Denzel Ward saw the green grass in front of him and knew he was scoring.
There's no greater feeling for a defensive back, and Ward felt it in a big way last week when he ran back an interception 99 yards for his second career touchdown. It was the definition of a tone-setter, as the Browns rode that wave all the way to a convincing 41-16 victory over the Bengals.
Ward's hoping to make the same type of impact play Sunday, when the Browns face the Patriots. ClevelandBrowns.com caught up with the Pro Bowl CB after the team's final practice of the week.
CB.com: You guys are coming off a huge performance defensively against the Bengals, and you in particular played really well. What was it about the defensive effort that made it the best of the season so far?
Ward: We've put an emphasis on getting turnovers. That was our main thing going into the game — find a way to get turnovers. Whether it was intercepting the ball or punching the ball out. Guys were just out there doing there job, and the result at the end was a win.
CB.com: When you look at the takeaways, were they just not happening for you guys before? Or did you do something different to start making those happen?
Ward: I think they just started coming. We've been putting an emphasis on it and practicing it every day. What we worked on showed up in this past game, and we were taking the ball away. Once we got one, it was contagious and we started getting the ball out.
CB.com: Does the offensive side of your game start coming out when you get the ball in your hands? What is it like getting in the open field like that and basically becoming a running back?
Ward: Everybody is counting on me when you've got the ball in your hands. That's the most important thing at the time, so my main thing was to get to the end zone and not get caught. My teammates did a great job of blocking and helping me get there.
CB.com: You've put a point of emphasis this season on being on the field and staying out there, and you've largely done that this season. What was it like bouncing back so quickly from the hamstring injury and playing at such a high level in Cincinnati?
Ward: It was good. Even though I may have been out for a little bit, I was still locked in mentally. I was prepared. Once I went out there, I felt like I was ready to go. It's the game I've been playing since I was a little kid, so I just go out there, have fun and try to help my team win.
CB.com: When you look at the guys around you, it seems like guys have stepped up when there have been injuries. What is it about this group of cornerbacks in particular that has made it so reliable this year?
Ward: That's what it's all about. We've been preaching that since training camp. It's the next man up regardless of who's in. There's no drop-off, and everybody has to get in there and make plays. Everybody has been doing a good job.
CB.com: How has Greg Newsome elevated his game already in his first year?
Ward: He's a great corner already. He's definitely ahead of the curve coming in. He's a rookie, but you wouldn't think he's a rookie for what he's been able to do so far this season.
CB.com: You've been in his shoes before of being a rookie that's started right away. How does a rookie handle that spotlight, especially when they know they're going to be targeted a lot?
Ward: I mean for me personally, I just invite it. I invite the action. When a ball is thrown my way, I get the opportunity to make plays on the ball and help the team win. I invite that type of competition and look forward to it.
CB.com: You had the pick-six, but another accomplishment last week was Troy Hill had almost three sacks — he finished with two. What kind of toughness has he brought to the room this year and the edge he plays with.
Ward: He was having a hell of a game. He brings toughness and a playmaking ability to our team and he's a great player.
CB.com: You guys have had some bumps in the week with COVID-19 and entering enhanced protocols. Has it been business as usual because you went through this so much last year?
Ward: Yeah I think we're definitely prepared. It's been 'next man up' whenever someone is out, and there's no drop-off once that guy gets in. I think everyone is prepared regardless of who's in there.
CB.com: What about this Patriots offense makes them different than teams you've faced so far this year?
Ward: They're well-coached. You can definitely see that they're well-coached, and guys do what they need to to help their team win. This is going to be a good football team we're going into, but it's about us though. We're trying to come out with a win.
CB.com: What is it about Mac Jones that has helped him settle in nicely in his first year?
Ward: You can tell (coach Bill) Belichick and that team have put a lot on him. He runs the offense and makes a lot of checks and calls to get his guys in position. He makes plays on the field and throws the ball where he needs to get it.
CB.com: You guys are at the midpoint of the season, and it seems like 12 teams are all in the AFC playoff picture, including the entire AFC North. What kind of urgency is there, even at this part of the season, to get these big ones against AFC opponents?
Ward: It's just taking it one game at a time really. We don't want to look too far ahead, but if we take care of business next game, that's all we can count on.
CB.com: How much of last year's experience is helping the team this year? It was a new feeling for a lot of these guys last year, but it seems like you're in a rhythm playing in these big games.
Ward: Yeah, we're just taking it one game at a time, and everything else will take care of itself at the end of the year.