Brandon Allen first thought of playing in the NFL when he was growing up in Fayetteville, Ark. He was competitive, and in junior high he began playing quarterback. He enjoyed it.
It is not a job for the queasy. Especially in Denver. The Broncos spoiled their fans with 20 years of Hall of Fame play from John Elway and Peyton Manning. Since the latter retired following the Super Bowl 50 victory, Denver has cycled through quarterbacks like Spinal Tap through drummers. Allen represented the sixth since Peyton, a sixth-round pick with a high football IQ and feet noticeably not stuck in clay.
In his NFL debut, Allen provided a series of goosebumps and a 24-19 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
This was his Sunday: Beat the Browns, receive game ball and pull it off in front of 15 family members and friends.
How's that for a pocket change?
"What impressed me the most is the way he stayed calm. I thought he would go out there wide-eyed. But holy cow, he was calm. He kept me calm," rookie left guard Dalton Risner said. "A lot of credit to him. He worked extremely hard. He gave a postgame speech and gave all the credit to Joe Flacco (for helping him prepare). That's the kind of guy he is."
Allen threw more touchdowns in the first half than Flacco threw last month. He showed mobility on scrambles. Phillip Lindsay, who rushed for 92 yards on nine carries, told Denver7 that Allen's initial 11-yard scramble changed everything, forcing the Browns to realize, "Oh (bleep), we have to be ready for that now."
"He did well," said coach Vic Fangio with joy and a sense of humor. "He showed a little mobility, made some good throws, missed a few, too. We're not ready to put him in Canton yet, but overall pleased with the way he played."
Allen looked like he had Prestone running through his veins. He might as well have been at Arkansas facing Ole Miss. Rather than allow the moment to swallow him, he devoured it, sinking his teeth in rather than nibble in fear.
"I slept fine," said Allen, who finished 12-for-20 for 193 yards and two scores. "I was a little bit amped to start the game. I missed a few easy throws I know I can hit. Once I got into the game a little bit I was able to settle my emotions down."
Simply put, Allen gave the offense an espresso shot. But no lead is safe with Denver this season, not even at home, where the Bears and Jaguars walked them off. With a five-point lead, the Broncos needed another stop. It proved more difficult than imagined as Odell Beckham Jr. made his second spectacular catch of the day, racing 39 yards ot the 34-yard line with under 5 minutes remaining. But unlike previous heart-in-a-blender moments, the Broncos put their foot on the opponent's chest. Kareem Jackson and Davontae Harris broke up a fourth down pass with under 4 minutes remaining.
"I think it gives us confidence. That's the thing, we still have a young team. We have a lot vets, but we have a lot of young guys. Those guys have to know what it feels like to win games like this. We know what it felt like to lose them," said defensive end Derek Wolfe, who netted five tackles and a sack. "To get that feeling on how to win, maybe it gives them that little kick in the butt when we need to make that play at the end."
It helped that the defense possessed a sliver for error. Rather than the Browns needing a field goal to victory, they required a touchdown. It was a big difference, safety Justin Simmons admitted.
"We could be more aggressive," he said.
It helped tremendously that the offense ditched the Timid Turtle strategy. The Broncos played with more freedom and creativity, coloring outside the lines. The Broncos claimed the win by going back in time, lining up Lindsay in the wildcat. He took the snap and scooted 16 yards with 2:23 remaining. It's a beautiful thing when a team plays complementary football.
"We put that play in this week," Lindsay said. "I was comfortable with it. I did it once last year and in college some. It was up to us to finish."
The Broncos were in position to win because they listened to Flacco. They were more aggressive. They played fearless, and amplified the strengths of Allen and tight end Noah Fant (three catches, 115 yards, one touchdown).
Late in the third quarter, the sky above the sellout crowd shaded in an orange hue, Allen put together the type of drive that provided hope and made the Broncos, on this Sunday, a fun watch. Following a fourth-down stand that included a challenge by the Browns on the spot of the ball, Denver drove 95 yards on seven plays. Fant, enjoying the best game of his rookie season, provided a boost with a 27-yard gain that shoved him over 100 yards receiving. Lindsay burst up the middle moments later, his 30-yard scoring dart swelling Denver's lead to 24-12 with 1:06 remaining in the third.
"I am not huge with breakout games. I am just looking to stack bricks on top of each other," said Fant, whose family, as usual, was in the stands to see his rebound performance. "I am looking to get better any way I can."
It was quite the juxtaposition to a week ago. The Broncos offense slogged through the Colts loss, a performance so embarrassing in the fourth quarter that Flacco ripped the conservative play-calling. He felt it was unfair to the offense specifically and the team in general. Flacco injured his neck in the defeat, creating the possibility he has played his last snap in Denver.
His health created a path for Allen -- who? -- into the starting lineup. After spending four years getting cut and backing up with the Jaguars and Rams, Allen embraced the opportunity. The bar was set low as he inherited an offense that averaged 15.6 points per game and had converted 3 of its last 25 third downs.
Into this backdrop, Allen walked without hesitation. After an ugly three-and-out to begin his career, the former Arkansas starter guided a nine-play march. As needed and necessary, Allen made a play with his feet, shuffling 11 yards. Moments later, he lofted a 21-yard strike to a leaping Courtland Sutton, a play Allen said allowed him to feel comfortable because "he bailed me out on a terrible pass."
Sutton "mossed" the defender with the best catch of his Broncos career. Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. appreciated it so much he ran from the sidelines to the end zone to congratulate Sutton. Notable on the drive was the common sense. When Sutton had man coverage, the Broncos looked his way on slants and streaks.
Another wrinkle emerged in the second quarter. The Broncos leaned on Fant in the flat rather than on sideline routes. Two weeks after what he told Denver7 was "the worst game of my life," Fant showed first-round promise. He caught an Allen dart, broke three tackles and galloped 75 yards for a score, shoving the Broncos ahead 14-3.
"It makes a huge difference when we get the tight end going," Lindsay said. "It makes the defense make tough choices."
Cleveland arrived in Denver as a team that is a reminder: Don't Believe The Type. The Browns were hailed as Super Bowl contenders after acquiring Odell Beckham Jr. But they remain a mess of penalties -- no team has more -- and broken dreams behind a quarterback in Baker Mayfield who has had issues throwing to the opposing team. The Browns' offense fizzled in the target zone, defaulting with four Austin Seibert field goals. Lost in the embers of the season's first half, the Broncos defense has played increasingly well. Denver ranks third in red zone defense, stiffening when it matters most.
And they played with a lead, a rarity the past three seasons. Allen did his part, boasting a 133.7 passing rating at halftime. Allen wasn't perfect. But he was an antidote to the boredom of the previous month.
"I feel like when Lil' Wayne found Drake," said Von Miller. "I called it at the beginning of the week that he was going to give us the magic. He was cold in college and I just knew if he got an opportunity he would be good."
With their record, this season has become about one thing for many fans: seeing rookie quarterback Drew Lock. The Lock Clock infuriates many who want the kid out there now even with Allen's performance. Coach Vic Fangio mapped out part of the plan last week, and I can fill in the other pieces. The idea is for Lock, who has been on injured reserve with a sprained ligament in his right thumb, to begin practicing after the bye in preparation for Minnesota. Why not next week? The Broncos are not practicing, so Fangio explained that starting Lock's 21-day IR clock without workouts was not advantageous. He's right. Sort of. I mean, it's not like they will not activate him so the argument can be made that the clock is less of an issue.
Lock told me he agrees he needs practice reps. He hasn't been involved, other than virtual reality exercises, since mid August. If all goes as planned, Lock practices well for Minnesota, takes over the backup job from Brett Rypien, who easily beat out in training camp, and then serves as the reserve for two weeks. That would leave him in position to possibly start as soon as the Dec. 1 home game against the Chargers. This, as you all know, remains a fluid situation. However, it makes sense to get a read on Lock before next year's draft when the Broncos could have a Top 10 pick in a draft with projected first-rounders Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Jake Fromm and Jacob Eason.
Phillip Lindsay became the fifth Broncos player to reach 2,000 all-purpose yards in his first 24 games. ... The Broncos inactive list included only one surprise: DeMarcus Walker. The third-year player has enjoyed a breakout season with four sacks. However, he sat out Sunday with a shoulder issue, leading Adam Gostis back to the active roster. The other inactives: right tackle Ja’Wuan James (left knee), tight end Jeff Heuerman (knee), cornerback Bryce Callahan (foot), safety Will Parks (hand), offensive lineman Calvin Anderson, defensive lineman Jonathan Harris. ... Broncos gameday captains were receivers Fred Brown and Courtland Sutton and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. ... The players will report to the facility on Monday, but then have the rest of the week off.