The Browns (7-4) missed out on a chance to match their best start since 1999 and they lost several starters to injury, including rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (head) in his first road start. He was hit hard by edge rusher Baron Browning just as he released a pass, drawing a late flag although the hit appeared legal.
The Broncos sacked his backup, P.J. Walker four times, once in the end zone for a safety.
Already without star cornerback Denzel Ward, who was inactive with a shoulder injury, the Browns saw several key players get hurt, including Myles Garrett (hand/wrist), Amari Cooper (rib) and Jordan Elliott (ankle).
Although the Browns sport a historically stout defense, the story on Sunday was about Denver’s surging defense, which has now collected a whopping 15 takeaways in the Broncos’ last four games — their best four-game stretch since 1989.
Wilson threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Adam Trautman after defensive tackle D.J. Jones recovered a fumbled reverse at the Cleveland 20-yard line early in the fourth quarter, pushing the Broncos’ lead to 24-12.
Mike Purcell and Alex Singleton also recovered fumbles for Denver, which closed the scoring when Zach Allen tackled Walker in the end zone with 2:17 remaining.
Singleton smothered a loose ball after P.J. Locke, filling in for suspended safety Kareem Jackson, strip-sacked Walker at midfield earlier in the fourth quarter. That led to a 34-yard field goal from Wil Lutz that made it 27-12.
Browning’s hit on Thompson-Robinson just as he released a pass appeared clean. He hit the QB with a shoulder, didn’t launch at him or strike with the crown of his helmet. Thompson-Robinson was scrambling to avoid several pass rushers on third-and-12 from his 23 and was near his own goal line when he threw incomplete.
As Thompson-Robinson lay on the ground, back judge Greg Steed ran over to him and threw a late flag for roughing the passer, sending Cleveland’s punt unit back to the sideline.
In the third quarter, Thompson-Robinson threw his first career TD pass, a 2-yard toss to tight end Harrison Bryant. But Cooper dropped the 2-point pass that would have tied it, leaving the Browns trailing 14-12.
Everything unraveled for the Browns after that.
The Broncos, who are on their best heater since starting 2015 with seven straight wins, entered the game with just one rushing touchdown all season and had two more by halftime: Samage Perine’s 3-yard run and Wilson’s 2-yard keeper that staked Denver to a 14-0 lead.
Jerome Ford reeled off runs of 19 and 11 yards to jump-start Cleveland’s sleepy offense, and kicker Dustin Hopkins was good from 36 and 24 yards, making it 14-6 at halftime.
The 24-yarder with 22 seconds left in the first half prevented the Broncos from taking their first double-digit halftime lead in the 26 games Wilson has been their quarterback.
Browns: At the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. They will spend the week in Los Angeles, practicing at UCLA, where Thompson-Robinson played in college.
Broncos: At Houston on Sunday in a matchup of AFC playoff contenders.
Browns at Rams, 4:25 p.m., Fox, 1290, 95.7