The 1961 Browns didn't finish what they started, and therein lies the reason for them missing the playoffs.
They ended a respectable 8-5-1, but failed to qualify for the postseason after faltering down the stretch in what turned out to be the next-to-last year for Pro Football Hall of Famer Paul Brown as their head coach.
The Browns seemed to be in good shape, standing 7-3 as they entered their final four contests. They had won two in a row and four of their last five.
The last game had been their most impressive of the season, as they had blasted the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles 45-24.
In the other three contests during that mid-season run, they edged the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-28, beat the St. Louis Cardinals 21-10 and dropped the rematch with the Steelers 17-13. That loss would turn out to be a killer, for the Steelers finished just 6-8.
Their other three victories on the year were over St. Louis 20-17, the second-year Dallas Cowboys 25-7 and the Washington Redskins 31-7.
Their remaining two losses were to the Eagles in the opener 27-20, and to Green Bay 49-17. More on the Packers game later.
The first -- and most pivotal -- game in that season-ending stretch came against the arch rival New York Giants. But before a season-high crowd of 80,455 at Municipal Stadium, the Browns fell by a resounding 37-21, thus setting the tone for what would follow in the three remaining games -- all on the road.
The Browns crushed the Cowboys 38-17 the following week, but their joy was short-lived, for they were then edged by the Chicago Bears 17-14, knocking them out of the Eastern Conference race.
A season-ending 7-7 tie with the Giants at Yankee Stadium couldn't save the Browns. After going a disappointing 1-2-1 in those final four games, they finished third, two games behind the 10-3-1 Giants and 1½ games behind the 10-4 Eagles.
Philadelphia, incidentally, was in its first year under head coach Nick Skorich, who, a decade later, would begin a four-year stint in that same role with the Browns.
Defensively, cornerback Bernie Parrish led the way for Cleveland with seven interceptions, two more than fellow corner Jim Shofner.
The Browns offense was paced, of course, by Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown. He rushed for 1,408 yards to lead the NFL for the fifth time in as many years in the league, and was No. 2 on the team in receptions with 46.
Quarterback Milt Plum had his third straight good year, throwing for 18 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions for a 90.3 passing rating. His best downfield threat was wide receiver Ray Renfro, who topped the team in receptions (48), yards receiving (834) and scoring catches (six).
This was the last Browns season for Hall of Fame running back Bobby Mitchell. He rushed for 548 yards, caught 32 passes, and averaged 11.7 on punt returns and 26.8 on kickoff returns, scoring at least one TD in each of those four areas.
He was truly an all-around star and would be dearly missed after he was traded to the Redskins in the ensuing offseason to get the rights to rookie running back Ernie Davis, who contacted leukemia and died before ever playing a down.
But why was someone as talented as Mitchell traded in the first place? The answer can be traced back to that 32-point loss to the Packers.
Paul Brown was greatly impressed with the way the Packers' big backfield of Hall of Famers Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung ran over the Browns -- literally and figuratively -- and decided to try to do the same thing with his team. In Jim Brown and Mitchell, Paul Brown had one big back and a scatback. The coach thought if he could get Davis, the Heisman Trophy winner who had broken all of Jim Brown's records at Syracuse, and pair him with Brown, he'd have the two big, talented backs he was after.
It was a good idea that, because of the unforeseen illness that took down Davis, never had a chance to come to fruition.
|9/17||L 20-27||at Philadelphia Eagles||60,671|
|9/24||W 20-17||St. Louis Cardinals||50,443|
|10/1||W 25-7||Dallas Cowboys||43,638|
|10/8||W 31-7||Washington Redskins||46,186|
|10/15||L 17-49||Green Bay Packers||75,042|
|10/22||W 30-28||at Pittsburgh Steelers||29,266|
|10/29||W 21-10||at St. Louis Cardinals||26,696|
|11/5||L 13-17||Pittsburgh Steelers||62,723|
|11/12||W 17-6||at Washington Redskins||28,975|
|11/19||W 45-24||Philadelphia Eagles||68,399|
|11/26||L 21-37||New York Giants||80,455|
|12/3||W 38-17||at Dallas Cowboys||23,500|
|12/10||L 14-17||at Chicago Bears||38,717|
|12/17||T 7-7||at New York Giants||61,084|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||246||243|
|Total Net Yards||4,537||4,131|
|Avg. Per Game||324.1||295.1|
|Avg. Per Play||5.7||5.4|
|Net Yards Rushing||2,163||1,605|
|Avg. Per Game||154.5||114.6|
|Net Yards Passing||2,374||2,526|
|Avg. Per Game||169.6||180.4|
|Net Punting Avg.||53/39.3||54/37.6|
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