Paul Klee's rapid reactions from the Broncos' win Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High:
1. Someone forward this to Joe Flacco: Rich Scangarello’s play-calling was just fine with Brandon Allen at quarterback. Making his first career start in the NFL, Allen threw two touchdown passes in the first half and looked entirely competent as the successor to Flacco, who’s done for the season with a neck injury. Allen’s first touchdown pass — and the Broncos’ first since Oct. 6 at the Los Angeles Chargers — went to the uncoverable Courtland Sutton. Allen’s 75-yard, catch-and-rumble touchdown to Noah Fant represented Denver’s longest scoring play of the season. Scangarello kept the playbook short and sweet, and Allen gave Broncos Country and his family a reason to smile heading into the team’s bye week.
2. Yep, they’re still the Browns. Even the powerful NFL hype machine can’t mask decades of incompetence in Cleveland. Celebrated quarterback Baker Mayfield looked like a shell of the Heisman Trophy winner he was at Oklahoma. Mayfield overthrew basic screen passes. His first-half passer rating of 73.8 was almost half of Allen’s. What have the Browns done to the first overall pick in the 2018 draft, Bad Baker? While Vic Fangio’s going to be afforded a long leash with the Broncos, who finally are coming around on the notion their roster simply isn’t good enough, Browns coach Freddie Kitchens must be feeling the heat inherent with high expectations and a 2-6 start.
3. Credit the Broncos defense for saving the day in the first half. The Browns were gifted enviable field position with an average start at the 39-yard line. (Relative to Denver’s average start at the 26.) Even so, the Broncos defense limited the Browns to four field goals from Austin Seibert, a big help to an offense with a first-time starting quarterback. One snap that stood out: Malik Reed and Kareem Jackson hunting down Nick Chubb for a 5-yard loss. Big play. Another one: smashing Mayfield short of the first-down marker on fourth down. Bigger play.
4. OK, so Noah Fant wasn’t perfect. But goodness gracious a play-making tight end is a game-changer. Fant enjoyed his first game of at least 100 receiving yards, and he got there by the third quarter. His connection with Brandon Allen was an eye-opener, particularly on a gorgeous pass play that Allen converted to Fant on the run. First down, Broncos. Fant added a false-start penalty. Bummer. But this was the kind of performance that gives you hope the Broncos drafted a Travis Kelce-type in Fant, who had 185 yards over Weeks 1-8 and 115 yards through three quarters Sunday.
5. Shake the crystal ball. How’s it look the rest of the way? The Broncos get a bye this week to nurse their bruised bodies. After that, they will be underdogs in faraway road games against the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills. Then it’s a toss-up game against the Chargers at home, followed by heavy underdogs at Houston and at Kansas City. That makes the Broncos underdogs in four of their next five games, a tall order even if Allen is the second coming of Tim Tebow. But at least there’s a positive storyline to put folks in a good mood over two Broncos-less weeks.