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Browns D sees growth but still searching for finishing touch

The Browns defense got the turnovers they craved, the big plays at what seemed to be the biggest moments of Sunday's showdown with the Broncos.

Still, it wasn't enough, and the embattled unit, which was without four players it expected to be major contributors at the start of the season, was on the wrong end of a game-winning drive for the second time in three weeks.

Browns coach Mike Pettine called the defense's performance "one of our better efforts," and that was backed up in a number of areas. It just wasn't a line of thinking many of the veterans on the unit wanted to entertain in the moments after another tough loss.

"They just made more plays. They made more plays down the stretch," linebacker Karlos Dansby said. "We had opportunities. We just didn't capitalize."

Dansby was behind two of the biggest Sunday, as the 33-year-old linebacker had one of his best games as a Brown against 39-year-old Peyton Manning.

Dansby baited Manning into an interception on the first series of the game, as he leapt in the air and nabbed a throw intended for Emmanuel Sanders. Though the Browns weren't able to cash in following the early pick, Dansby's second interception (18th of his career) went directly into the end zone to give Cleveland its first lead of the game with 8:07 to play in regulation.

Playing pass defense on Denver running back Ronnie Hillman, Dansby stepped up and scooped a throw that was off its mark and carromed off Hillman. Dansby rumbled down the sidelines, tiptoed when he needed to and rumbled into the end zone for his fifth career touchdown on the 35-yard return.

"The running back got out fast. Then, I guess he pump faked at his tight end. When he did that, I knew he had to come down and check it down," Dansby said. "I just made a play. It was a bad throw. It bounced off of his shoulder pad and I just caught it."

The big play has been a burden for the Browns defense all season. Cleveland was better in this area Sunday, but the one major letdown it had against the Broncos came directly after Dansby's tumble into the end zone.

With the Browns leading for the first time all game, Manning threw a strike down the right sideline to Sanders, who had a step on Tramon Williams, and ran the rest of the way for a 75-yard touchdown.

"When they hit the long one and put seven up," Browns coach Mike Pettine said, "that was tough."

A similar swing occurred in overtime, and it was ultimately why the Browns exited FirstEnergy Stadium without a big victory.

On the fourth play of overtime, Barkevious Mingo stepped in front of a Manning pass in similar fashion as Dansby, made his first career interception and returned it to Denver's 39-yard line. The offense moved backward and was forced to punt, summoning the defense onto the field once more to make another stop.

On this day, it was one opportunity too many for Manning and the Broncos, who used a number of runs to move down the field and into comfortable field-goal range. Ronnie Hillman (111) and C.J. Anderson (41) combined for 152 yards on the ground, and Denver finished with 442 yards of offense.

"There are always teachable moments in any game, regardless of how you perform," Williams said. "The thing I get out of it is that at the end of the day, no matter how well you play, you have to find a way to finish these games. That's where we're trying to get."

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