The biggest play of Case Keenum's performance Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium encapsulated everything the Browns were hoping to achieve in Week 7 against the Broncos.
Fourth-and-3. Ball on the Broncos' 6-yard line. The Browns were up three points, and they were going to go for it. The play call was a pass from Keenum, but none of his receivers were a safe option for a throw.
So Keenum, the 33-year old and nine-year veteran, ran the football.
The first defender couldn't bring him down short of the first-down marker. Neither could the second. He fought through both tackle attempts and lunged past the first-down marker, grabbing the first down and doing what he needed to keep the drive alive.
The Browns were in the end zone on the next play, the last time they needed to be in their 17-14 win over the Broncos. Keenum, who got the start over Baker Mayfield as he recovers from a shoulder injury, kept the offense moving at a pace efficient enough to win the game, which is all the Browns were trying to do with an injury-riddled roster on a short week.
"Not really thinking," Keenum said about the fourth-down conversion, "just reacting at that point."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Broncos in week seven
It didn't matter whether Keenum was thinking or simply reacting at any point throughout his start Thursday, his first since he was a member of the Washington Football Team in 2019. He helped the Browns win and advance to 4-3 after completing 21-of-33 passes for 199 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions, but securing a win was the only goal Keenum needed to accomplish.
His performance didn't include any spectacular throws or jaw-dropping plays — aside from his crucial fourth-down conversion — but it included plenty of safe, effective throws that helped the Browns preserve their edge.
"Case fought like he always does," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I thought he orchestrated the operation. He took care of the football. That was a huge play in the end zone there on fourth down just to make a play and fight for extra yards, but he did a great job fighting."
The Browns offense, as a whole, fought just to finish the week.
Receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. both entered Thursday with uncertain game statuses due to injuries. So did T Jedrick Wills Jr., who sat out the Browns' previous two games with an ankle injury. Those three players all gutted it out and played, but the group was still without top RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, both out with calf injuries, and T Jack Conklin (knee).
Everyone knew Thursday would be a grind, yet they all rallied behind Keenum, who carried himself exactly how anyone would expect a player who's been in the NFL for almost a decade — with confidence and ease.
"I felt calm and poised," he said. "It was a lot of fun tonight. We have a great group of guys, and they fought their tails off."
Keenum's lone touchdown came on the next play after his fourth-down run. The Browns appeared to catch the Broncos off guard when they called for a pass on first-and-goal, and when Keenum took the ball and dropped back, he found FB Johnny Stanton, who was also a replacement in the lineup due to an injury to Andy Janovich.
Stanton was wide open, and the throw was one of the easiest Keenum completed all night. That play was the culmination of the hard work from several backup players stepping in and doing their jobs — from Keenum, to Stanton, to right tackle Blake Hance (who filled in for Conklin), to RB D'Ernest Johnson (who replaced Chubb and Hunt and rushed for 146 yards).
"You hate injury. You really do," Keenum said. "It's a really tough part of this game. It's not a matter of if; it's a matter of when. Unfortunately, some people are going to get hurt. At the same time, you love other young guys getting chances."
Keenum, the oldest player on the roster, wasn't one of the "young" ones, but that didn't stop him from finding a way to get the job done.
On a night when he was the leader of the show, nothing was going to stop him.
"I thought we did enough to win the game," he said. "It was a great job all around."