Barrett shines in debut**
After rising from the practice squad to the active roster, outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett has more than proven he belongs.
Barrett shined in the preseason and has continued to be a major factor on Denver' top-ranked defense. The Cleveland game was no different, except this contest marked Barrett's first NFL start.
When outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware was ruled out against the Browns, Head Coach Gary Kubiak had no doubts about Barrett stepping up and starting in the veteran's place.
Barrett used the opportunity to prove his worth and notched a stat in almost every defensive category. He tallied a career-high nine stops (six solo) with three tackles for loss, a batted-down pass and 1.5 sacks, including a strip-sack fumble that he recovered.
"He's been that way all year," Kubiak said. "I don't care what his name is or where he's from, but I know that when it's down to a play, he makes plays. All I know is every time I looked up, he was making plays. What an opportunity he's gotten and what a good job he's done taking advantage of it."
Barrett said he was happy with his first start, but still has things he knows he needs to work on.
"I think I'm doing pretty good out there," Barrett said. "A couple of my sacks they let me go free on. If I was beating the tackles clean then I'd be a little shocked, but I'm happy with what I'm doing right now and I still have a lot to work on and build on."
Run game shows promise
The Broncos saw a necessary spark on the ground Sunday. Kubiak has spoken often of his commitment to the run game and Denver's overtime performance added a dose of much needed confidence.
After an interception on the Broncos' first possession in overtime, and a subsequent stop by the defense, Denver's running back duo of Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson injected life into the game.
With four consecutive run plays, Anderson tallied two first downs and helped line up kicker Brandon McManus' 34-yard game-winning field goal.
"Well, we didn't abandon it," Kubiak said of the running game. "I tried to hang in there with it. I thought we ran the ball pretty well today. I think we could still run it better, but we were more committed to it today. We tried to stay more balanced in what we were doing."
Hillman rushed for a career-high 111 yards on 20 carries (5.6 avg.), marking his fourth career 100-yard rushing game.
"We had to help the defense, we can't keep them on the field too long," Hillman said. "They are really good but we need to keep them off the field as much as possible. I think us running the ball and being successful with it helped manage the game a little better."
The offensive line is starting to gain confidence despite a plague of injuries. In addition to not allowing a single sack, the line helped pave the way for Anderson and Hillman.
"I thought it was good. I thought C.J. and Ronnie ran the ball well," said quarterback Peyton Manning. "I thought the line did a good job. We were trying to stay in phase. We obviously didn't run it as well in the red zone down there, which put us in some third-and-longs and forced us have to settle for a field goal. I thought those guys ran hard, and there were some good holes there. Especially on that last drive, there were some good holes."
Ward and Talib's homecoming
Safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib had a homecoming of sorts on Sunday in Cleveland.
Although he's a native of California's Bay Area, Ward considers Cleveland a second home because the Browns selected him as their second-round pick in the 2010 draft. Ward went on to play four seasons in Cleveland until he signed with the Broncos as an unrestricted free agent on March 12, 2014.
"Pulling into the stadium there was a lot of reminiscing, a lot of déjà vu," Ward said. "Driving around the city on the bus and pulling in as a visitor, being on the other sideline, [it] was kind of weird at first. The fans were great."
Talib was born in Cleveland but he and his family moved to Richardson, Texas, before he started the eighth grade. Talib's return was a sweet one, as he returned an interception 63 yards for his second touchdown of the year.
"It was wonderful," Talib said of his return. "I was nervous all week. I knew I had about 50 people in my family who was going to be here, 45 to 50 people. I knew they would be here so I watched extra tape, extra tape, extra tape and it paid off. I had a good idea of what those guys were running out there."