By Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach Paul Brown's standards -- especially at that point of time -- his 1952 Browns were not a great club.
They finished just 8-4, the worst record of any of Brown's first 10 Cleveland teams. But like those other nine squads, the club still made it to the league championship game.
Beating out both the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, who tied at 7-5, by only a game, the Browns finished in first place in the American Conference (it would be renamed the Eastern Conference the following year) for the third straight time in as many seasons.
But the Browns then fell 17-7 to the Detroit Lions in the league title game. It would be the first of three championship contest losses to the Lions during the decade, and it also represented the second consecutive year in which the Browns had fallen in the title game.
They had been defeated 24-17 by the Los Angeles Rams the year before, ending a string of five straight championship game victories dating back to their days in the All-America Football Conference from 1946-49.
After the loss to the Rams, an infuriated Brown said his players had gotten complacent and soft, and vowed he would toughen up the training regimen in 1952 so the Browns could win back the championship. As evidenced by everything that happened in 1952, it didn't work.
The club finished three games worse than it had in the 1951 regular season, when it won its final 10 contests to post an 11-1 record.
But it wasn't as if the Browns got blown out in any of their regular-season losses in 1952. Hardly.
They fell 17-9 and 37-34 to the Giants, 17-6 to the Lions and 28-20 to the Eagles. That four defeats by a combined total of just 30 points.
But on the other hand, these were some of the toughest teams on their schedule -- the teams the Browns had to beat if they wanted to be a champion. -- and the fact his club was falling short in them had to be troubling to Brown.
However, the Browns did manage to score two impressive wins, crushing the Eagles 49-7 in the teams' first meeting and the Rams 37-7 in the opener. Los Angeles would go on to finish 9-3, the same as the Lions, and then lose to Detroit in a special National Conference playoff to advance to the league championship game.
Some of the Browns' other victories weren't nearly so impressive and decisive, though. The Browns swept the season series from the Pittsburgh Steelers - but only barely, escaping by a point both times, 21-20 and 29-28. They beat the Washington Redskins by only four points, 19-15, and the Chicago Cardinals by just 10-0.
The Cardinals, Redskins and Steelers were teams the Browns had generally handled with ease the previous two seasons since entering the NFL in 1950. So, were these clubs getting better, or were the Browns sliding -- or a little of both?
Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham did not have a great year, particularly by his standards, as he completed only 49.7 percent of his passes while throwing for 20 touchdowns and 24 interceptions, giving him a quarterback rating of just 66.6.
Another Hall of Famer, running back Marion Motley, was the leading rusher -- but with only 444 yards. Ken Carpenter was right behind him with 408.
Wide receiver Mac Speedie, who has gotten HOF consideration over the years, had probably the best season of anyone on the offense, catching an NFL-leading 62 passes for 911 yards and five TDs. Dub Jones added 43 receptions.
Horace Gillom, one of the best punters the game has ever known, averaged over 45 yards per kick for the second straight year, finishing with a career-high 45.7.
What Brown needed was for all of his players to emulate Gillom, Jones and Speedie and continue the excellence they had shown in previous years. If so, then the Browns could easily get back on track.
But if not, then their reign in the conference would be in serious jeopardy.
|9/28||W||37-7||Los Angeles Rams||57,832|
|10/4||W||21-20||at Pittsburgh Steelers||27,923|
|10/12||L||9-7||New York Giants||51,858|
|10/19||W||49-7||at Philadelphia Eagles||27,874|
|11/2||L||6-7||at Detroit Lions||56,029|
|11/30||W||48-24||at Washington Redskins||22,679|
|12/7||W||10-0||at Chicago Cardinals||24,541|
|12/14||L||34-37||at New York Giants||41,610|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||228||186|
|Total Net Yards||4,551||3,075|
|Avg. Per Game||379.3||256.3|
|Avg. Per Play||5.8||4.1|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,784||1,386|
|Avg. Per Game||148.7||115.5|
|Net Yards Passing||2,566||1,689|
|Avg. Per Game||213.8||140.8|
|Net Punting Avg.||61/40.7||84/35.7|