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Week 17 Look Back: Browns-Steelers

Posted Dec 29, 2012

Here is a look back to the Browns-Steelers game on Oct. 5, 1958.

The Browns of the 1950s were built on offense.

With the likes of Pro Football Hall of Famers Otto Graham, Marion Motley, Jim Brown, Dante Lavelli, Bobby Mitchell, Lou Groza and Frank Gatski -- along with Mac Speedie, Dub Jones, Ray Renfro and Darrel Brewster among others -- the Browns gained yards and scored points in bunches.

Defense?

The Browns who played on that side of the ball, even Hall of Fame linemen Bill Willis and Len Ford, were greatly overshadowed and, unfortunately, never got their due.

But on Oct. 5, 1958, it was clearly the defense -- and not the offense -- that led the Browns to a 45-12 rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers before a crowd of 31,130 at Forbes Field.

The Browns tied a team record by forcing nine turnovers, including five fumbles and four interceptions -- 25 percent of their season total of 16.

Interestingly, the record was originally set earlier that decade -- in that first NFL season of 1950 -- against the Browns’ old rivals from the All-America Football Conference, the San Francisco 49ers.

The 1958 Browns were trying to defend their Eastern Conference crown -- their seventh title in eight seasons since entering the NFL -- and through the first two weeks of the year, they were looking good.

The Browns improved to 2-0 with the win over the Steelers. Getting four turnovers, they had won their opener, 30-27, on the road over a Los Angeles Rams team that would finish 8-4 and tied with the Chicago Bears for second place in the Western Conference behind the champion Baltimore Colts (9-3).

And Pittsburgh was no pushover, either.

Though they were off to an 0-2 start -- and would lose again to the Browns by a wide margin, 27-10, when the teams met in the rematch two weeks later at Cleveland Stadium -- the Steelers would go on to finish in third place in the East at 7-4-1, their best mark since 1947.

On this day, though, the Browns, who would finish second in the conference that year, and the Steelers seemed worlds apart.

The Browns recovered from a 17-7 halftime deficit to defeat the Rams, but it was just the opposite against Pittsburgh. Taking advantage of that bevy of turnovers, the Browns raced to a 21-point lead by early in the second quarter and increased the margin to 35 by the first part of the fourth quarter.

Giving the Browns offense the ball back time and time again was a recipe for disaster for any opponent. With all that talent, the Browns were more than good enough offensively. They didn’t need any help.

The Browns amassed 411 total yards, marking the first of three straight games that they went over 400.

Jim Brown, who led the NFL in rushing with 942 yards and had nine touchdowns as a rookie in 1957, was off to an even better start in ’58. After getting 171 yards and two scores against the Rams, he had 129 yards, averaging 7.6 yards a carry, and three TDs against Pittsburgh. He was the catalyst in the Browns rushing for 192 yards as a team.

Brown opened the scoring with a 23-yard TD run in the first quarter, then at the beginning of the second quarter, quarterback Milt Plum threw a pair of scoring passes, 21 yards to Mitchell and eight yards to Brewster, to make it 21-0.

Tom Tracy ran a yard for a score, then Tom Miner kicked a 31-yard field goal to cut Pittsburgh’s deficit to 11 points, but Groza, as good of a left tackle during that era as he was a kicker, booted a 32-yard field goal to put the halftime lead at 14, 24-10.

Brown put the game away at the start of the third quarter with 59- and three-yard TD runs, then back-up quarterback Jim Ninowski threw a four-yard scoring pass to running back Preston Carpenter to open the fourth quarter to boost the margin to 45-10.

The Steelers followed that by getting a safety when defensive tackle Ernie Stautner sacked Ninowski in the end zone.

The Browns went to win their next three games to get to 5-0, then, after losing two straight, captured four more in a row to up their mark to 9-2. But they lost 13-10 to the New York Giants in their regular-season finale, putting the teams into a first-place in the East. New York then also captured a special playoff, 10-0, a week later to advance to the NFL Championship Game against the Colts.

The Browns forced the Giants into four turnovers in that conference playoff, but it wasn’t enough.

Nine turnovers? That might have turned the tide in the Browns’ favor. It certainly was the difference that day against the Steelers.

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