Backup plan: Browns can trust Keenum with Mayfield injured

Fri Oct 22 3:02pm ET
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer

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Cleveland Browns quarterback Case Keenum throws a pass during the first half of the team's NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)


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Cleveland Browns quarterback Case Keenum (5) celebrates a 4-yard touchdown run by running back D'Ernest Johnson during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)


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Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski looks on during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)


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Cleveland Browns quarterback Case Keenum celebrates after the Browns defeated the Denver Broncos 17-14 in an NFL football game Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)


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Cleveland Browns running back Johnny Stanton celebrates after scoring a one-yard touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)


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Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (21) walks off the field after an injury during the second half of the team's NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)


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Cleveland Browns running back D'Ernest Johnson (30) carries against the Denver Broncos during the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Cleveland. The Browns won 17-14. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)


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Cleveland Browns quarterback Case Keenum (5) hands the ball off to running back D'Ernest Johnson (30) during the first half of the team's NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)


CLEVELAND (AP) Baker Mayfield's season is on pause for the moment - and may be for a while. That doesn't mean the Browns have to slow down as well.

Mayfield missed Thursday night's game with a shoulder injury that worsened last week when he fractured a bone during a fall after being tripped by Arizona's J.J. Watt. He's hoping rest will reduce swelling so he can play on Oct. 31 against Pittsburgh, but right now nothing is certain with Mayfield.

''When he's ready, he's ready,'' coach Kevin Stefanski said Friday.

But with Mayfield out, along with running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, the Browns (4-3) got just what they needed from veteran quarterback Case Keenum and fisherman-turned-running back D'Ernest Johnson (146 yards) in a 17-14 win over the Denver Broncos.

Call it Plan B - B, as in backup.

Keenum didn't knock off all the rust in his first start since 2019 with Washington, but the 33-year-old showed he knows his way around the field while leading the Browns to a win they desperately needed to keep pace in the AFC North.

Keenum threw a touchdown pass late in the third quarter after making a key conversion with a scramble on fourth down. And most importantly, he didn't have any turnovers.

''Case played well,'' said Stefanski, who spent 2017 with Keenum in Minnesota and was instrumental in the Browns signing him as a free agent. ''He made good decisions. He spread the ball around. He took care of the football.''

Stefanski wanted Keenum to ''spread the rock around,'' and he connected with 10 different receivers.

He doesn't have Mayfield's big arm, and Keenum won't evade defenders with spins or his speed. But he managed the game effectively while giving Stefanski and his teammates even more confidence he can do it again.

The Browns signed Keenum to a three-year, $18 million contract before last season for just this kind of performance. They needed protection in the event Mayfield got hurt or struggled as well as someone to help develop the young QB.

''Case has been there before,'' said wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who gave the Browns an emotional lift after missing four games with a knee injury. ''He's a guy that has been to the NFC Championship game. He's been there.

''So the way that he's prepared throughout this whole entire time for the past two years has been something that you don't blink when he gets in there. You know that he still has the ability to lead us to a win.''

WHAT'S WORKING

Unsung but not unappreciated, Cleveland's offensive line kept the league's best running game humming. The Browns rolled up 182 yards rushing as the line, which was missing starting right tackle Jack Conklin, created just enough room for the shifty Johnson to pick his way through tacklers.

Another backup, Blake Hance, who played left tackle the past two weeks, shifted to the right side, and one of the league's top units didn't miss a beat.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Cleveland's defense stepped up after giving up 84 points the past two weeks, but still had some issues and isn't forcing enough turnovers.

After limiting the Broncos to just 76 yards in the first half, the Browns gave up two long touchdown drives in the second half when they couldn't get to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and missed tackles.

STOCK UP

Johnson has a fish story, and it's about him. After he wasn't drafted in 2018, Johnson briefly worked on a fishing boat in Key West, Florida, while dreaming of a shot in the NFL.

In his first career start, Johnson opened the scoring with a 4-yard TD and then polished off the Broncos in the final minutes by picking up 52 yards on Cleveland's game-sealing drive.

STOCK DOWN

Cornerback Denzel Ward can't seem to stay healthy. He limped off in the fourth quarter with a left hamstring injury after making a tackle. Ward has missed four games in each of the past two seasons with injuries.

INJURIES

Stefanski is ''hopeful'' Chubb (calf) and Conklin (knee) will play against the Steelers after both sat out the past two weeks. ... WR Odell Beckham Jr. is playing with a sprained shoulder and Stefanski said the star ''fought very, very hard to make it to that game.'' ... There was no update on WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, who injured his groin in pregame warmups and didn't play.

KEY NUMBER

52 - Myles Garrett's career sacks in 58 games. The star defensive end got 1 1/2 sacks against the Broncos, who were doing some extra clutching and grabbing to keep him off Bridgewater.

''If you go by the book, it's holding. The refs are kind of giving me the Shaq treatment right now so hopefully, I can get around that,'' Garrett said, referring to former NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal, who was so dominant it made officiating difficult.

NEXT STEPS

Trick or treat? The Browns get a mini-bye to heal up before hosting the Steelers on Oct. 31. The Halloween matchup is Cleveland's first inside a division that's even deeper this season with Cincinnati's resurgence.

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Tim Patrick Nov 27 12:50pm ET
Tim Patrick

Denver Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick was recently signed to a three-year, $30 million contract extension and was also named to ESPN's all-underrated team for 2021. Patrick has kept a snap rate over 90% despite Jerry Jeudy's return in Week 8, and he ranks fourth in receiving DVOA this year while averaging 9.9 yards per target. The 28-year-old has been a key part of Denver's offense the last two years, especially when Courtland Sutton tore his ACL early in 2020. He has four touchdowns in 2021 and a career-high catch percentage of 69.8%, but he's seen just 14 targets (10 catches, 163 yards, one touchdown) in three games since Jeudy's return from a high ankle sprain. Patrick shouldn't be overlooked in this offense, but with targets hard to come by behind Jeudy and Sutton, he'll be a touchdown-dependent WR4/flex against a strong Los Angeles Chargers secondary this Sunday.

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AJ Dillon Nov 27 12:50pm ET
AJ Dillon

Green Bay Packers running back AJ Dillon rushed for 53 yards on 11 attempts and caught all six targets in his first career start in the Week 11 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Aaron Jones (knee) will be a game-time decision for Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Rams. Dillon could get another start in Week 12 if the Packers rule out Jones ahead of Sunday's game. Green Bay does have a bye in Week 13; the team could be careful with Jones and rest him before heading into the bye week. Dillon has been efficient this season, rushing for 474 yards on 18 attempts and two touchdowns while catching 22-of-214 targets for 240 yards and a touchdown over 11 games in 2021. The 23-year-old is mid-range RB2 if Jones is ruled out but becomes a flex option if the Packers starting RB is active.

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Noah Fant Nov 27 12:50pm ET
Noah Fant

Denver Broncos tight end Noah Fant missed the Week 9 upset win over the Denver Broncos after testing positive for COVID-19, but he returned in Week 10 and had a respectable five catches for 59 yards on six targets in the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Fant last found the end zone in Week 6 and had a two-catch game in Week 8, so he's been pretty inconsistent in an offense with plenty of mouths to feed through the air. However, at the weakest position in fantasy, the 24-year-old remains in play as at least a low-end TE1 option. He'll be facing a Los Angeles Chargers defense in Week 12 that hasn't allowed much through the air this season, but they have surrendered the second-most fantasy points per game (11.7) to the TE position in 2021. Fant has the opportunity to come out of the bye week with a strong performance.

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Courtland Sutton Nov 27 12:40pm ET
Courtland Sutton

Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton signed a four-year contract extension worth $60.8 million during the bye week. The 26-year-old has proven to be an excellent deep threat on the outside and has bounced back from his ACL tear in 2020, but he has taken a back seat in the offense ever since Jerry Jeudy returned from his high ankle sprain in Week 8. In three games with Jeudy back in the picture, Sutton has only five receptions for 78 yards on nine targets. Nine targets over a three-game span just isn't going to cut it. Sutton can still win with physicality down the field, but he'll have a tough matchup against a Los Angeles Chargers defense that is allowing the fifth-fewest receiving yards this season. Perhaps the Broncos will manufacture more ways to get Sutton the ball coming off their bye, but he'll be a touchdown-dependent WR3/flex, at best, in Week 12.

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Zane Gonzalez Nov 27 12:30pm ET
Zane Gonzalez

Carolina Panthers kicker Zane Gonzalez is a streaming option against the Dolphins in Week 12. Gonzalez has been generally reliable this season, going 19-for-21 in field goals and 18-for-19 in extra points. Miami allows the fourth-most points to fantasy kickers, so the 26-year-old is a good streaming option.

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Javonte Williams Nov 27 12:30pm ET
Javonte Williams

Denver Broncos rookie running back Javonte Williams has 103 carries and 127 total touches in 296 offensive snaps through 10 games this year, while Melvin Gordon has 118 carries and 139 total touches in 344 snaps. Denver is the only team to have two tailbacks with at least 500 rushing yards (Gordon 522, Williams 514) and one of only two teams with two 100-carry RBs. Williams has been more explosive and has shown more big-play ability -- 5.0 yards per carry and a team-high six runs of 20-plus yards -- but Gordon is expected to remain the starter in Week 12 against the Los Angeles Chargers. Gordon has been more valuable in fantasy because he's found the end zone more, but Williams will have nice RB2 upside this Sunday against a Bolts defense that has allowed the most rushing yards per game (145.1) this year.

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Nelson Agholor Nov 27 12:30pm ET
Nelson Agholor

New England Patriots wide receiver Nelson Agholor is coming off one of his best performances of the season. He hauled in all five of his targets for 40 yards and one touchdown last week. Although, it's worth noting that Agholor has finished with less than five receptions in every game, but two this season. There is normally a handful of targets for Agholor, but he doesn't always make them count. In Week 12, he'll face a Tennessee Titans defense that has allowed the most fantasy points to wideouts this season. This certainly seems like a favorable spot for Agholor to do some damage. Despite that, he shouldn't be viewed as anything more than a desperation deep league option.

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Kendrick Bourne Nov 27 12:30pm ET
Kendrick Bourne

New England Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne has hauled in 19 of his last 23 targets, which is quite outstanding. The speedy wideout seems to make the play when targeted, but there isn't always yardage after the catch. In fact, has surpassed 45 yards only once over his last four games. In Week 12, he'll get a Tennessee Titans defense that ranks ninth in pass DVOA this season. At this point, Bourne appears to be primarily a PPR option due to the lack of yardage. He might be able to produce WR4 value for this Week 12 matchup.

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Jerry Jeudy Nov 27 12:30pm ET
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Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy is still looking for the first touchdown of his sophomore season, but he's also only played in four games in 2021 after suffering a high ankle sprain in the season opener. Since returning from that injury, he has 16 catches on 21 targets for 156 yards (9.75 yards per catch). Although fantasy managers would like to see more, the good news is that the coaching staff is finding creative ways to get the ball in Jeudy's hands, and he's been quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's preferred target over Courtland Sutton in the last three games. Capping his upside is the fact that the Broncos have been spreading the ball around to all of their offensive weapons, and Jeudy will be a WR3/flex against a Chargers defense that is allowing the fifth-fewest receiving yards per game (224.6) in 2021.

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Ian Thomas Nov 27 12:20pm ET
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Carolina Panthers tight end Ian Thomas should be far away from starting lineups in Week 12. The 25-year-old has posted three receptions for 26 yards total in the last three games and that goes to show how little of a role he has in this offense. There are much better TE options to start in fantasy this week.

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Melvin Gordon Nov 27 12:20pm ET
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The Denver Broncos still have plenty of confidence in running back Melvin Gordon III despite the fact that he's fumbled twice in the last three games, and his last one in Week 10 was returned for a touchdown. "Melvin's one of the top backs in this league," head coach Vic Fangio said. Despite the fumbling issues, Gordon leads the team with 522 rushing yards on 118 carries (4.4 yards per carry) and has found the end zone seven times (five rushing, two receiving) while sharing snaps with rookie Javonte Williams almost evenly. There's no reason to think the Broncos will change their backfield game plan in Week 12 against a Los Angeles Chargers defense that is surrendering the most rushing yards per game (145.1). Gordon will be an RB2 in fantasy in this revenge game.

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Tua Tagovailoa Nov 27 12:20pm ET
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The Carolina Panthers defense is a top-five option for Week 12 against the Dolphins. This unit has gotten 30 sacks, eight picks, and 14 forced fumbles on the season thus far. While they do allow more points in some games, this unit has generally done a good job against weaker offenses. The Dolphins don't have an explosive offense and Tua Tagovailoa is still a young QB who is prone to mistakes, so there is reason to stream the Panthers defense this week with confidence.

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Jakobi Meyers Nov 27 12:20pm ET
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New England Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers has failed to surpass 50 receiving yards in each of his last six games. Although, it's worth noting that Meyers has seen four or more targets in every game this season. His production has been inconsistent, which makes him a difficult fantasy option on a weekly basis. Fantasy managers should consider Meyers a low-end flex option in PPR formats for Week 12. He'll face off against a Tennessee Titans defense that has allowed the most fantasy points to wideouts this season. The Patriots aren't exactly a pass-heavy team, but this is a favorable matchup for Meyers. The targets should be there, which makes him a solid candidate for PPR formats in Week 12.

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D.J. Moore Nov 27 12:10pm ET
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Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore is a WR2 option in Week 12 against the Dolphins. Moore's production has dipped a bit recently after a hot start to the season. In the last three games, he's posted 50 yards only once. Still, the WR is the top pass-catching option on this team and the target share will be there each week. Miami allows the second-most fantasy points to wideouts, so this could be the week Moore gets back on track.

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Teddy Bridgewater Nov 27 12:10pm ET
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Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is coming off the bye week looking to put the team's disappointing Week 11 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the rearview mirror. A week after a huge upset over the Dallas Cowboys, Bridgewater went 22-for-36 for 226 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Bridgewater hasn't turned the ball over since Week 7, but he has only thrown for 300-plus yards twice this year and not since Week 6. The Los Angeles Chargers defense won't exactly make it easy on Bridgewater to put up big numbers, either -- they've allowed the fifth-fewest passing yards per game (209.9), although they've been more generous to QBs in recent weeks in fantasy. In Denver's run-first, ball-control offense, Bridgewater will come out of the bye as a low-end QB2 once again.

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Robby Anderson Nov 27 12:10pm ET
Robby Anderson

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson should remain on benches for the Week 12 clash against the Dolphins. The WR has a been a super disappointing fantasy option all season, not having posted more than 40 yards in a game since early October. Despite having a good target share in most games, Anderson cannot seem to take advantage of that. Because of his low production, he shouldn't be trusted even in a matchup with a Dolphins squad that allows the second-most fantasy points to WRs.

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J.J. Taylor Nov 27 12:10pm ET
J.J. Taylor

New England Patriots running back J.J. Taylor was a healthy scratch last week. In fact, Taylor has only played in five games this season. Although, he could be asked to step up for the Week 12 matchup against the Tennessee Titans. Both Damien Harris (neck) and Rhamondre Stevenson (knee) are listed as questionable for this contest. That leaves Taylor and Brandon Bolden as the primary options. However, fantasy managers shouldn't get too excited. The only time Taylor was productive was in Week 7 when he posted a two-touchdown performance. It's uncertain if Harris or Stevenson will actually be inactive yet. Taylor would be a desperation deep league option even with an expanded role.

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Mac Jones Nov 27 12:00pm ET
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New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has thrown for over 230 yards just once over his last six games. Despite that, his team has won every game, but one of those contests. The rookie quarterback isn't putting together superstar numbers, but is helping his team win. That being said, Jones is unlikely to be worth streaming against the Tennessee Titans in Week 12. A defense that ranks ninth in pass DVOA this season. There isn't a ton of upside here with the Pats being a run-heavy offense. Jones will be towards the bottom in terms of streaming options at QB this week. It's not because he's bad, but because he normally doesn't produce reliable fantasy numbers.

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Cam Newton Nov 27 12:00pm ET
Cam Newton

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is in the QB1 conversation against Miami in Week 12. The QB has been fantastic since returning to his old squad. He has now posted five touchdowns in the last two games, three passing and two rushing. The 32-year-old has proved he still has it in terms of his dual-threat abilities. The Dolphins allow the seventh-most points to fantasy QBs, so Newton is a solid start.

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Christian McCaffrey Nov 27 12:00pm ET
Christian McCaffrey

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey is a solid RB1 against Miami. The RB has accumulated at least 52 rushing yards and 54 receiving yards in the last three games and always has a high chance to get over 100 yards of scrimmage in any contest given his large role. Miami is somewhat stingy to fantasy backs, but McCaffrey's rich volume still makes him an elite play.

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