CLEVELAND — Those who questioned the Browns’ selection of Denzel Ward with the No. 4 overall pick in this past spring’s NFL Draft may be having second thoughts.
A graduate of Nordonia High School and a former Ohio State standout, Ward continued to shine in his fifth NFL game, a 12-9 Browns victory Sunday over the Baltimore Ravens in which he played a key role.
Ward contributed an interception of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to thwart a drive deep inside Browns territory and later blocked a field goal by Ravens kicker Justin Tucker — which is as rare as him missing one.
Browns coach Hue Jackson said he issued a challenge to the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Ward during practice last week about blocking kicks. Ward took it to heart, and the effort couldn’t have been timelier as the Ravens had an opportunity to tie the score 6-6 with five seconds left in the first half. Instead, Ward got a hand on Tucker’s kick.
"Last week in Oakland, we could not get him around the corner to lay out. This guy was very talented in doing it at Ohio State. He said, ‘Coach, I got you.’ He went and made a (play)," Jackson said. "That was a huge block before the half."
"(I) just came off the edge. He didn’t really get hands on me, so I just try to come off as fast as I could and got a hand on it," Ward said.
Tucker gave Ward credit for his effort, but knew the kick was in trouble.
"Being out there on the field, I am looking at the ball," he said. "You hear that first thud coming off my foot and then you hear a second one, that’s never good. It is what it is."
As important as the block kick proved to be, the pick was equally so, especially given the rough day the defense had against the Raiders when it gave up 45 points in an overtime loss. They still surrendered a lot of total yards (410) but they were stingy with points. It was also timely play considering the offense struggled against the NFL's second-ranked defense.
On that interception, Flacco and the Ravens faced a second-and-two at the Browns 2-yard line and a touchdown looked inevitable.
"I was just trying to put it at his feet. You guys know whether the ball was kicked or not," Flacco said. "It was obviously batted. It was just one of those unfortunate ones. I was just trying to get the ball out of my hands and go to the next down, to be honest with you."
Instead, Ward secured the ball at the Browns 3-yard line for his third interception of the season after having three during his entire Buckeyes career.
"Honestly, I don’t even remember what I seen, the ball," Ward said. "God put it in my hands. I don’t know how I caught it, I didn’t even see it. I don’t remember. I’ve got to watch the film."
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield probably won’t need to watch the film. As competitors on teams that faced each other twice — Mayfield for Oklahoma, Ward for OSU — before earning spots in the NFL, the former Sooner is loving what he’s seen so far from his defensive teammate.
"I will tell you what — it is a lot better when he is on my team than when I played against him," Mayfield said. "He is a guy who continues to get better and make plays for us, huge plays.
"A turnover down in the red zone is big and then a blocked kick. When it comes down to it, we would not have gone into overtime if he did not block that kick. So happy for him and just happy I am on his side."