Browns beat Broncos behind defensive play of Peppers

The Sports Xchange

December 15, 2018 at 11:50 pm.

DENVER — Case Keenum’s attempt to pull out a game-saving completion never got off the ground.

Safety Jabrill Peppers broke through on a fourth-down blitz to sack Keenum and stop the Denver Broncos’ last-ditch drive, preserving the Cleveland Browns’ 17-16 victory on Saturday night.

Peppers, who also had an interception earlier in the game, flew past the line of scrimmage unblocked to take down the back-pedaling Keenum before he even had a chance to look down field after the Broncos had advanced to midfield in the waning seconds of the game.

Keenum conceded after the game that the Browns went after the quarterback as much as any team the Broncos had played this season.

“It’s still kind of a blur,” Keenum said. “I’m still pretty emotional about it. But that’s what I dream about. That’s what I want. I want the ball in my hnds with a chance to win the game. And to get that close, and to not, it ticks me off. It hurts.”

The Broncos were contending with a Browns defense that was bringing pressure against the quarterback as much as any team they had seen this season.

“I thought for the majority of the game we recognized it and handled it well,” Keenum said. “There were times they got us, too.”

Including the final pressure that produced the game-clinching sack.

“The last drive, they brought two zeroes back to back,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “Obviously, that last zero pushed through and they sacked us.”

Denver (6-8) just moments earlier had given itself a chance by coming up with its own fourth-down stop, tackling Nick Chubb for a loss after Cleveland passed up a field goal try deep in Broncos territory in favor of trying for a first down to run out the clock. But there would be no miracle finish for Denver.

Trailing by four points, Keenum led a drive inside the Cleveland 10 and the Broncos passed up going for it on 4th-and-1 in favor of kicking a field goal, a 29-yarder by Brandon McManus _ his third of the night _ that pulled Denver to within a point with 4:35 left to play. But that would prove to be the last score of the game and it wasn’t enough for Denver, which saw its 11-game winning streak against Cleveland that dated back 28 years snapped.

Joseph said it was his decision to go for the field goal rather than try for the first down or the go-ahead TD and he was influenced by the Broncos difficulties in advancing the ball via the run much of the night, including getting stuffed on the preceding third-down play.

“That third down play didn’t look great,” Joseph said. “We had points. I thought our defense would get the stop the next drive and we didn’t. The first play, obviously was a big run (40-yard gain by Nick Chubb). That was the biggest run of the game. I was hoping we would get a stop there, get the ball back and then a field goal would win it. That was the thinking.”

Cleveland moved in front 17-13 on Baker Mayfield’s 2-yard touchdown pass to rookie wideout Antonio Calloway, who got the inside edge on safety Justin Simmons on a slant route for the score with 11:44 left to play. The drive was set up by cornerback T.J. Carrie’s interception of a pass by Keenum that he lobbed under pressure toward DaeSean Hamilton.

Von Miller’s third-down sack of Mayfield near the end of the third quarter pushed his season total to 14.5 and his career total in the regular season to 98. He surpassed Simon Fletcher as the team’s all-time sack leader.

Mayfield’s second turnover of the night led to a go-ahead score for Denver on a 42-yard field by McManus with 1:41 remaining in the third quarter. Defensive end Adam Gotsis broke through to sack Mayfield, forcing a fumble that was recovered by defensive end Derek Wolfe at the Denver 40.

The Browns were driving toward a score late in the second quarter when safety Dymonte Thomas stopped the march with an interception at the goal line, preserving the teams’ 10-10 tie at halftime. Denver also lost a scoring opportunity when Peppers intercepted a Keenum pass in the end zone. It was Keenum’s first interception since a Week 8 loss to Kansas City.

The Broncos got off to a slow start, with 3-and-outs on their first two possessions, and sandwiched between them, Mayfield finished off Cleveland’s opening drive with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman, who got a step on cornerback Tramaine Brock and then made a leaping grab in the end zone for the score.

A pass interference penalty on cornerback Terrance Mitchell, who fouled Courtland Sutton as he raced into the end zone for a pass from Keenum, gave the Broncos a 1st-and-goal at the 1. Three plays later, Keenum scrambled away from pressure for a 1-yard touchdown run to even the score at 7-7 late in the first quarter.

Both teams added field goals in the second quarter. Cleveland’s Greg Joseph kicked a 40-yarder at the conclusion of a drive that was aided three defensive holding calls on the Broncos.

McManus had a 44-yard field goal for Denver midway through the second.

NOTES: Broncos cornerback Brendan Langley suffered a concussion covering a first-quarter kickoff and did not return. … Broncos linebacker Bradley had a sack of Baker Mayfield negated when the play was erased by a defensive holding penalty. It would have been his 13th sack of the season. … Running back Devontae Booker’s 35-yard kickoff return in the second quarter was the longest of the season for the Broncos. … Cornerback Jamar Taylor was ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct after hitting a Cleveland player in his helmet.