DENVER — Baker Mayfield capitalized on Denver’s depleted cornerback corps and dubious coaching decisions in leading the Cleveland Browns past the Broncos 17-16 on Saturday night, keeping alive their slim hopes of ending the NFL’s longest playoff drought.
Mayfield’s 2-yard TD toss to Antonio Calloway with just under 12 minutes left provided the winning margin for the Browns (6-7-1). They snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Broncos (6-8).
Improving to 3-28 on the road over the last four seasons, the Browns still have a shot at their first winning season since 2007 and even their first playoff berth since 2002 thanks to their first win over Denver since 1990.
Calloway’s touchdown made it 17-13 and came with safety Justin Simmons in coverage because the Broncos were down five cornerbacks.
The Broncos responded with a 13-play drive that ate up more than seven minutes, but after Phillip Lindsay was stuffed for no gain on third-and-1 from the Cleveland 6, coach Vance Joseph sent in kicker Brandon McManus for a field goal instead of going for it.
“I wanted points there,” Joseph explained. “We had about 4:35 left. We had one timeout and the 2-minute warning. I trust our defense to get a stop there.”
It didn’t happen, at least not right away.
Chubb reeled off a 40-yard run on the first play, and on fourth-and-1 from the Denver 10, Cleveland interim coach Gregg Williams went for it — and Chubb was dropped for a 2-yard loss by Adam Gotsis.
The Broncos got the ball back at their 13 with 1:49 remaining and reached the 50-yard line with 52 seconds left. But a spike, two incompletions and a sack by Peppers all but ended Denver’s playoff hopes. They could officially be eliminated with Sunday’s slate of games.
The Broncos began the night with cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Isaac Yiadom sidelined and they lost Brendan Langley to a concussion in the first half and newly-signed Jamar Taylor to an ejection in the second half on the same play Bradley Roby went out with a laceration in his mouth. Roby later returned.
With safety Dymonte Thomas, who had his first career interception in the first half, subbing at cornerback, Von Miller broke Simon Fletcher’s franchise record of 103½ sacks, including playoffs.
Denver’s depleted defense, however, was forced right back out onto the field when Keenum’s first-down heave was easily picked off by T.J. Carrie at the Broncos 48, after just eight seconds had ticked off the game clock.
Six plays later, Mayfield put the Browns ahead for good.
The teams were tied at 10 after a mistake-filled first half in which both quarterbacks were thwarted by interceptions in or near the end zone.
Keenum, who was implored by his coach during the week to let it rip and quit worrying about being intercepted, was picked off for the first time since October when Peppers came down with his 29-yard floater to Courtland Sutton in the end zone.
Mayfield had the Browns in field goal range at the Denver 30 in the final minute before halftime when Thomas recorded his first career interception at the 2 on a throw to Jarvis Landry.
Langley went out in the first half and Roby in the second. Combined with Taylor’s ejection — he was signed after Harris fractured his right fibula two weeks ago — and the Broncos were left scrambling in their secondary.
Browns: Host Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 23.
Broncos: Visit Oakland Raiders on Christmas Eve.