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Horsepower. Broncos dispatch Browns for fifth straight win

Denver leans on ground attack, defense to improve to 6-5
Browns Broncos Football
Posted at 5:10 PM, Nov 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-27 07:44:23-05

DENVER – This is all Broncos Country wanted. A team defined by toughness. Unwilling to flinch or fail when it matters most.

Good teams win games like the one that unfolded on Sunday before a sellout crowd at Empower Field at Mile High. The Broncos were favored. They were hosting a rookie quarterback making his first start. Want to be relevant? Take care of business at home.

Suddenly, inexplicably, the once forgotten Broncos own the league’s longest winning streak, ripping off their fifth straight in a 29-12 clobbering of the Browns.

"We thought it would be a physical game," coach Sean Payton said, "and we handled it well."

Denver has gone from the Dolphins Debacle to a team that believes it can reach any pinnacle. It helps when you deliver 15 takeaways over the last month and are plus-13 in turnover margin in the last five games.

"I think contagious is the perfect word," nose tackle D.J. Jones told Denver7. "Everybody wants to get the ball. Everybody wants a turnover. So I mean it’s a breath of fresh air to see the ball on the ground all the time and we get it.’’

The Broncos are not in the playoffs, but they are knotted for the final spot, only losing on an AFC record tiebreaker. Denver won a fifth straight game for the first time since opening the 2015 season with seven straight victories. That season remains etched in memory. The Broncos won Super Bowl 50. It also represents the Broncos’ last playoff berth. At 6-5, the Broncos sit three triumphs away from ending their skid of six straight losing seasons.

That is no longer the goal. It has become postseason or bust. It did not come without handwringing. It never does for these Broncos. That is part of the charm.

A 14-0 cushion should have provided comfort, time to exhale. But the Broncos do not do easy, remaining magnets for accompanying drama. This is a franchise that once blew 10 consecutive halftime leads from 2021 through this season, so the specter of collapse lingered when Cleveland sliced the deficit to 14-12 with 6:42 left in the third quarter.

It stung because it was avoidable. Safety P.J. Locke, who had previously played a solid game, made a critical mistake, slamming into tight end David Njoku’s back on an errant throw. Dorian Thompson-Robinson delivered on the first touchdown pass in his career on his 107th attempt, finding a wide-open Harrison Bryant. Only an Amari Cooper drop on the two-point conversion kept Denver ahead.

The third quarter has not been Denver’s friend. The Broncos have ranked near the bottom in scoring in the period and boast only one touchdown. They responded with a nine-play, 70-yard march that featured 48 yards one the ground, most notably a 24-yard burst from Samaje Perine. The drive fizzled, leading to a 23-yard field goal that widened the lead to 17-12.

What came next left Broncos fans howling in disgust. On third-and-long, Baron Browning belted Thompson-Robinson at the goal line, leading with his shoulder into the quarterback’s chest. The official waited for roughly three seconds, then tossed the penalty flag for roughing the passer.

"I didn't think it was a dirty hit. But they called it, so what can I do about it," Browning said. "I think way we responded shows our demeanor and attitude. We can't control everything, but we can control our response."

It ended the third quarter with the Broncos stewing in their juices. The Browns tried to take advantage of their anger with misdirection. Backup quarterback P.J. Walker pitched the ball to Elijah Moore who flipped it to Pierre Strong. He never had it and the Broncos never fell for it. D.J. Jones recovered the fumble, Denver’s league-best 11th of the season. Four plays later came one of the most appreciated catches of the year. Russell Wilson scrambled to his right, buying time. He rifled a dart towards the front pylon. Tight end Adam Trautman slid on a knee and bear clawed the pass. First ruled an incompletion, the call was reversed, shoving the Broncos ahead 24-12 with 13:29 remaining.

Denver opened the game with an exclamation point.

Locke showed why his return was so important. On the second play, he nearly produced a pick six. On third down, he snuffed out a pass, forcing the Browns, with quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson making his first road start, to go three and out. It set the tone for the opening half as Cleveland finished 1-for-7 on third down.

The Broncos responded with energy, efficiency, and eyes on Courtland Sutton. On the 80-play opening march, Sutton accounted for 65 yards, drawing 34 yards on a penalty against Greg Newsome III and logging 31 on a long crossing route. It set up the ball at the 3-yard line as Samaje Perine crashed in for the score, marking only Denver’s second rushing touchdown of the season with 8:14 remaining in the first quarter. Perine received the call because Javonte Williams hurt his neck on the previous play.

Trailing 7-0, Browns tried to get cute. On fourth-and-1 at midfield, tight end Harrison Bryant lined up for the sneak. One problem. He forgot to take the snap. It bounced to the ground and the Broncos recovered. Denver held Cleveland to one first down in the first quarter.

The Broncos failed to turn the gift into points as Wilson fumbled after converting on fourth down.

The benefit of playing a rookie quarterback is mistakes are rarely punished (that could change next Sunday vs. Houston’s C.J. Stroud). Playing with a lead, the Broncos showed a gallop in their run game. It involved Wilson. His RPO fake led to a 19-yard scoot around the corner. And two plays later, Wilson, who turns 35 this week, barreled in for the touchdown. As impressive as the score was – 14-0 with 11:11 left in the half – so too was the rushing total. The Broncos struggled on the ground last week, collecting 46 yards. They had 92 early in the second against a Cleveland defense that yields 99 per game.

Cleveland countered with a response that kept it tethered. But the Broncos stiffened in the red zone as has been their wont during this winning streak. Dustin Hopkins booted a 36-yard field goal to shave the deficit to 14-3 with 5:51 left in the half.

After seven targets and four receptions in the last five games, Marvin Mims Jr. emerged from witness protection. The rookie caught two passes for 24 yards in the first half on three targets. Defensively Mike Purcell enjoyed a strong first 30 minutes defensively, recovering a fumble and deflecting a pass.

Drew Sanders posted his first sack. Wilson finished 13-for-22 for 134 yards. However, he rushed for 37. Willams (65) and Perine (55) combined for 120 on the ground and Sutton paced with 61 yards receiving. The Broncos held Cleveland to 2-for-13 on third down, 107 yards rushing and Myles Garrett without a sack.

That’s the thing about good teams. New wrinkles surface. They become more nuanced, no longer the cliché of how to lose games. The Broncos have spent the past month breaking and owning streaks.

Next up? A chance to become Houston’s problem.

"What we are doing speaks to the consistency of the preparation. We have won a couple of games, but guys aren't wavering about getting in their extra work," Sutton said. "Guys aren't wavering on coming to practice with a great attitude and mindset. Everybody has 100 percent bought in."

The Broncos inactives included safety JL Skinner and defensive end Ronnie Perkins. P.J. Locke (ankle) was healthy, and the Broncos decided they needed more run support than safety depth. As such, the Broncos used rookie Drew Sanders at inside and outside linebacker. …

 There were 9,080 no-shows. …

Miles Garrett suffered a shoulder in the second half of the game and left the stadium wearing a sling.