Embodied by a 168-yard performance by running back D'Ernest Johnson in his first start in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns fought, scratch and clawed their way to victory in what was an otherwise ugly 17-14 football game against the Denver Broncos.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski implored his team to find a way to get a win on Thursday night and then be able to rest in their mini-bye as they get a week-and-a-half before they host the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Case Keenum and the Browns passing game proved serviceable enough, the defense proved capable enough and the Browns were able to get win despite missing a number of players due to injury, bringing their record to 4-3.
Johnson was the story of the game as Cleveland was without running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt due to injury, leaving many to wonder if the Browns would have a running game at all in this game.
Last year, Johnson ran the ball 33 times for 166 yards all of last season. Against the Broncos, he had 22 carries for 146 yards including his first career touchdown. Johnson also chipped in 22 yards receiving on a pair of receptions.
Johnson did a nice job of using his speed, but he often utilized a one-cut, no-nonsense running style where he fought for everything he could. He ran every carry like it would be his last, making opponents miss and running through contact, driving his legs until the echo of the whistle.
The Browns started the game going to Johnson with a couple of short Keenum passes to get their first touchdown.
They finished the game by putting their faith in Johnson and their blocking up front. Even after a penalty that put the Browns in a 3rd-and-7 situation, the Browns still gave Johnson the ball, and he fought for the first down that enabled the offense to run out the clock to earn the victory.
Johnson showed significant promise in the preseason, showing off an improved ability to catch passes as well as block. Because of the presence of Chubb and Hunt, Johnson had only four touches for 18 yards coming into this game.
This performance validated why the Browns and head coach Kevin Stefanski had faith in Johnson to come in and be a major part of their offensive game plan.
D'Ernest Johnson's 146 rushing yards for the @Browns on #ThursdayNightFootball are the most by a player in his first career start since his teammate Kareem Hunt had 148 rushing yards for the Chiefs in Week 1, 2017@DernestJohnson2— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 22, 2021
The Broncos simply could not stop Johnson in this one, and the night was his as he helped deliver a win for the Browns.