'Calm and poised' Case Keenum gets Browns back on winning track

Indeed, as he proclaimed earlier in the week, Case Keenum is built for this.

Making a start for his sixth NFL franchise on Thursday night, the Browns quarterback piloted an opening scoring drive that had the Cleveland faithful abuzz and the Broncos on their heels.

Keenum later delivered perhaps the Browns' biggest play on a fourth-down scramble that led to his game-winning touchdown throw.

It was vintage Keenum, as the consummate journeyman filled in and stepped up to help the Browns to a 17-14 win over the Broncos on Thursday night in Cleveland, snapping a two-game Browns skid in the process.

"Case fought like he always does," said Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, who previously coached Keenum in Minnesota. "I thought he orchestrated the operation. He took care of the football and that was a huge play in the end zone there on fourth down. Just to make a play, fighting for extra yardage, but he did a great job fighting."

After Cleveland's 10-point first-half advantage had been cut to three points in the second half, Keenum and the Browns were faced with fourth-and-3 from the Denver 6-yard line when Keenum used his improvisation and his legs to gain the first down, scrambling ahead and reaching for the end zone. He came up a yard short of six, but got the first. A play later, he tossed his first touchdown of the night for what would hold as the game-winning score. It was also his first TD toss since Week 17 of 2019 with Washington.

"As I went to my checkdown, just felt a pretty big opening there and tried to score," Keenum said of the fourth-down play. "Not really any thinking, just reacting at that point."

Keenum was thrust into the starting role against the Broncos, one of his former teams, with Baker Mayfield dealing with a shoulder injury.

From the outset Thursday when the Browns took the ball to begin the evening, he looked cool and calm. He finished the night 21-of-33 passing for 199 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 90.3 rating. It was hardly exceptional -- that was reserved for running back D'Ernest Johnson, who rushed for a score and 146 yards. No, Keenum did what was needed; he was efficient as he managed and led.

Keenum began his Week 7 start with a 7-yard completion to the returning Jarvis Landry, a hook-up that ignited the crowd. He then found Austin Hooper short and Hooper took it long for 34 yards. Three Johnson runs later and the Browns were on the board.

"I felt calm and poised," Keenum said. "It was a great first drive there. Kevin put together a great first 15 and the offensive line did a great job."

At the end of the opening stanza, Keenum had driven the Browns to 10 points in two drives and completed 6-of-7 passes for 72 yards.

The Browns' hot start offensively didn't burn through the first half, though, but the defense kept the Broncos clamped down.

"Defense played really, really well," Keenum said. "To hold those guys to what they did in some pretty clutch moments was big."

That changed when the Broncos cut the score to 10-7 following a touchdown on the first drive of the second half.

Keenum and Co. responded with a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown march that took up 7:21 of game clock. Facing fourth-and-3, Keenum scrambled for those aforementioned five yards for the first. A play later, Keenum found fullback Johnny Stanton for a 1-yard score to return the Browns' lead to 10 points.

Fans and pundits might well clamor for Keenum to stick around in the starting lineup because it's all about what you've done for me lately in the NFL and an injured Mayfield struggled before he was forced to miss Thursday.

That's a discussion for the upcoming days, though. On this night in Cleveland, Keenum was the right man for the job and the right man to get the Browns back to winning.

"It feels pretty good," Keenum said. "It was a lot of fun tonight. We have a great group of guys and they fought their tails off."

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