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Former USF star D’Ernest Johnson, Browns edge Broncos

Backups lead injury-wracked Cleveland to a 17-14 victory and 4-3 record.
Browns running back D'Ernest Johnson looks to get past Broncos cornerback Ronald Darby. The third-stringer runs for 146 yards and gets a game ball along with a dousing from happy teammates..
Browns running back D'Ernest Johnson looks to get past Broncos cornerback Ronald Darby. The third-stringer runs for 146 yards and gets a game ball along with a dousing from happy teammates..
Published Oct. 22

CLEVELAND — The Browns’ backups delivered.

Case Keenum stepped in for Baker Mayfield and made the most of his first start in two years, third-string back D’Ernest Johnson of USF rushed for 146 yards and the busted-up Browns beat the Broncos 17-14 on Thursday night.

Keenum didn’t put up huge stats (21-of-33 for 199 yards), but threw a touchdown pass and did enough — as did Cleveland’s maligned defense — to get the Browns (4-3) a much-needed victory.

Mayfield sat out with a shoulder injury and could miss more time.

“You don’t have to get ready if you stay ready,” Keenum said after his first win since 2019.

Johnson, 25, who set several Bulls records while at USF, was playing because stars Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt were out with calf injuries. He had the best game of his career and got a congratulatory tweet from LeBron James afterward.

Johnson scored on a 4-yard run in the first half and picked up 52 yards on seven carries as the Browns ran out the final 5:17 after the Broncos pulled within three.

“The last drive was very frustrating,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “We loaded up against the run and we couldn’t stop them.”

Afterward, Johnson, who worked on a fishing boat when he wasn’t drafted, got doused with water by his teammates in a raucous locker room celebration.

“He got a game ball and it was a good moment,” Keenum said. “I mean, there was lots of cheering, lots of water and everything being thrown. And he gave a little speech that was heartfelt.”

Denver quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw two touchdown passes while playing with foot and quadriceps injuries. He was 23-of-33 for 187 yards with one interception.

The Broncos (3-4) dropped their fourth straight game, and lost eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller to a sprained ankle. Miller missed all of 2020 with a dislodged ankle tendon.

Miller got hurt late in the first half when he banged legs with teammate Dre’Mont Jones while rushing Keenum.

Mayfield, who has been playing with a torn labrum, also has a broken bone in his non-throwing shoulder but believes he can continue to play with it, reports said.

The fourth-year QB revealed the break in his humerus bone — which runs from his shoulder to elbow — to Fox during the network’s pregame show.

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said it was “too far away” to know if Mayfield will be back next week.

Until he’s ready, Keenum showed he can keep the Browns going forward.

So did Johnson, an unlikely hero.

After Bridgewater’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Melvin Gordon brought the Broncos within 10-7 in the third quarter, Keenum directed a 13-play, 75-yard drive he capped with a 1-yard scoring pass to fullback Johnny Stanton. Keenum converted on fourth and 3 with a 5-yard scramble to Denver’s 1.

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“He fought like he always does,” Stefanski said of Keenum. “Orchestrated the operation. That was a huge play there on fourth down. Just to make a play, fighting for extra yardage.”

The 33-year-old last started for Washington two years ago.

Afterward, Miller said his ankle “is good” and X-rays were “clean.” He thought he could have played in the second half, but the team’s medical staff encouraged him to stay as out as a precaution.

The pain of losing seemed more severe than any injury.

”I talked a lot of (smack) before this game and I made it personal and I wanted the animosity,” Miller said. “I wanted this to be that game. And I wanted to win it. I was going to leave it all out there today. I was comfortable with everything I said. I want to continue to make it personal.”

— By TOM WITHERS

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