DENVER — The Broncos just keep winning.
In a critical AFC matchup with the Cleveland Browns, the Broncos jumped out to a 14-0 lead and then never trailed in an eventual 29-12 win over another wild-card hopeful.
Denver posted a season-high 169 rushing yards against the NFL's best defense, and the Broncos' defense held Cleveland to 2-of-13 on third down.
Though Cleveland would rally back midway through the game with three consecutive scoring drives to cut Denver's lead to 14-12, the Broncos responded with a lengthy scoring drive to push the lead back to five points. Then, after a roughing the passer call on Baron Browning that knocked Dorian Thompson-Robinson out of the game, defensive tackle D.J. Jones recovered a fumble that set up a clinching — and sliding — Adam Trautman touchdown in the early stages of the fourth quarter.
With the win, the Broncos have earned their longest winning streak since 2015 and continue to make an improbable run toward the postseason.
These were the players and plays that made the difference in the Broncos' Week 12 win over the Cleveland Browns.
The aforementioned penalty on Browning felt significant. The Broncos had just responded to a Cleveland touchdown drive with a field-goal drive of their own, but they held just a five-point lead as Cleveland regained possession late in the third quarter. On third-and-12, Thompson-Robinson scrambled around in the backfield for an extended period of time, and Browning hit him as he released the ball. At first, it appeared the Broncos had forced a three-and-out to grab possession right back. Instead, the officiating crew threw a late flag that handed Cleveland a fresh set of downs at the Cleveland 38-yard line.
Two plays later, the Broncos changed the complexion of the game. On second-and-7 at the Cleveland 41-yard line, the Browns ran a jet sweep and then pitched the ball back for an attempt at a reverse. Running back Pierre Strong Jr., though, was unable to haul the pitch in, and the ball fell to the ground. Jones recovered and returned the fumble to the 20-yard line, and the Broncos gave themselves breathing room four plays later.
The Browns entered this Week 12 matchup allowing just over two red-zone possessions per game to its opponents, but the Broncos found far more success. Denver scored touchdowns on each of its first two red-zone possessions and then added another touchdown on its fourth red-zone opportunity of the afternoon. In all, Denver reached the red zone five times on the afternoon.
Denver's success in the red zone helped propel the team to a 14-0 lead and build a lead it would not relinquish. Cleveland, meanwhile, scored just one touchdown on its three red-zone possessions and settled for field goals on its first two opportunities.
The Broncos' ability to score touchdowns while Cleveland settled for field goals was among the difference-makers in Denver's win.
After Courtland Sutton made a slew of impressive touchdown catches in recent games, tight end Adam Trautman got in on the action. On third-and-goal from the 8-yard line early in the fourth quarter, Russell Wilson scrambled to his left and then back to his right before threading a pass in for a sliding Trautman. The play was initially ruled an incompletion, but Head Coach Sean Payton tossed the challenge flag. Upon review, it became clear there was a sliver of grass between Trautman's knee and the sideline. The catch gave the Broncos a two-score lead and essentially ended the game.
Safety P.J. Locke returned from injury to post a strip-sack, quarterback hit, pass defensed and seven tackles.
Running back Samaje Perine scored his first touchdown of the season and helped lead a rushing effort that totaled 169 yards.
Quarterback Russell Wilson attempted just 22 passes, but he scrambled effectively and picked up 34 yards and a touchdown on the ground on a second-quarter drive that pushed Denver ahead 14-0.