The Cleveland Browns dropped to 2-6 on the season with a 24-19 loss to the Denver Broncos. The same formula this week applied from every other week, with mounting frustration. This time, Cleveland actually came close to rallying, but fell short.
The Broncos received the opening kickoff, with QB Brandon Allen making his first career start. Denver went three-and-out, but on the ensuing punt, Cleveland was quick to already log their first penalty of the game. The Browns moved the chains once, but then WR Jarvis Landry couldn’t pull in a hot pass, and then Landry’s improvised decision on a third down crossing route should have led to an interception, had the defender not dropped it.
On Denver’s next drive, Allen completed back-to-back passes to WR Courtland Sutton, who beat CB Denzel Ward on both of them, the latter of which included going over the top of him in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown to give Denver the early 7-0 advantage.
The Browns’ next drive didn’t go well after getting somewhat close to midfield, but then a three-and-out by Denver and a good return allowed Cleveland to start their third drive just 40 yards away from the end zone. A 12-yard dumpoff to TE Demetrius Harris gave Cleveland the ball at the 28 yard line heading to the second quarter. Unfortunately, they couldn’t quite capitalize, as RB Dontrell Hilliard was stopped on a 3rd-and-3 run play for no gain. K Austin Seibert connected from 38 yards out to make it a 7-3 game.
On the first play of the next drive, the Broncos ran a playaction fake, with Allen throwing the open crossing route to TE Noah Fant. What ensued was Fant obliterating S Jermaine Whitehead on a poor tackling effort, and then two other pitiful missed tackles by Cleveland as Fant sprinted down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown to give the Broncos a 14-3 lead.
Cleveland’s next drive was sparked first by a 41-yard screen pass to WR Antonio Callaway, and then by a 16-yard scramble by QB Baker Mayfield on 3rd-and-14. In the red zone, Cleveland ran it twice to set up 3rd-and-5 from the 12 yard line, but Mayfield’s third down pass to Callaway in the end zone was tipped away by the defender. The Browns settled for a 30-yard field goal to cut Denver’s lead to 14-6. On Denver’s next drive, LB Joe Schobert stripped the Broncos on a receiver screen, with Ward scooping it up at the 18 yard line.
Two plays later, Cleveland was looking good with 1st-and-goal at the 4 yard line. But Chubb was hit for a 5 yard loss on first down, and then Mayfield’s next two passes over the middle fell incomplete. Seibert came on to hit a 27 yard field goal, inching closer at 14-9. Just like earlier, on the Broncos’ first play, RB Phillip Lindsey broke a 40-yard run, blowing right by Whitehead, to get Denver into field goal range.
The defense did hold the Broncos off after that for a 43-yard field goal, making it 17-9 and giving the Browns a chance to work the two-minute drill. The Browns used the boundary to their advantage on a 13-play, 58-yard drive that ended with a 30-yard field goal by Seibert. It was frustrating to settle for another field goal, but it kept Cleveland within a score heading to the half.
Cleveland went three-and-out to open the second half, but it was another missed opportunity: on 2nd-and-7, Mayfield overthrew RB Nick Chubb on a screen pass in which he had a lot of running room. The defense stepped up with a three-and-out, including a third-down sack by LB Mack Wilson; and then a 33-yard punt gave the Browns the ball at midfield.
The Browns were driving, but then on 3rd-and-3 from the 7 yard line, Chubb was out of the game again, and Hilliard was given the ball for a 2 yard gain. On 4th-and-1, Chubb was again kept out, and Mayfield went for the quarterback sneak. It looked like Mayfield got it, but the side judge came in and marked it well short, and then Freddie Kitchens’ challenge did not overturn it.
Despite taking over 95 yards away from their end zone, Allen and the Broncos moved the ball so quickly and with ease, needing just 7 plays to score a touchdown, capped by a 30-yard sprint from Lindsay to give Denver a 24-12 lead.
The Browns responded with their first touchdown drive of the game, keyed by some heroic, extra-effort runs by Chubb, and a great play by WR Odell Beckham Jr. The drive ended with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Landry, closing the Broncos’ lead to 24-19 with 10:47 to go in the game.
Just when Cleveland’s defense was fired up and looked to have forced a three-and-out, DL Sheldon Richardson was flagged for roughing the passer because his hand slapped down on the quarterback as he went to tackle him. The Browns did force a stop near midfield, but now only 7:21 remained in the game, with 1 timeout, and the offense starting at the 12 yard line.
Beckham had another great catch-and-run for 39 yards, and a 2nd-down run to Chubb set up 3rd-and-1. But Chubb was hit for a 3 yard loss on third down, setting up a pivotal 4th-and-4 with 3:23 left — and it fell incomplete over the middle to Landry, turning the ball over on downs with no timeouts left.
The Browns’ defense needed to prevent on first down, but they didn’t. On 2nd-and-9, Lindsay lined up in the wildcat, and the defense decided not to follow him at all as he easily took off for 16 yards and a first down.
For one of the first times this season, in the fourth quarter, Cleveland’s star receivers started to make some of the “X-factor” plays we expected from them. Unfortunately, it was still too little, too late — and the comeback effort didn’t have that one extra play needed. The Browns have lost four games in a row, and the supposed “easy part of the schedule” began with a loss to a quarterback who had never started in the NFL as a former sixth-round pick.
- QB Baker Mayfield: 27-of-42 for 273 yards, 1 TD. 3 rushes, 22 yards.
- RB Nick Chubb: 20 carries, 65 yards. 4 catches, 26 yards (6 targets).
- WR Odell Beckham: 5 catches, 87 yards (6 targets).
- WR Jarvis Landry: 6 catches, 51 yards (13 targets). 1 TD.
- K Austin Seibert: 4-of-4 on FGs.