A 27-17 victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 18, 2001 before a crowd of 69,353 at PSINET Stadium meant so much to the Browns for a few reasons.
First, it was decisive, fueled by the fact the Browns streaked to a 17-point second-quarter lead and still were ahead by 13 points at halftime. A late surge got the Ravens back into the game, but the Browns made sure they prevailed.
Also, it was the Browns’ second win ever over their alter-egos, the original Browns franchise that left for Baltimore after the 1995 season.
In addition, those triumphs both came in 2001 (the Browns also won by 10 points, 24-14, when the teams met a month earlier at Cleveland Browns Stadium), giving the expansion era Browns their first season series sweep over any club. The fact it came over the Ravens made it just that much sweeter.
Sweeter still was the fact that, with those two victories, the Browns that year were the main thorn in the side of the Ravens, who finished 10-6, got into the playoffs as a wild card and overwhelmed the Miami Dolphins, 20-3, in the first round before being eliminated by the Pittsburgh Steelers. And the Ravens were the defending Super Bowl champions.
But since the NFL is a bottom-line business, the best part of the Browns’ win over the Ravens just four days before Thanksgiving was that it put them over the .500 mark at 5-4. With more than half the season gone -- just seven games remained -- the Browns had a winning record, and that was turning heads throughout the league.
After all, this was a team that had only five victories -- with 27 losses -- in its first two expansion seasons combined. To have that many wins already in the 2001 season was off the charts.
And when the Browns shut out the Cincinnati Bengals, 18-0, the following week at Cleveland, their 6-4 record would have put them into the AFC playoffs as a wild card had the regular season ended right then.
The Browns, though, finished the season on a downer, losing five of six to go 7-9, but, with everything considered, that was still quite an accomplishment.
Gay was a real story. A legendary high school player whose career had wandered off course, he had been working not that long before in a nursing home cleaning bedpans. He finished the game as the Browns’ leading rusher with 56 yards in 18 carries.
Grbac recovered from his interception and threw a 21-yard TD pass to wide receiver Brandon Stokley just 2½ minutes later, then, at the two-minute warning, Dawson added another field goal, this one from 42 yards, to make it 20-7 at halftime.
After the Ravens closed the gap to 20-17 by the end of the third quarter on Grbac’s 24-yard pass to tight end Todd Heap and former Brown Matt Stover’s 42-yard field goal, Cleveland cemented the triumph with just 4:02 left in the game when Jamel White ran one yard for a score.
White also was second on the club that day with four receptions.
Like Gay, White came to the Browns in a roundabout way, being acquired after they couldn’t tackle him in a scrimmage against the Indianapolis Colts in Columbus, Ohio in the 2000 training camp.
Dennis Northcutt had five receptions for 45 yards, while fellow wide receiver Kevin Johnson caught three passes for 54 yards. Johnson is tied with Brian Brennan for fourth on the Browns career list with 315 receptions.
The Browns -- and especially rookie nickel back Anthony Henry -- also came up big defensively. They forced five turnovers, including four interceptions, three of which were by Henry, who was taken with the first pick of the fourth round in the 2001 NFL Draft.
Henry finished the year with an NFL-best 10 interceptions, tying Thom Darden (1978) for the team mark.
While all of that was impressive, it paled in comparison to the fact the Browns were 5-4 after defeating the Central Division rival Ravens for the second time in 2001.
Simply put, that meant more to the Browns and their fans.