Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello saw this coming. So did Head Coach Vic Fangio. And outside linebacker Von Miller called it: rookie tight end Noah Fant, despite struggling through the first eight weeks of the season, would have his day.
And, on Sunday, Fant certainly did.
His three receptions for 115 yards and a 75-yard touchdown run helped the Broncos to a 24-19 win over the Cleveland Browns and prompted a joyous, “Let’s go” shout from Fant on his way to the locker room.
“I mean, I’m not interested in break-out games, but I’m just looking to stack bricks on top of each other,” Fant said postgame. “So, [I’m] looking to do better any way I can. There’s definitely some plays in that game that I could have done better on, so we’ll watch the film tomorrow and see where I can improve.”
But for the rookie who entered Sunday’s game with only 185 yards on the season and several discouraging drops, Sunday’s performance was an immense improvement.
Fant’s 75-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter was the eighth-longest reception by a rookie in franchise history and gave the Broncos a 14-3 lead.
His career-high 115 yards are the most by a Broncos tight end since Julius Thomas in 2013 and marked Fant’s first 100-yard career receiving game.
Fant’s three receptions on Sunday gave him 23 catches for the season, which set a Broncos rookie receptions record for a tight end.
“Noah’s a guy that’s been up and down, but he’s a young guy with talent,” Fangio said postgame. “It’s our job as coaches to develop talent and we’re going to keep trying to do that with all of them and nice to see him have a good day today.”
And Fant wants more.
“I’m my biggest critic,” Fant said. “I hold myself to a very high standard and it’s nice to have that rookie record, but I’m trying to attain a lot bigger goals and try to do a lot better. It’s always good to attain certain milestones like that, but I’m looking to keep pushing forward.”
Fant quite literally pushed his way to his second touchdown of the season.
With the Broncos leading 7-3 early in the second quarter at their 25-yard line, quarterback Brandon Allen found Fant, who then took off and shouldered his way through one Browns defender, ducked another and powered past a third.
“Noah, what an incredible play by him just to catch that ball and take it the distance,” Allen said. “It was incredible.”
Fant’s excitement was apparent when he celebrated his touchdown with front-row Broncos fans and his teammates.
“It was a special play and seeing [wide receiver] Courtland [Sutton] coming down and blocking for me — he picked up a great block,” Fant said of the play. “And I was able to crease up on the sideline. It was something pretty special. … That’s kind of our whole offense though. Everybody did a great job of playing as a team and [I] want success for everybody."
Dubbed by Scangarello last month as the “most difficult position” to play outside of quarterback, tight ends are asked to block in the run game, run routes and play pass protection.
The required versatility proved to be a tall ask of Fant, whose previous career-high in receiving yards came in Week 3 when he recorded 37 yards but also had a costly fumble.
But Fant kept grinding, stayed positive and drew strength from his college experience and the belief from Broncos’ teammates and coaches, who were equally excited about his big game.
“I think that Noah deserved that,” guard Dalton Risner said. “He works extremely hard. … It was a night for Noah Fant, right there.”
Fant’s night fueled the Broncos to their third win of the season and second win at home. And, though the Broncos will take Week 10 off, Fant is ready to repeat his and the team’s success.
“For me, it’s one of those things where I’m happy about the game, but I’m definitely looking forward to not just having one great game and then fizzle off after that,” Fant said. “So, like I was saying before, it’s all about building blocks and stacking bricks on top of each other. That’s what I’m looking forward to — to keep building, and [I’m] just happy overall for our team.”