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Game Day

Denzel Ward's 1st NFL pick-six a long time coming 

Denzel Ward had no trouble finding the end zone throughout his high school career. Playing wide receiver only had a little something to do with that.

Touchdowns, though, had alluded the talented cornerback ever since he enrolled at Ohio State. Game after game went by where Ward would lock down the receivers he guarded but wouldn't have the highlight-reel play everyone who plays the position covets.

That changed Sunday, and the Browns needed it as much as Ward had been wanting to end his personal drought.

Ward's pick-six in Sunday's first quarter, a 61-yard return that came courtesy of a wayward Andy Dalton pass off the hands of Auden Tate, gave Cleveland an early lead and allowed the Browns to weather a storm on both sides of the ball through what became a sloppy 30 minutes. His touchdown was Cleveland's first of the game, its first defensive score of the season and the first since Oct. 15, 2017.

That's a lot of ways to say the Browns really needed it.

"Man, it felt great. I was glad to finally get one," Ward said. "My guys did a good job of kind of forcing a bad throw behind the receiver and they did a good job of blocking for me and finishing so I could get to the end zone."

Check out photos of the Browns in action against the Bengals

The pick ended a personal drought of sorts for Ward, who hadn't intercepted a pass since Week 5 of his rookie season. When he met with reporters in the days before Sunday's game, he made a point to say how much it had been irking him.

His play certainly hadn't diminished during that period. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and, after dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him off the field for four games during the first half of the season, played a stretch of football that was described by defensive coordinator Steve Wilks as "lights out."

The ball just hadn't bounced his way the way it did Sunday.

"Sometimes the ball just comes to you," Ward said, "and that was one of those plays where we got the tip and my guys did a good job of blocking to get me into the end zone."

Though his interception Sunday was his first of the season, Ward has been effective when targeted by opposing passers. Per Pro Football Focus, Ward is 11th in the NFL in QB rating on throws in his direction. 

In the midst of Ward's "lights out" stretch in November, Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said he was imploring his second-year cornerback to give him even more. A play like Sunday's certainly falls into the category.

"I think he has gotten better at competing on every snap," Kitchens said. "Denzel is playing really good right now, and he needs to continue, but I want more out of him. I want him to continue to get his hands on balls. 

"When you start getting your hands on footballs, that starts creating turnovers. He is playing really good, and I want more."