By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
DENVER – Here are some final thoughts on the Browns’ 34-12 loss against the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High:
>>The final score wasn’t all from this game that left a lingering feeling of discouragement. Two main cogs of the Browns’ offense, Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden, also suffered injuries. Richardson hurt his foot near the end of the game, and exited the locker room in a walking boot. Weeden sustained a shoulder injury late in the third quarter. The fact both could miss next week’s season-finale at Pittsburgh isn’t notable because of how could impact the Browns’ immediate fortunes, obviously. But it would take away one final opportunity to evaluate the progress of both rookies and for them to gain vital experience.
>>We received a fairly convincing reminder about the sizeable gap between these teams. The Broncos, who have 10 consecutive victories, are arguably the best team in the NFL. The Browns, who have suffered back-to-back losses, are hardly the worst, but they simply aren’t quite ready to compete with the best. They entered the game with a distinct disadvantage from having such a young roster and losing players to injury before the game. Then, things understandably went downhill as they began suffering more injuries during the game. The Browns’ defense, which has played mostly well this season, was clearly overmatched against Peyton Manning, who continued to make his strong case for league MVP. The Browns never were able to be effective with their pass rush, as Manning consistently got the ball out of his hands quickly.
>>Losing Weeden is particularly unfortunate because it is important for him, and for the Browns, that he has the opportunity to finish out a full season. Now that is in doubt. The Browns’ hierarchy needs to see exactly what it has from Weeden in order to have a complete enough body of work determine if, in fact, he should be the long-term answer at quarterback. Weeden performed a little better than he did the previous week against the Redskins, but his game still left plenty to be desired against the Broncos’ highly aggressive pass rush.
>>Give Colt McCoy credit for managing to throw a touchdown pass after replacing Weeden. As the backup, he had no real opportunity to prepare for the game because Weeden took all of the first-unit snaps in practice. To his credit, McCoy had some occasions where he took advantage of the soft cushion the Broncos’ defense provided in an effort to prevent the Browns from getting any quick scores. But predictably, the ceiling caved in on him in the fourth quarter, because with the Browns so far behind and the Broncos’ pass-rushers knew he would be throwing on virtually every play and were able to merely tee off on him. If McCoy ends up starting against the Steelers, he would be in a position to perform better after a full week of preparation.
>>The Browns never got much going on the ground, beyond some occasional impressive runs by Richardson and Montario Hardesty. The Broncos’ early offensive success likely discouraged Pat Shurmur from being persistent, and eventually the Browns had to get away from the run completely as they fell farther behind. Still, the Browns need to figure out a way to get a consistently effective running game. Richardson is far too talented not to be more productive.
>>This was not the game for the Browns to have to lean so heavily on the depth of their secondary. They entered the game without safeties T.J. Ward (knee) and Tashaun Gipson (foot), and then proceeded to lose veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown to a head injury during the game. Manning already was pretty much doing as he pleased through the air, and the situation only worsened as the Browns became thinner on the back end of their defense.
>>It looked as if the Browns might have had at least an outside chance to gain a little momentum after safety Usama Young intercepted Manning in the end zone at the end of the half. Such turnovers are rare for Manning, and it left him and the Broncos with something to stew about at halftime. With the Browns getting the second-half kickoff, it seemed as if they might have had something upon which they could build. But it never happened.
>>Nice to see Phil Dawson connect on a 53-yard field goal, his longest of the season. No, it didn’t have any impact on the outcome, but Dawson usually manages to provide a bright spot to mention … especially on a day when so few can be found.
>>Final score and 5-10 record notwithstanding, happy holidays!
>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.
>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 855-363-2459.
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DENVER — The Denver Broncos extended their winning streak to 10 games and kept alive their hopes of a potential No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs with a 34-12 victory over the Cleveland Browns at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday evening.
The Broncos (12-3) scored 17 straight points at the start of the second half to build their three-score advantage over the Browns (5-10).
Denver kicker Matt Prater converted a 41-yard field goal attempt which gave the Broncos a 34-12 lead over the Browns with 1:55 left to play in regulation.
Second-year Browns wide receiver Greg Little caught a six-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Colt McCoy and closed the Denver advantage to 31-12 with 7:56 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Little caught a pass on the left side of the field and extended his arms to get the ball across the goal line for the score. It was Little’s third touchdown of the year and McCoy’s first of the season.
McCoy entered the game after starting quarterback Brandon Weeden suffered a right shoulder injury earlier in the second half. After initially being listed as “questionable” for a return to the game, Weeden was downgraded to “out” during the 10-play, 80-yard drive.
Denver fullback Jacob Hester rushed for a one-yard touchdown and extended the Broncos’ advantage over the Browns to 31-6 with 12:11 left to play in the fourth quarter. The two-play, 19-yard drive was set up by a Browns turnover and aided by a pass interference penalty.
After the Browns’ defense forced a Denver punt, Joshua Cribbs fumbled the return and the Broncos recovered at the Cleveland 19-yard line. On the first play after the turnover, Browns defensive back Buster Skrine was penalized for pass interference in the end zone, which moved the ball to Cleveland’s one-yard line.
Prater converted a 27-yard field goal attempt and extended the Broncos’ lead to 24-6 over the Browns with 14:53 remaining in regulation. Prater’s kick capped off an eight-play, 39-yard scoring drive that took 3:22 off the game clock.
On the strength of three Peyton Manning touchdown passes, the Broncos held a 21-6 lead over the Browns after three quarters of play.
Denver wide receiver Eric Decker caught his second touchdown pass of the game from Manning and the eight-yard score extended the Broncos’ lead over the Browns to 21-6 with 4:33 remaining in the third quarter.
The Broncos faced a first-and-goal from the eight-yard line after an illegal formation penalty, and Manning found Decker on the left side of the field. The receiver then fought his way through a pair of Browns defenders for the score.
With the scoring pass, Manning now has 72 career games with at least three passing touchdowns, which ties him for first all-time with former NFL quarterback, Brett Favre.
Browns kicker Phil Dawson converted a 53-yard field goal and cut the Broncos’ lead to 14-6 with 11:09 remaining in the third quarter.
Dawson’s 53-yard make was his longest of the season and the sixth from at least 50 yards this year. Since the start of the 2011 season, Dawson has converted 12 field goals of at least 50 yards.
Earlier in the nine-play, 45-yard drive, Trent Richardson passed Pro Football Hall of Famer, Jim Brown, for the most rushing yards by a rookie in Browns history. Richardson broke the record, which was set in 1957, with a nine-yard run.
With two first-half touchdown passes from Manning, the Broncos held a 14-3 halftime lead over the Browns.
Decker caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Manning and extended the Broncos’ lead to 14-3 over the Browns with 12:40 left in the second quarter.
On third-and-nine from the Browns’ 10-yard line, Manning took the shotgun snap and looked to his left, where he found Decker dragging his route along the back of the end zone. Even with Sheldon Brown in coverage, Decker went up in traffic and pulled in his team-leading 10th touchdown pass of the season.
The Broncos’ second touchdown drive of the day covered 80 yards in 15 plays and took 6:55 off the game clock.
With a touchdown pass on their opening drive, the Broncos led the Browns, 7-3, after the first quarter of play from Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Manning threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and gave the Broncos a 7-0 lead over the Browns with 12:10 remaining in the first quarter.
On third-and-four, Manning took a shotgun snap from center Dan Koppen and threw the ball deep down the left side of the field for Thomas, who ran underneath the pass and caught in as it got past the outstretched arms of Brown.
Manning drove the Broncos 80 yards in eight plays and took 2:50 off the first-quarter clock.
The Browns answered when Dawson converted a 27-yard field goal attempt and cut the Broncos’ lead to 7-3 with 4:35 remaining in the first quarter of play. Dawson’s 27th field goal of the season and 303rd of his career capped off a 14-play, 63-yard drive that took 7:35 off the first-quarter clock.
Game Recap is presented by Giant Eagle, the Official Supermarket of the Cleveland Browns.
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DENVER — Denver kicker Matt Prater converted a 41-yard field goal attempt which gave the Broncos a 34-12 lead over the Cleveland Browns with 1:55 remaining in regulation at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Earlier in the game, Prater converted a 27-yard field goal attempt.
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