Just like they would do the following season, the 1954 Browns won the NFL title but started slowly, losing two of their first three regular-season games, one of which -- a 28-10 decision to Philadelphia - came in the opener against the club that would finish second to them in the Eastern Conference.
The other defeat was by a humiliating 55-27 count to Pittsburgh, giving the Steelers, who would finish just 5-7 that year, their first victory over the Browns in nine tries dating back to 1950 when the series between the teams began with Cleveland's arrival in the NFL. It is also the most points Pittsburgh has ever scored against the Browns.
But then the Browns got rolling, winning eight in a row before falling 14-10 to those pesky Detroit Lions in a meaningless regular-season finale (9-3 Cleveland had already clinched the conference crown over the 7-4-1 Eagles).
Included in that stretch were revenge victories over the Eagles (6-0) and Steelers (42-7), and a 62-3 crushing of the Washington Redskins, tying a team mark set the year before against the New York Giants for most points scored in a game.
The next week, the Browns thumped the Western Conference runner-up (8-4) Chicago Bears 39-10, giving them the most points - 101 - in consecutive games in their history.
The Browns won those eight straight by an average score of 32.3 to 7.3 -- a whopping 25-point spread. They also surrendered an average of just 13.5 points per game on the season.
In the first quarter alone, the Browns outscored their opponents 92-17.
Each member of their starting secondary, a key part of a fine defensive unit that never got its due, had at least three interceptions, led by safety Ken Konz with seven.
Offensively, quarterback Otto Graham, who would retire -- temporarily -- following the season, didn't have his usual Pro Football Hall of Fame statistics. He had just 11 TD passes and 17 interceptions for a 73.5 rating.
Hall of Fame wide receiver Dante Lavelli was Graham's top target with 47 receptions and seven TDs.
Running back Maurice Bassett, for whom the award is named that goes to the top Browns rookie in training camp every year, led the way in rushing with 588 yards and six scores.
But the thing that's really impressive about this team is the way it handled the Lions in the league title game. The Browns, who had lost to Detroit in the championship contest the previous two years, rolled to a 56-10 win, giving them their second NFL crown -- and first since 1950 -- and their sixth league championship overall dating back to their days in the All-America Football Conference from 1946-49.
Along with that, the 46-point spread represents the largest for the Browns in a playoff game.
The key to that victory was a secret players-only meeting of the offense in the team hotel the night before the game. The players were of the belief that Browns HOF head coach Paul Brown, who called all the plays, had been too conservative in those earlier contests against Detroit. They said the Browns were playing not to lose instead of playing all out to win, and that was keeping them from being able to take full advantage of their wide range of offensive weapons.
So the players finally decided that if Brown sent in a play they didn't like, Graham would audible to another play -- a bold move considering the no-nonsense personality of the coach.
They never told Brown of the meeting, but he always had a good read on his teams and must have known something was up. He was much more aggressive with his play-calling the next day, and Graham never had to use an audible.
It all worked like a charm, because the Browns, in roaring to a 35-10 halftime lead, scored 12 more points than they had in four quarters in the last two title game losses to Detroit combined.
|9/26||L 10-28||at Philadelphia Eagles||26,546|
|10/10||W 31-7||Chicago Cardinals||24,101|
|10/17||L 27-55||at Pittsburgh Steelers||33,262|
|10/24||W 35-3||at Chicago Cardinals||23,823|
|10/31||W 24-14||New York Giants||30,448|
|11/7||W 62-3||Washington Redskins||25,158|
|11/14||W 39-10||at Chicago Bears||48,773|
|11/21||W 6-0||Philadelphia Eagles||41,537|
|11/28||W 16-7||at New York Giants||45,936|
|12/5||W 34-14||at Washington Redskins||21,761|
|12/12||W 42-7||Pittsburgh Steelers||28,064|
|12/19||L 10-14||Detroit Lions||34,168|
|12/26||W 56-10||Detroit Lions||43,827|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||238||147|
|Total Net Yards||4,238||2,658|
|Avg. Per Game||353.2||221.5|
|Avg. Per Play||5.5||4|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,793||1,050|
|Avg. Per Game||149.4||87.5|
|Net Yards Passing||2,331||1,608|
|Avg. Per Game||194.3||134|
|Net Punting Avg.||52/40.4||84/36.3|
Bitonio confident the new-look unit is heading in right direction
Cleveland’s pass D vs. Bucs ‘not a team that we want to be’
Guard Joel Bitonio and linebacker Christian Kirksey spoke with reporters Sunday
What you missed this weekend
Jackson met with reporters Saturday to break down the Buccaneers game