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Browns keep playoff hopes alive with comeback win

By MARY KAY CABOT • Dec 16, 2018 at 1:21 AM

DENVER — Baker Mayfield overcame a horrible start and the Browns' defense held the lead late in the fourth quarter for a 17-16 victory over the Broncos Saturday night, keeping the franchise’s flickering playoff hopes alive.

Mayfield threw an interception at the end of the first half and was stripped on a marathon drive in the third quarter to help put the Browns in a 13-10 hole. But cornerback T.J. Carrie bailed him out with an interception with 14:41 left in the game, and Mayfield cashed in with a 2-yard game-deciding touchdown pass to Antonio Callaway with 11:44 remaining.

The Broncos turned the Browns back from a game-sealing fourth-and-1 Nick Chubb run inside two minutes left, and drove to midfield in a last-ditch effort for a winning field goal. But Jabrill Peppers, who had an interception in the first half, sacked Case Keenum on fourth-and-10 to preserve the Browns’ victory.

It improved the Browns to 6-7-1 and kept them in the playoff race. The Broncos fell to 6-8. The victory snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Broncos dating back to 1990.

Mayfield snuggled throughout the first three quarters, but turned it around when it counted. He completed 18-of-31 attempts for 188 yards, with two TDs and a pick for a 83.8 rating.

The Browns got a pep talk from Kobe Bryant the day before the game, and it didn’t go to waste. They also didn’t let Von Miller and Bradley Chubb take over. Miller had one sack, reaching 14.5 on the season, and Chubb had one that was wiped out by a penalty.

Myles Garrett also had a sack, and hit Keenum on third and 10 one play before Peppers' sack at the end to force an incompletion.

The Broncos were knocking on the door late in the game, but the Browns held them to a field goal after they drove to the 1. Trevon Coley stopped Phillip Lindsay for no gain on third-and-1 from the 6, and the Broncos opted to go for the field goal trailing 17-13. Brandon McManus kicked a 29-yarder to pull to within 17-16 with 4:35 remaining.

On the first play of the ensuing drive, Nick Chubb ripped off a 40-yard run to the Denver 35. But the Broncos took over on downs at their 13 after Adam Gotsis beat Greg Robinson and dropped Chubb for a 4-yard loss on fourth down. Moments earlier, Gregg Williams called timeout on the first fourth-down attempt just as a Denver player was jumping offside. The play was called dead.

T.J. Carrie’s key interception was set up by Emmanuel Ogbah’s pressure on Keenum, which forced the bad throw to DaeSean Hamilton.

It was the Browns’ second interception of the night, and the Browns eventually cashed in with a 2-yard TD pass to Antonio Callaway.

Mayfield hit Jarvis Landry with a 12-yard pass on the first play and then eluded Bradley Chubb and hit Rashard Higgins with a 19-yard sideline strike. On first-and-goal from the 2, Mayfield found Callaway singled up with Justin Simmons in the end zone and connected with him on the post route.

Former Browns cornerback Jamar Taylor was ejected with 39 seconds left in the third quarter after a skirmish with Breshad Perriman after a short Chubb run. Taylor popped Perriman in the facemask and was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. Perriman then retaliated and earned his own 15-yard unsportsmanlike call. The Broncos were already down three cornerbacks by that time.

On the 15th play of a third-quarter drive and the score tied at 10, Mayfield was stripped by defensive end Adam Gotsis as he tried to attempt a pass, and Derek Wolfe recovered. The Broncos cashed in on the miscue with a 42-yard field goal that put them ahead 13-10 with 1:41 left in the period.

The fumble wasted a 5-yard catch by David Njoku on a gutsy decision to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the Denver 45. The Browns had overcome a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct call against Antonio Callaway, who got in the defender’s face and signaled for a first down after a catch.

Mayfield also missed Rashard Higgins wide on a deep third down sideline throw. He overthrew Jarvis Landry by five yards on a deep ball over the middle with 18 seconds left in the half, and was picked off by safety Dymonte Thomas at the 2, preventing the Browns from breaking the 10-10 tie.

Mayfield, who struggled most of the first half after a hot start, completed 7-of-18 attempts in the first half for 106 yards, with one touchdown and one interception — one of at least four overthrows by Mayfield in the first half.

Mayfield had multiple passes batted down in the first half, and one was dropped by Duke Johnson.

With the Broncos driving and the score tied at 10 in the second quarter, Jabrill Peppers leaped and picked off a jump ball in traffic intended for rookie receiver Courtland Sutton in the end zone with 1:42 left in the half. It was the Browns’ 16th interception of the season.

The Browns went three-and-out on the ensuing drive. Gotsis jumped up over Joel Bitonio and batted down Mayfield’s pass on second down. The Broncos, taking over with 1:17 left in the half, also went three-and-out, with Terrance Mitchell dropping an interception.

The Browns had one last chance to go ahead before the break, but Mayfield threw the pick.

With Mayfield struggling in the first half, the Browns were unable to take advantage of three defensive holding calls by the Broncos all on the same drive. After defensive end Zach Kerr batted down Mayfield’s third-down pass, Greg Joseph kicked a 40-yard field goal to tie it at 10 with 4:53 left.

The Browns defense set the early tone, forcing a three-and-out on the Broncos’ opening drive, with a stop for no gain, a sack by Jamie Collins and Joe Schobert dropping Phillip Lindsay for a 5-yard loss on a third-and-18 pass.

Mayfield took over at the Browns took over at his 49 and hit Jarvis Landry with a 19-yard pass to the Denver 32 on the first play. Three plays later, he lasered a shot in the end zone to Perriman over third-string cornerback Tramaine Brock on a third and 9. It was only the 11th catch of the season for Perriman, and his first TD catch since Dec. 4, 2016.

Last week, Perriman set the tone for the Browns’ 26-20 victory over the Panthers with a 66-yard catch on the opening play, dropped perfectly over his shoulder by Mayfield.

The defense also forced a three-and-out on the Broncos’ second possession. Denver managed just 270 yards of offense for the night.

The Broncos tied the game at 7 on a 1-yard TD run by Keenum with 3:18 left in the first quarter. The TD came three plays after Browns cornerback Terrance Mitchell was flagged 25 yards for pass interference on rookie receiver Courtland Sutton to the Browns’ 3. Running back Devontae Booker looked to score on a 2-yard pass, but was ruled down at the 1.

Keenum then faked a handoff and ran around the right side into the end zone, making Myles Garrett miss in the backfield.

Up next

The Browns host the Bengals Sunday, Dec. 23.

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