The Browns had their backs against the wall in a game where points clearly were going to be at a premium.
It was in that moment, Week 5 against the Ravens, when defensive back Denzel Ward made the kind of play teams envision from a player as talented and highly thought of enough to be the No. 4 pick in the draft. And as Ward showed right from the jump, when he intercepted two passes in Cleveland’s season opener against the Steelers, he was more than ready to change the game in an instant.
“It's a big-time play by a big-time player,” defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah said. “I always say big time players make big-time plays in big-time games. Denzel stepped up when we needed him to.”
Down 3-0 with 9:28 to play in the second quarter, the Browns were on the cusp of trailing by two scores when Baltimore lined up for second-and-goal at Cleveland’s 2-yard line. Ward lined up across from Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead, who motioned toward the line of scrimmage from the right sideline as the ball was snapped.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco faked a handoff to Javorius Allen and rolled to his right. Ward let Snead go and positioned himself by the goal line as tight end Nate Boyle headed his way.
“It was a great call by the coaches,” Ward said. “Everyone did their assignment and the D-Line forced the quarterback out of the pocket. I don't think he saw me.”
If Flacco did, he clearly underestimated Ward’s ball skills.
Ogbah got his hand on the ball but it still had enough carry to get in the neighborhood of Boyle’s outstretched arms. Ward just beat the tight end to it, and the Browns had the big turnover they desperately needed.
“He tried to squeeze the ball in there to his tight end and I just jumped it,” Ward said. “That was an exciting moment to just turn the game around.”
It was one of two big plays Ward made to swing a game that was ultimately decided by Greg Joseph’s game-winning field goal in overtime. With the Browns leading 6-3 at the end of the first half, Ward got his hands on a Justin Tucker field-goal attempt to preserve Cleveland’s advantage.
Ward took home his second NFL Rookie of the Week honor for the performance. He hopes it’s just the start of memorable moments he provides for his hometown team.
“I believe that was one of my better games this season,” Ward said. “Hopefully many more good seasons to come.”