DENVER — Brandon Allen brought change and the unknown.
When status quo had brought so much misery, bring on mystery!
After sitting on the bench through the first 3 ½ seasons of his NFL career, Allen made his NFL debut here Sunday against the Cleveland Browns in relief of the injured Joe Flacco.
On a sunny, comfortable fall afternoon-turned-chilly-evening at Empower Field at Mile High, the athletic Allen threw two touchdowns in the first half and the Broncos got a 30-yard touchdown run from Phillip Lindsay in the second half to defeat the Browns, 24-19.
"Nervous energy is I think the best way for me to describe it,'' Allen said about how he was feeling coming into his NFL debut. "I was excited, obviously a little bit nervous but once you get playing, get in there and get hit one time, things really get going for you.''
The Browns' offense behind Baker Mayfield got going in the second half. One drive was stopped at the Broncos' 5-yard line -- Browns coach Freddie Kitchens bypassed a field goal for a Mayfield sneak that failed -- and another drive ended with Mayfield throwing a 9-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry early in the fourth quarter to narrow Cleveland's deficit.
Both teams were disappointments in the first half of the season but the Broncos are now 3-6 -- 1-0 with Allen at quarterback -- while the Browns dropped to 2-6. The Broncos will be on bye this week, then return to play at Minnesota on Nov. 17.
Flacco was the Broncos’ quarterback through the first half of the season, but he is now down with a season-ending disc injury in his neck. Allen doesn't have near Flacco's arm talent, but his greater mobility was evident early and seemed to charge his offensive mates.
Allen’s first big moment came in his second series when he scrambled right for 11 yards to convert a third-and-8. Later in that drive, Allen put a nice touch on a 21-yard touchdown throw to Broncos’ No. 1 receiver Courtland Sutton, who made a terrific, midair adjustment in the end zone while making his snag over a defender.
Allen said he "made a pretty terrible pass," but Sutton came through.
"I left it inside,'' Allen said. "A little short. I was hoping the DB didn't turn around but the way Courtland went up and made that play was really special.''
There would be a second Broncos offensive weapon who would make a play for Allen. After the Browns took advantage of great field position to score a field goal early in the second quarter, Allen hit tight end Noah Fant across the middle.
Fant caught it in stride, broke a tackle and found himself open along the left sideline. Showing off dazzling speed for a tight end, Fant pulled away from the Browns’ secondary for a 75-yard, catch-and-run touchdown.
"They helped me out a lot. I made some dicey throws that Courtland bailed me out a couple times on,'' said Allen, who was 12 of 20 for 193 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. "Noah, what an incredible play by him to catch that ball and take it the distance.''
The Broncos were up, 14-3 with 12:34 left in the half. While much of Broncos Country clamored this week for second-round rookie QB Drew Lock to get ready, Allen wound up getting the game ball from coach Vic Fangio.
"He did well. I thought he ran the offense good,'' Fangio said. "Showed a little mobility. Made some good throws. Missed a few, too. We're not ready to put him in Canton, yet. But overall pleased with the way he played."
Fant had two more catches in the third quarter for another 40 yards, giving him 115 for the game. He now has 23 catches on the season for 300 yards -- with plenty more to go -- to break Orson Mobley's rookie tight end record of 22 catches set in 1986.
"It's nice to have that rookie record but I am definitely trying to attain a lot bigger goals and I'm trying to do do a lot better,'' Fant said.
A 40-yard burst up the middle by Lindsay late in the first half set up a 44-yard field goal by Brandon McManus. Lindsay had his 30-yard scoring scamper late in the third quarter. He finished with 92 yards rushing on just 9 carries. His final carry was off a direct snap from the Wildcat formation in which he ran for 16 yards and a first down that allowed the Broncos to run out the clock.
“The offensive line did a great job,'' Lindsay said. "All of these teams are going eight, nine in the box, and it’s going to be tough for us to run here and there, but if you can pop one then it’s going to be a long one.''
Allen did get away with a couple mistakes he'll need to clean up as he continues to play. A batted ball was dropped by pass-rusher Myles Garrett as cornerback Denzel Ward was called for holding. A couple passes were dangerously underthrown.
"I thought I would complete a few more passes that I missed,'' Allen said. "I was hoping not to start the game with a few easy passes that I missed."
But otherwise, Allen played better than the Broncos could have hoped in his first NFL game.
"It just goes to show you that everyone has their time and it was his time,'' Lindsay said. "I'm proud of him. It's time for him to continue to step up and lead the team.''
Fangio's Denver D, meanwhile, frustrated another experienced NFL quarterback. This time it was the Browns’ second-year, struggling star Baker Mayfield.
Lacking in touch, Mayfield overthrew an open receiver in the back of the end zone to Demetrius Harris, who caught it beyond the end line. There were a couple other passes were Mayfield threw too high and too hard.
“Our receivers came back and said they were coming out a little hot, so I toned it down a little bit,'' Mayfield said. "That’s just something that when they’re there, the plays need to be made, but I understand that from them.”
Mayfield found his rhythm through a 2-minute drive that finished the first half with a fourth, relatively short field goal by Austin Seibert. Mayfield was 27 of 42 for 273 yards and a touchdown but he didn't deliver in the clutch. On fourth and 4 at the Broncos' 28 in the fourth quarter and the Browns down 5 points, Mayfield's pass across the middle to Jarvis Landry was broken up by Kareem Jackson and Davontae Harris.
Mayfield and the Browns were in position to take the lead in the third quarter, but on fourth-and-1 from the Broncos' 5-yard line, Mayfield was stopped short on a quarterback sneak.
Allen then made two nice throws to Fant to set up Lindsay's touchdown jaunt.
“He played well and he managed the game very well,'' Mayfield said of Allen. "Made the throws, the touchdowns, some of his passes—it was great. I think he saw the field well. At times, he delivered the critical passes that they needed and they ran the ball well with Phillip Lindsay. Obviously, Courtland Sutton played well on the outside. He did a great job, so I commend him for that.”
Defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker, who was tied for the team lead with 4.0 sacks, didn’t play because of a shoulder injury. Adam Gotsis dressed for the first time since game 4, meaning he was inactive the previous four games. ...
Broncos rookie Justin Hollins got his first career sack in the first half. Derek Wolfe got his team-leading 5th sack in the second half.
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