker Mayfield, quarterback Case Keenum was able to rise to the occasion and got the Browns' offense going early. He helped lead a five-play, 75-yard opening drive that resulted in a touchdown and Cleveland would hold that lead throughout the game en route to victory.
The Broncos struggled mightily in the first half mustering just 76 yards of total offense and were unable to convert on any of their four third-down opportunities through the first two quarters. While that was going on with Denver's offense, Cleveland jumped out to a 10-0 lead. That proved to be too big of a hole to overcome even in the second half when the Broncos' offense would come alive to score 14 points. The Browns answered with a touchdown after the Broncos came out of the halftime locker room with their first scoring drive of the evening and were carried by running back D'Ernest Johnson, who was filling in for the injured Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Johnson finished his day with 146 yards on the ground and a touchdown while catching both of his targets for 22 yards. As for Keenum, he completed 21 of 33 for 199 yards and a touchdown. On the other side. Teddy Bridgewater was 23 of 33 passing for 187 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.
For a more detailed breakdown of how this game unfolded, check out of takeaways below.
Why Cleveland won
Kevin Stefanski was aggressive right out of the gate. After winning the coin toss, the Browns made the decision to immediately give this banged-up offense the ball and that was the right button to push. The Browns -- led by Keenum -- was methodical on its opening drive, traveling 75 yards down the field in just under three minutes to quickly go up 7-0. The momentum carried into their second possession where they would kick a field goal after moving 43 yards on 12 plays over a seven-minute span.
That 10-point cushion was enough to walk away with the win, especially as the Browns were able to take advantage of the Broncos' struggles on offense. In the first half, Cleveland outpaced Denver in total yards of offense 214 to 76 and had 12 first downs to Denver's one. Naturally, that gave the Browns a strong time of possession advantage (over 13 minutes), which was largely thanks to their ability to move the ball down the field so effectively with D'Ernest Johnson, when he became the first Browns running back with more than 100 yards rushing in their first start since Larry Mason in 1987.
Johnson was also instrumental in Cleveland running down the clock in the final minutes of the game after Denver cut the Browns' lead to just a field goal at the 5:23 mark of the fourth quarter.
Why Denver lost
The Broncos got out to a sluggish start that really put them in what proved to be an insurmountable hole. After Cleveland opened the game with a quick touchdown drive, the Broncos' offense went three-and-out, which would become a theme through the first two quarters. Going into the break, Denver's offense had three three-and-outs on its four possessions (minus a kneel-down just before the half). That other possession resulted in a Bridgewater interception that occurred in the end zone. Not only did that change possession, but that turnover erased the possibility of Denver making it a one-score game when it was at the Cleveland 31-yard line.
The Broncos were able to come out in the second half with a much better effort offensively and outscore the Browns 14-7, but that first-half hole they dug themselves in was too deep.
As there are in most games, there were a number of ebbs and flows on Thursday night that swung the pendulum in the favor of the Browns. As we noted earlier, that sluggish start by the Denver offense certainly put Cleveland in the driver's seat, but there were also two periods in the second half that helped solidify the victory. The first came following the Broncos' opening touchdown out of halftime. The Browns were able to answer that score immediately with a touchdown of their own to put the lead back to double-digits. Denver then had a three-and-out on its next possession.
When they eventually did find the end zone again to cut the lead down to three, Cleveland would absorb that hit and counter with a 10-play drive that traveled 61 yards and, more importantly, bled the clock down for the rest of the game that completely erased any possibility of a comeback. That was largely thanks to Johnson, who was clutch on that final drive totaling 52 yards on the ground, forcing Denver to use its timeouts.
Any time that the Broncos started to have a spark in the second half, the Browns were quick to shut it down.
Play of the game
Courtland Sutton continues to fly under the radar in the Comeback Player of the Year talk. After tearing his ACL last season, the 26-year-old has bounced back nicely in 2021 and had the catch of the night in the closing minutes of the first quarter. On a second-and-4 attempt, Bridgewater threw a perfectly placed ball where only Sutton could make a play on it and the receiver was able to haul in the catch with one hand.
Sutton finished catching all five of his targets on the night for a team-high 68 yards receiving.
From here, the Broncos will head back to Denver and await the Washington Football Team, who'll be taking on the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Browns will stick in Cleveland and will see the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town after a Week 7 bye.
Cleveland moves to 4-3 with a big victory on Thursday Night Football.— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) October 22, 2021
Watch the best plays from our primetime win!— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) October 22, 2021
Thanks for following along with us tonight! We'll have a thorough breakdown of tonight's game in a bit. Make sure to stay with CBS Sports.com for all of your NFL news throughout the week.
D'Ernest Johnson ends the game with another great run. Wyatt Teller with a key block and Johnson runs through the lane for a first down. Johnson ends the game with 146 yards on 22 carries, as the Browns are 4-3 with a 17-14 win over the Broncos. Denver falls to 3-4 after a 3-0 start to the season. Pretty entertaining game albeit low scoring.
VICTORY FORMATION!!!— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) October 22, 2021
Johnson gets a first down but penalty wipes it out. Illegal motion on David Njoku. So it's going to be third and long for the Browns.
If the Browns get this first down, the game's over. In the event the Broncos stop them, I'd assume the Browns would kick a field goal and would be up by six. But also wouldn't be surprised if they go for it here.
Johnson with a first down carry forces Denver to call their final timeout with over two minutes left. Browns will be able to milk most of the remaining game clock. A huge game for Johnson. He's up to 152 yards and includes 130 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Browns being very aggressive on their ensuing drive, as Keenum hits Landry for a first down. Landry getting medical treatment on the sideline. He was just activated off of IR, so something to obviously keep an eye on. Browns have the ball just outside the Broncos' 30 with 2:28 left. Denver takes their second timeout.
A whopping 17-play drive. Pressure is back on the Browns, who will get the ball up three with over five minutes left. Broncos have all three of their timeouts. This is where the Browns have to avoid of the offensive penalties that hurt them in the first half.
Give Bridgewater a lot of credit. Doing the most with his limitations as far as his injured foot are concerned. Throws his second TD pass of the night on a screen pass to Javonte Williams. Great block downfield by Dalton Risner to get Williams into the end zone.