Who needs an offense when you have a defense this good? Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning hasn't looked good this 2015 season, and he certainly didn't look good against the Browns in Week 6. But the Broncos keep getting by their opponents behind the strength of their defense anyway.
This one was closer than all the others, as the Broncos needed overtime to put their opponent away. But the offense did just enough against a worn-down Browns defense to get McManus into field goal range.
Peyton Manning had three interceptions, but Aqib Talib, Von Miller, T.J. Ward and company proved too tough a challenge for Josh McCown and the Browns.
Denver's first drive ended disastrously as Peyton Manning was picked off by Karlos Dansby on an underneath throw. It's hard to say what the worst part of this throw was. Manning was perfectly protected - he could have hung on in the pocket another second or two. Yet he forced it to a blanketed Emmanuel Sanders. Then, the bad-decision throw itself didn't have enough air under it, and Dansby snagged it five yards before it reached Sanders. Brutal interception.
The Broncos defense bailed Manning out - Chris Harris Jr. with a great pass breakup on third down and T.J. Ward with excellent coverage on fourth down. Then Manning and company took a 3-0 lead behind a 15-play, 58-yard drive that took over seven minutes off the clock and included a successful 4th-and-4 conversion thanks to Demaryius Thomas breaking tackles.
So as the teams entered the second quarter, momentum was in Denver's favor. And while the Browns were trying to put a drive together, Aqib Talib had other ideas in mind.
Perhaps the most impressive part of that 63-yard pick-six was the fact that Talib was hurt all week with an ankle injury, and Browns WR Travis Benjamin didn't chase him down.
Follow Talib's spectacular pick, the Browns and Broncos each struggled on offense, trading 3-and-outs, with the Broncos stumbling through two such series. With five minutes left to play in the half, the quarterbacks looked like this.
Bad day to be a quarterback in Cleveland. pic.twitter.com/IZuiXFAI5J— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) October 18, 2015
As the second quarter trailed to its completion, both defenses still made both offenses look pretty bad. Brandon McManus missed a 51-yard field goal - his first miss of the 2015 season - and the Broncos left at halftime up 10-0.
Any hopes of a shutout (I'll admit it - I was thinking it) were quickly doused in Cleveland's opening drive as McCown, Benjamin and tight end Gary Barnidge executed a touchdown drive in under five minutes. McCown's final throw - high and outsie to Barnidge in the corner of the end zone - was well defended against by Danny Trevathan, but Barnidge's height advantage was too much to overcome. The Browns found the scoreboard with the Broncos holding onto the lead, 10-7.
On offense, Peyton and company didn't impress. Ronnie Hillman looked pretty good, three plays in a row - he churned out a first down on his first run alone then eight yards on the next two runs. But on 3rd and 2, Manning's short pass to Demaryius Thomas was knocked away, and the Broncos would punt. A dumb penalty by Bennie Fowler, hitting the punt returner after a fair catch was called, gave the Browns great field position.
Mistakes in all three phases in the first 5:46 of the second half.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) October 18, 2015
Denver's defense delivered though, and the Browns went 3 and out.
Then the scoring started
First, Josh McCown made the wily-vet move of going deep on a "free play" - a Broncos defender was caught offside and play continued. McCown hit Travis Benjamin deep, which set up another Barnidge touchdown. Browns closed the lead to 16-13.
Then, Manning, feeling pressure, threw short behind Ronnie Hillman, who bobbled the pass into the hands of Dansby. Dansby's second interception of the day was more impactful than the first - shuffling down the sideline, the veteran linebacker returned Peyton's pick to the house, giving the Browns their first lead of the game. The Browns failed to convert the two-point-conversion, even despite two attempts at it thanks to an Aqib Talib offsides call on the first try, and took a 20-16 lead.
Then, in one play, as if nothing bad offensively had happened all game, Manning hit Sanders in stride for a 75-yard touchdown. 23-20 Denver.
The Broncos and Browns exchanged a number of hard-hitting drives, and Cleveland managed a field goal to tie it up
The offense continued to frustrate. Demaryius Thomas suffered his second wide-open drop in a potential game-winning drive, then Manning threw his third interception of the game. Denver's defense bailed them out yet again - the Browns faced 4th and 28 when they finally got their punt off - when Manning and company attempted to get in field goal range.
Then Brandon McManus nailed a field goal to seal the win, 26-23 Denver.