DENVER, Colorado — The Browns fell to the Denver Broncos 24-19 Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High, falling to 2-6 on the year with eight games to play.
Cleveland won the time of possession battle by 11 minutes, but too often was forced to settle for three points instead of seven. It was that, and two turnovers on downs that ultimately doomed them.
As the team heads back to Cleveland on the heels of its fourth straight loss, here are our three big takeaways from Sunday’s defeat.
1. Missed opportunities
The Browns talked all week about how they absolutely must eliminate self-inflicted mistakes like penalties and turnovers, and Sunday, they did.
Cleveland committed just five penalties a week after getting flagged 13 times in a loss. They didn’t turn the ball over once. And they still left the field feeling the sting of another defeat.
The culprit Sunday was instead a lack of execution in key moments. The Browns found themselves deep in Denver territory on three possessions in the first half, including one off a forced turnover, and produced just nine points. They went into halftime with a 17-12 deficit that very easily could have been 20-17 or better.
The biggest missed opportunity came when the Browns had the ball on Denver’s 5 and faced fourth-and-1 midway through the third quarter. Baker Mayfield executed what looked to be a successful quarterback sneak for what also looked to be a gain of 1 — enough for a first down. The ball spot, though, left Mayfield and the Browns short of the line to gain, and replay review didn’t include a definitive angle that could be used to overturn the initial spot. The Browns came away with zero points and still trailed 17-12, and when Denver responded with a 95-yard touchdown drive, their erasable deficit suddenly seemed significantly larger.
Had they converted a red zone trip or two into touchdowns instead of field goals in the first half, perhaps they’d have settled for a field goal in the third quarter. Either way, they wouldn’t have faced such a large deficit, which could have produced a vastly different outcome.
Check out photos of the Browns against the Broncos
2. Big plays stagger Browns
The Browns did a good job of stopping the run early, but fell victim to a surprisingly mobile Brandon Allen, who scrambled a few times early for first downs. The successes grew from scrambles to well-executed play-action passes, and eventually, Denver had the Browns’ defense on its heels.
Allen managed an offense that balanced run and pass well and improved up front in the second half, with the best run of the day going for a 30-yard touchdown by Phillip Lindsay. It was simply executed well, with fullback Andy Janovich leading the way on a misdirection between the tackles, and gave the Broncos a 24-12 lead. In between, Allen connected with receivers who were rather open, helping the Broncos hang onto their lead and keeping the Browns from predicting what was coming.
And well before that, Allen connected with tight end Noah Fant, who ran through safety Jermaine Whitehead and a few arm tackles for a 75-yard touchdown.
It wasn’t that the Broncos’ offense exerted their will on the Browns’ defense. In fact, Denver didn’t even enter the red zone once Sunday. It was the big plays that knocked the Browns to the mat, and by the time they got back up to throw a few punches, they didn’t have enough left to bring the fight back to even.
3. Backs against the wall
After Sunday’s loss, Odell Beckham Jr. did not guarantee it, but pointed out how Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers once had to “run the table” to make the playoffs.
These Browns now have their backs against that wall.
Cleveland will essentially have to win the vast majority, if not all of its remaining games to keep playoff hopes alive. At 2-6, NFL history says their chances are extremely slim. But as Mayfield said after the game Sunday, statistics like that “were made to be broken.”
They’ll look to begin that unprecedented run next week with the start of a three-game homestand.