DENVER — One hundred forty-four million dollars.

That’s how much the Broncos will have paid Von Miller when his 11th season in Denver is over.

Is it too much to ask for three sacks in a Thursday night game in Cleveland? With Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield wearing a sling earlier this week? Against two backup linemen?

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“I will play well in this game. I’m going to go off. It’s going to be a good game for me," Miller said this week prior to a season-defining game with the Dawg Pound at FirstEnergy Stadium. "I don’t want to guarantee a win for my teammates, but I don’t want to put the pressure on those guys this time. I’m going to put the pressure on me. I’m going to have a great game.”

When Von stepped to the mic to give his take on a Broncos season on the brink of collapse, there were echoes from the same man guaranteeing a win against the Arizona Cardinals in 2018.

“They’re going to get our whole team’s best this week. That starts with me,” Miller said back then. “They’re going to get my best this week. We’re going to go out there and kick their ass.”

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As an exclamation point, Miller added then: “I wouldn’t say it’s a must-win, but we’re going to kick their ass, though.”

His Broncos beat those Cardinals 45-10. That Thursday night game represents Von’s finest “I told you so” since proving he should have been the No. 1 pick in 2011 by breaking Cam Newton in Super Bowl 50. Cam has never been the same. Neither have Von and the Broncos.

Three years later the Broncos are still his. He’s still the highest-paid player. Still the billboard employee, since management has chosen to cover a broken quarterback situation with Band-Aid after Band-Aid. Von is still the only Bronco who can win a game almost by himself.

Thursday night in Cleveland needs to be a Von game. It must be. It’s the Broncos’ only way out of a freefall. The Broncos bet $17.5 million on a one-year deal that Von still has it. So, does he?

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As Gary Kubiak liked to say, "We’re fixin’ to find out."

Compared to his proclamation in 2018, Von toned it down for this Browns game. But he came strong, like a man with the kind of inside information that comes with being in this spot before: “I will play well in this game. I’m going to go off. It’s going to be a good game for me. I don’t want to guarantee a win for my teammates, but I don’t want to put the pressure on those guys this time. I’m going to put the pressure on me. I’m going to have a great game.”

The stars are aligned, and the Broncos desperately need it. That’s how Vic Fangio coached last Sunday in a blowout loss to the Raiders at Mile High — desperate. They went for it on fourth down in their own territory. (Teddy Bridgewater threw an interception.) They challenged a touchdown catch by Noah Fant when anyone in the 300 Level could see it would not be a successful challenge.

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Fangio’s defense and entire operation is under fire. Here’s how bad the Broncos need to beat the Browns: Denver has never made the playoffs in a season in which it lost four straight games. It’s never happened, not in 22 playoff seasons. These Broncos have lost three straight.

“I just think we have the right kind of guys that will rally,” Fangio said. “I think we have good leadership. I think there’s a high care factor. I have confidence in the guys.”

This should be a Von game. It must be a Von game. The Browns played last week without starting tackles Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin. Neither practiced Monday or Tuesday, either. The Browns as a whole are a real-deal Super Bowl contender. But the Browns are not whole.

“I don’t know who the tackle is I’m going against, but I’m going to kill him. I’m going to kill him,” Miller said. “And the other guy, too, on the other side, too. I’m going to play extremely well. And I’m going to make plays for my team. I’m going to set us up to win this game.”

These Broncos are 3-0 when Miller has a full sack, 0-3 when he doesn’t. Take that for data.

“Get a couple sacks. If I can do that, we will win,” Miller said.

Make it three sacks. Throw in a strip-sack. Throw in a sack dance made for prime time. The Broncos need it, bad. Now's the time to find out: Does $144 million still get what it used to?

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at paul.klee@gazette.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

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