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Broncos' first-round pick Noah Fant has his breakout

DENVER -- If Sunday's effort is just another brick in the Denver Broncos' wall, rookie tight end Noah Fant would be plenty happy.

In the ninth game of his first season, Fant finished with three receptions for 115 yards, including a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown on which he broke three tackles on his way to the end zone. Fant, the Broncos' first-round pick in April, has 23 receptions for 300 yards and two touchdowns this season.

"I'm not huge with breakout games," Fant said. "I'm just looking to stack bricks on top of each other. I'm looking to do better any way I can. ... I am definitely looking forward to not having just one great game and kind of fizzling off after that. It's all about building blocks and stacking bricks on top of each other. So I am looking forward to building."

Those 23 receptions are a franchise record for a rookie tight end and are proof that Fant is making progress from a September that wasn't always kind.

There were penalties in the season opener against the Oakland Raiders, a key drop against the Chicago Bears in Week 2 and a fumble in Broncos' territory against the Green Bay Packers in Week 3.

Since then, it has been more up-and-down. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello said he saw "flashes of greatness" while the Broncos and Fant were trying to lessen the "flashes of bad."

"I am my biggest critic. I hold myself to a very high standard," Fant said. " ... There are going to be ups and downs and hard times, and it's about how you bounce back. I'm happy to have bounced back."

The Broncos' scheme is not always kind to a young tight end. The position is key to the offense, but it requires a player to know the blocking assignments, the pass protections and all of the routes for a tight end.

The Broncos have been exceedingly happy with how Fant has fared as a blocker in the season's first half, and Scangarello and quarterback Joe Flacco kept promising that the impact would come in the passing game. That day arrived Sunday, as the Broncos continued to search for a player or two to replace the production lost when receiver Emmanuel Sanders was traded to the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago.

"Noah's a guy, you know, who's been up and down, but he's a young guy with talent," Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. "It's our job as coaches to develop talent ... nice to see him have a good day."

Fant showed off his full potential on the 75-yard touchdown. The Broncos had a 7-3 lead and a first-and-10 at their own 25 with just under 13 minutes left in the second quarter. All it took was a short flip from quarterback Brandon Allen.

Fant showed good precision on the route, showed power to run through three tackles and showed the 4.5 40-yard dash speed that made him a Broncos target in the opening round of the draft as he roared up the Broncos' sideline for a score.

"He made a big play ... a medium pass that turns into a 75-yard touchdown," Fangio said. "Those are big plays. It's hard to, in Hank Stram's words, to matriculate down the field all the time. You need some big plays ... You can't win in this league without big plays."

"The young guys are playing," linebacker Von Miller said. "Noah Fant had an incredible day. I called that one, too. I called that one a long time ago."

Fant's play Sunday also allowed Allen, playing in the first regular-season game of his career, to get the momentum-grabbing play the Broncos needed. It gave the Broncos a 14-6 lead, and the Browns never got closer than five points after that.

"Noah, what an incredible play by him," Allen said. "Just to catch that ball and take it the distance, it was incredible."