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Browns quarterback Case Keenum hands off to running back D’Ernest Johnson during Cleveland’s 17-14 win Thursday night against the Denver Broncos. David Richard/Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Case Keenum stepped in for Baker Mayfield and made the most of his first start in two years, third-string back D’Ernest Johnson rushed for 146 yards and the busted-up Cleveland Browns beat the Denver Broncos 17-14 on Thursday night.

Keenum didn’t put up impressive stats (21 of 33 for 199 yards), but threw a touchdown pass and did enough — as did Cleveland’s maligned defense — to get the Browns (4-3) a much-needed victory.

They survived without Mayfield, who sat out with a shoulder injury and could miss more time.

Johnson, playing because stars Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt were both out with calf injuries, had the best game of his career. He scored on a 4-yard run in the first half and picked 52 on seven carries as the Browns chewed up the final 5:17 after the Broncos pulled within three.

Denver quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw a pair of TD passes and gutted it out while playing with foot and quadriceps injuries. He finished 23 of 33 for 187 yards with one interception.

The Broncos (3-4) dropped their fourth straight game, and maybe as importantly, lost star linebacker Von Miller to a lower leg injury. The eight-time Pro Bowler missed all of 2020 with a dislodged ankle tendon.


GIANTS: If the New York Giants’ players aren’t pointing fingers, it’s because their head coach isn’t, either.

“The fish stinks from the head down,” Joe Judge said Thursday before practice. “I’m the head coach. It’s my responsibility. Point blank. Every player on this field, every position group, the execution, it all comes down to me… There’s no excuses, no exceptions. It starts and ends with me.”

The spotlight is on Judge in particular this week because the visiting Carolina Panthers (3-3) are led by Matt Rhule, whom the Giants coveted in January 2020 but never even got the chance to interview.

Instead, Giants ownership hired Judge, the impressive disciple of Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, and entrusted him with a rebuild of their program.

An accelerated attempt to win in Year Two so far has flamed out. The Giants are 1-5 this season and 7-15 in 22 games under Judge.

But players and assistant coaches seem to appreciate Judge’s accountable, consistent and level-headed approach.

“You’ve got to respect that,” defensive captain Logan Ryan said of Judge’s fish analogy. “You’ve got to respect when people take ownership. Finger pointing and blaming is an easy thing to do. And I think you’ve got to respect a coach who says it starts with him to get the team prepared. I agree, it does start with him.

“But it starts with me to lead my unit, as well,” Ryan added. “I think all of us are standing up here and taking ownership. At the end of the day we need more positive results, and I think that starts with people taking ownership.”

Senior offensive assistant Freddie Kitchens said Judge has “done a tremendous job” of being “the same person every day.” He said coaches can’t ask players to have short memories play-to -play in games if their coaches dwell on positives and negatives themselves.”

“Joe’s our leader,” special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said. “We all look to our leader for strength. He’s done a hell of a job I think of keeping the team moving forward. … Joe is a tough guy, Joe’s mentally tough, and he’s doing a great job with… the leadership part of it and keeping us pressing and… staying focused on the task at hand and that’s to win today.”

Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, a longtime head coach with the Dallas Cowboys, said it’s “not really my place to comment on Coach Judge.

“I think the biggest thing we all try to do when you have some tough times is just kind of settle back into what you need to do each day to coach your best and to play your best,” Garrett said. “Collectively as an organization that’s what we’re trying to do. Every coach, every player and Joe, our leader, has done a really good job of that.”

Defensive coordinator Pat Graham said Judge is a good leader because “whether we win, lose, whatever, Joe’s going to correct us and there’s a standard he has.”

“I think the beauty of Joe is… consistency,” he said. “The emotional consistency, the stamina, the emotional stamina to be the same every day. I think Joe — that’s why he’s a good leader … Joe is as consistent as I’ve ever seen him. Never too up, never too down.”

Judge’s message to the team this week has been to take care of individual assignments and details better, because that’s the only way the larger issues get fixed.

“A lot of people want to talk about games before this, games after this,” Judge said of outside criticism. “This is the only game we can do anything about right now.”

“To me, the only time you really feel any pressure or nerves is when you’re unprepared.”

PATRIOTS: New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday’s session with elbow and ankle injuries.

He was upgraded to limited on the team’s ensuing practice report, as was defensive lineman Deatrich Wise, who’s dealing with a hurt knee.

WASHINGTON: A Congressional committee is seeking documents and information from the NFL regarding the investigation into the Washington Football Team and how the league handled it.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform said Thursday it sent a letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell requesting by Nov. 4 all documents and communication about the probe into the workplace culture at the Washington Football Team.

“We have serious concerns about what appears to be widespread abusive workplace conduct at the WFT and about the NFL’s handling of this matter,” U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, wrote in the letter to the commissioner. “Communications between league management and WFT leadership also raise questions about the league’s asserted impartiality in these investigations.”

Washington hired lawyer Beth Wilkinson in the summer of 2020 to look into allegations of sexual harassment and other improper conduct within the organization. The league later took over that investigation and fined the team $10 million in July and said the culture at the club was “toxic” and ownership and senior officials paid little attention to sexual harassment and other workplace issues.

RAVENS: Former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Brandon Knight says he’s taking a break from football to address his mental health.

Knight went from the Cowboys to Baltimore via waivers this week, but he did not report to the Ravens. In a message on Twitter on Thursday, he thanked the Ravens for the opportunity.

“As of now, I’ve decided to take a break from football to address my mental health,” Knight said. “Although it was a difficult decision, it was a necessary one to be back home with my family. I look forward to returning next season.”

The 24-year-old former Indiana lineman played 21 games for Dallas over two-plus seasons. The Ravens put him on the reserve/did not report list.

PACKERS: With Green Bay having won five consecutive games despite several key injuries, it signed veteran outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus in hopes of boosting not only their pass rush but their championship hopes.

The Packers have been hit hard by injuries, in general, and at outside linebacker, in particular, with Pro Bowler Za’Darius Smith and backups Chauncey Rivers and Randy Ramsey on IR.

The other veteran starter, Preston Smith, is dealing with an oblique injury.

Enter the 31-year-old Mercilus, a first-round pick by the Houston Texans in 2012 who was released by the team on Tuesday.

Mercilus has 57 sacks in nine-plus seasons. That includes three this season but only one year of eight-plus sacks in his career. That was 2015, when he had 12.

JETS: Starting safety Marcus Maye – who was was upgraded to full participation Thursday as he deals with an ankle injury ahead of Sunday’s game against the Patriots – knew where to go once the news of his DUI arrest from February became public.

He went straight to the coach’s office, seeking out Robert Saleh to explain what happened and why he kept it from the New York Jets for more than seven months.

“It’s just an adult thing to do,” Maye said Thursday while speaking to reporters for the first time since his arrest was reported on Oct. 4. “Just own up (to) my situation, tell him about it and talk about it and we handled it and we kept going.”

Broward County court records show the 28-year-old Maye was charged with three misdemeanors – driving under the influence, DUI/damage to property, and leaving the scene of an accident – after a car crash on Feb. 22 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He’s also facing a civil lawsuit “in excess” of $30,000 filed by the driver of the car he hit, according to court documents.

Maye said he wasn’t allowed to comment on his legal situation, but was remorseful.

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” he said. “I mean, the situation happened, I definitely feel sorry for it. You know, I learned from it, owned everything. Just got to keep going.”

The star safety, a team captain last season and its longest-tenured player, declined to explain why he opted to not tell the Jets until after the news of his arrest was reported. Maye acknowledged Saleh seemed blindsided by it when he told him.

“I mean, they all were,” Maye said, “but we talked and we’ve moved on.”

CHARGERS: Wide receiver/return specialist Andre Roberts signed with Los Angeles after being released earlier this week by the Houston Texans.

Roberts is in his 11th season and is one of the league’s top kick and punt returns, something the Chargers have been lacking. He was an All-Pro selection while with the New York Jets in 2018. Over the past four seasons, Roberts leads the NFL in return yards and has returned one punt and one kickoff for touchdowns.

He is seventh in the AFC this season in kick returns, averaging 21.4 yards. To make room for Roberts, the Chargers waived wide receiver KJ Hill.

COWBOYS: With much love, comes much hate. And so it is with the Dallas Cowboys. According to a study of posts on Twitter through the preseason and the first six weeks of the NFL season, the Dallas Cowboys are the “most-hated team” in the league. compiled geo-tracked data on more than 400,000 posts on Twitter with negative phrases such as “Cowboys suck” and “I hate the Patriots” to reach their conclusion. Tweets with stronger language were also included in the calculation.

The study broke down the percent of “hate” tweets per state. The Cowboys lead the league by dominating the “hate” in eight states, all of which are located in the Northeast.

The Super Bowl defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Green Bay Packers tied for second with six states. The Chargers, Chiefs and Bears are the least-hated teams with just one state each.

The Philadelphia Eagles are the “most-hated team” in Texas and the surrounding states including New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas. The Bucs, a rival to the New Orleans Saints, of course, are the most-hated team in Louisiana.

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