Quinn impressive but Broncos shred Browns’ defense

Published 1:14 am Friday, November 7, 2008

Jay Cutler turned Brady Quinn’s big night into his own prime-time showcase.

Cutler passed for a career-high 447 yards, throwing three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter Thursday night — the last an 11-yarder to Brandon Marshall with 1:14 remaining — to rally the broken Denver Broncos to a 34-30 win over the Cleveland Browns that spoiled Quinn’s highly hyped debut as an NFL starter.

The Broncos (5-4) entered the fourth quarter trailing 23-13, but Cutler, borrowing a page out of John Elway’s comeback playbook, brought Denver back. He recorded his fifth career fourth-quarter comeback victory despite losing two more running backs to injuries and only having his fullback to carry the ball.

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‘‘It was a big, big win for us,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘To be down 13 and have an empty backfield and to come back like this, it means a lot.’’

Cutler threw a 93-yard TD pass to rookie wide receiver Eddie Royal, a 28-yarder to tight end Daniel Graham and then finished off the Browns like so many Denver teams have done in the past with his toss to Marshall in the corner of the end zone.

The Broncos have beaten Cleveland eight straight times and been the Browns’ longtime nemesis, beating them three times in AFC title games.

Cutler finished 24-of-42 with three TDs and one interception. He piled up 204 yards passing in the fourth quarter.

Quinn threw two TD passes to Kellen Winslow and went 23-of-35 for 239 yards, but thought he could have done more.

‘‘I told everyone, this one is flat on me,’’ Quinn said. ‘‘I know I am good enough that I can make a play at the end and win. I felt comfortable out there, it’s my home away from home.’’

After hauling in Cutler’s final TD pass, Marshall, who spent the week exchanging barbs with Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter, was about to pull something out of his pants when teammate Brandon Stokley ran over and stopped him from getting a possible personal foul.

Quinn had one last chance, getting the ball back with 1:10 remaining. The former Notre Dame star, who waited 25 games to take over Cleveland’s offense, completed a 9-yard pass to Winslow on first down before two incompletions gave him no margin for error. On fourth down, Quinn whipped a high pass to Winslow that sailed through the hands of the Pro Bowl tight end.

‘‘I just can’t get that last play out of my head,’’ Winslow said. ‘‘The great ones, the legends make those plays. That’s where I want to be and I’m going to take it as a lesson.’’

Denver’s bench burst into celebration while the Browns sustained another gut-wrenching loss after blowing a 14-point lead in the second half Sunday against Baltimore.

That loss cost Derek Anderson his starting job. He was benched by coach Romeo Crennel in favor of fan favorite Quinn, who made plays and was efficient moving the ball by throwing mostly underneath. Quinn completed passes to eight different receivers with Winslow catching 10 passes for 111 yards.

Quinn had the Browns (3-6) in position to win, but once again Cleveland’s defense couldn’t come up with a stop as Denver racked up 564 total yards.

‘‘We let them throw the ball over our head, couldn’t tackle and let the game get away,’’ Crennel said. ‘‘It’s disappointing that your defense can’t do some simple things and does some other things poorly. A 93-yard touchdown pass should never happen — ever.’’

Royal had six catches for 164 yards and Marshall caught six passes for 89 yards.

Cutler was playing at a huge disadvantage with Denver’s running game going backward because of injuries. It hardly mattered.

With starter Michael Pittman and backup Andre Hall already out with season-ending injuries, rookie Ryan Torain made his first start with third-year pro Selvin Young as his backup.

Torain scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter but sprained his left knee midway through the second when he got bent backward underneath a pile of players. He was replaced by Young, who gained 2 yards on his first carry but left a few plays later with a groin injury and didn’t return.

Those losses forced the Broncos to use fullback Peyton Hillis as their primary ball carrier, and the rookie from Arkansas came through on Denver’s final scoring drive by blasting his way through the line for a crucial first down on 4th-and-1 at the Cleveland 45.

From there, Cutler completed a 14-yard pass to Graham before catching the Browns off guard with a quarterback draw for 18 yards. After missing Marshall in the end zone on first down, Cutler had his wideout run the same route against cornerback Brandon McDonald for the game-winner.

Earlier, McDonald was burned by Royal for the 93-yard TD, the fourth-longest in Denver history.

The Browns played up Quinn’s pregame introduction, saving him to be the last player to run from the smoke-filled tunnel. He received a huge ovation from Cleveland fans, who despite having a Pro Bowl QB in Anderson, have spent many Sunday afternoons chanting ‘‘Bra-dy, Bra-dy’’ for most of the past two seasons.

Quinn didn’t disappoint, throwing two TD passes to Winslow in the first half to help the Browns open a 20-10 lead.

With Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil in his face, Quinn hung in the pocket as long as he could before firing his first career TD pass, a 5-yarder to Winslow, to tie it 7-all. Winslow’s scoring grab made up for the one he dropped from Quinn last season when the rookie QB made his pro debut in Cleveland’s season finale.

It was a night the 25-year-old Quinn had dreamed of since he was a little kid in Dublin, Ohio. He grew up in the Columbus suburb cheering for the Browns and he still has a picture of himself wearing a No. 19 Bernie Kosar jersey.

In the days leading up to his first start, Quinn sought advice from his college coach, Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis, a former offensive coordinator with New England.

‘‘He gave me some words of wisdom,’’ Quinn said, ‘‘as did everyone else — my mom, my dog.’’

Quinn’s No. 10 jersey dotted every corner of Browns Stadium and a white bed sheet with ‘‘Save Us Brady’’ hung from the second deck.

But in the end, there was nothing he or anyone else in orange helmets could do to stop Cutler.