The Browns and Indianapolis Colts were trading punches in their 1987 AFC divisional playoff game.
First, the Browns would score. Then, the Colts would score. Then, the Browns would score again, and the Colts would follow suit.
The Browns needed someone to deliver a knockout blow, and that someone was left inside linebacker Eddie Johnson, the heart and soul of the team – its inspirational leader.
With the score tied at 14-14 and the Colts having driven deep into Cleveland territory to start the third quarter, the seventh-year pro came clean on a blitz and hit quarterback Jack Trudeau just as he was throwing. The ball popped straight up into the air like a lazy fly, and free safety Felix Wright settled under it like an outfielder in what would have been deep left-center on the baseball field at Cleveland Stadium and plucked it out of the air for an interception at the 14.
It turned the game around.
The Browns marched 86 yards the other way for a touchdown on a two-yard Earnest Byner run, and that triggered a string of 17 unanswered points over the final two quarters as they went on to a 38-21 rout on Jan. 9, 1988 before a crowd of 79,732.
After Byner’s score, Matt Bahr booted a 22-yard field goal later in the third quarter to make it 24-14. When Bernie Kosar flipped a two-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brian Brennan to start the fourth quarter, the Browns had the game well in hand with a 31-14 advantage.
Following a Colts touchdown on a one-yard run by Albert Bentley, the Browns put an exclamation point behind their victory when cornerback Frank Minnifield intercepted a pass and returned it 48 yards for a score.
It was sweet revenge for the Browns, who had been upset, 9-7, at home by the Colts a month before.
The Browns scored first-half touchdowns on Kosar’s 10-yard pass to Byner and his 39-yarder to wide receiver Reggie Langhorne. The Colts answered with Trudeau’s scoring passes to tight end Pat Beach for two yards and to running back Eric Dickerson for 19 yards.
That set the stage for Johnson to become the hero.
Byner almost doubled the entire rushing output of the Colts (63 yards) by getting 122 on 23 carries. The Browns ran for 175 yards overall.
Byner also tied tight end Ozzie Newsome for the team lead with four receptions.
Kosar was his usual outstanding self, completing 20 of 31 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns with one interception, giving him a passing rating of 105.44, still the seventh-best in franchise postseason history.
The win advanced the Browns to the AFC Championship Game against the Denver Broncos for the second straight season.
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