DENVER — Baker Mayfield capitalized on Denver’s depleted cornerback corps and dubious coaching decisions in leading the Cleveland Browns past the Broncos 17-16 on Saturday night, keeping alive their slim hopes of ending the NFL’s longest playoff drought.
Mayfield’s 2-yard TD toss to Antonio Callaway with just under 12 minutes left provided the winning margin for the Browns (6-7-1). They snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Broncos (6-8).
Improving to 3-28 on the road over the last four seasons, the Browns still have a shot at their first winning season since 2007 and even their first playoff berth since 2002 thanks to their first win over Denver since 1990.
“I think the tough environment, winning on the road’s the most important thing,” Mayfield said. “If we don’t take care of business tonight — and obviously we have to move on and take care of business next week — none of that matters.
“So, being able to win on the road is something we’ve got to take pride in, going into somebody else’s house, our backs against the wall, it’s just us and coming out with a win,” Mayfield said. “Find a way to win.”
Combined with their win at Cincinnati last month, the Browns have multiple road victories for the first time since 2014.
Callaway’s touchdown made it 17-13 and came with safety Justin Simmons in coverage because the Broncos were down five cornerbacks.
The Broncos responded with a 13-play drive that ate up more than seven minutes, but after Phillip Lindsay was stuffed for no gain on third-and-1 from the Cleveland 6, coach Vance Joseph sent in kicker Brandon McManus for a field goal instead of going for it.
“I wanted points there,” Joseph explained. “We had about 4:35 left. We had one timeout and the 2-minute warning. I trust our defense to get a stop there.”
It did not happen, at least not right away.
Nick Chubb reeled off a 40-yard run on the first play, and on fourth-and-1 from the Denver 10, Cleveland interim coach Gregg Williams went for it — and Chubb was dropped for a 2-yard loss by Adam Gotsis.
The Broncos got the ball back at their 13 with 1:49 remaining and reached the 50-yard line with 52 seconds left. A spike, two incompletions and a sack by Jabrill Peppers all but ended Denver’s playoff hopes. The Broncos could officially be eliminated with Sunday’s slate of games.
Texans 29, Jets 22: EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Houston Texans were trailing late and facing a second straight loss after a nine-game winning streak.
Deshaun Watson was not having it.
The cool-headed, playmaking quarterback threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins with 2:15 left, lifting the Texans to a victory over Sam Darnold and the New York Jets.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he’s able to stay controlled in those situations,” Hopkins said about Watson. “He’s done that before in big games in his career. On the sideline, everyone was composed. Nobody panicked.”
No one was more in control than Watson.
“The game is never over for me,” he said. “The plays are never over sometimes. I just go out there with the ball in my hands, put the load on my shoulders and lead the team to victory. I’ve been doing that my whole life and I have to continue to do that at this level.
“Every game comes down to a final drive. You’ve got to be able to block out all the noise, lock in and try to lead the team to victory.”
After Darnold and the Jets took their first lead of the game on Elijah McGuire’s 2-yard touchdown run, the Texans (10-4) answered right back.
“I wouldn’t want any other quarterback in this entire universe other than him,” Hopkins said. “The things he can do, staying in the pocket after taking hits and deliver balls on the money — not a lot of quarterbacks can do that.”