Even though they finished just 9-5, their worst record since 1962, and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since '63, there was a lot to like about the 1966 Browns.
Save for a devastating 16-6 upset loss to a Pittsburgh Steelers team that would finish just 5-8-1, the Browns offense scored points in bunches. In later years, Browns players from that era said the 1966 team had the best offense -- even better than the one in 1964, when the club won the NFL championship -- and there's evidence to support that contention.
The flurry of points started in the opener when the Browns blew out the Washington Redskins 38-14. It continued in a stretch of five straight games in which they lost 34-28 to the St. Louis Cardinals, beat the New York Giants 28-7, routed the Steelers 41-10, turned back the Dallas Cowboys 30-21 and crushed the expansion Atlanta Falcons 49-17.
Then, as they were finishing the season, the Browns outscored the Giants 49-40 and walloped the Cardinals 38-10.
The Browns scored 403 points in all, averaging a healthy 28.8 per contest. Even in the game that eventually did in their playoff chances -- a 33-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the next-to-last week -- they were able to score a decent amount of points.
Quarterback Frank Ryan was as good - or better - than he was in any of his previous three seasons as the full-time starter, including 1964, when he helped lead the Browns to the NFL championship. He threw for a career-high 2,974 yards and had better than a 2-to-1 ratio of touchdown passes (29) to interceptions (14).
He also posted his second-best quarterback rating at 88.2.
The quarterbacking for the Browns was so good that year, in fact, that backup Jim Ninowski threw for four TDs in just 18 passing attempts for a 110.0 quarterback rating.
Flanker Gary Collins caught a team-high 56 passes, 12 of which went for scores. Running back Ernie Green was next with 45 catches and six scores. Pro Football Hall of Fame wideout Paul Warfield, after missing most of 1965 with a broken collarbone, regained his rookie form of '64 with 36 receptions for five TDs.
Even Milt Morin, a rookie tight end, had three TDs among his 23 receptions. In fact, his backup, Ralph Smith, also scored three times -- on just 13 catches.
And remember, this came at a time when tight end was still just beginning to evolve into more of a pass-catching position, so for the Browns to have six TD receptions from their tight ends was mind-boggling.
Hall of Fame running back Leroy Kelly, in his first season as the starter after the sudden and unexpected retirement of Hall of Famer Jim Brown just before the start of training camp, rushed for 1,141 yards and 15 TDs. Brown told the Browns not to worry about his retirement, assuring them that Kelly was a more-than-capable replacement. He was right.
On the other side of the ball, the Browns were real thieves, getting 30 interceptions - including eight each by safety Ross Fichtner and cornerback Mike Howell - to greatly help a bend-but-don't-break defense.
Two surprising teams kept the Browns from winning the Eastern Conference title in the final season before the league went to two divisions within each conference.
Dallas, in just its seventh year of existence, captured the East with a 10-3-1 mark after being just 7-7 the previous season and never having had a winning record to that point.
The Eagles, who hadn't had a winning season since 1961 and wouldn't have another one until '78, came out of nowhere to finish 9-5 and tied the Browns for second place.
The 12-point win over the Browns in the next-to-last game would be Philadelphia's biggest victory in terms of significance from 1962-77. The Eagles never came close to making the playoffs during that time, but by virtue of that 1966 triumph, they were selected over the Browns to go to the Playoff Bowl, which was a matchup of the second-place teams from each conference.
The Browns were also part of history in 1966, becoming the opponent in Dallas' first Thanksgiving Day game. The Cowboys, who beat the Browns 26-14 to help catapult themselves past Cleveland and into the driver's seat in the East race, have hosted a game on that holiday in nearly every year since.
|9/11||W 38-14||at Washington Redskins||48,643|
|9/18||L 20-21||Green Bay Packers||83,943|
|9/25||L 28-34||St. Louis Cardinals||74,814|
|10/2||W 28-7||at New York Giants||62,916|
|10/8||W 41-10||Pittsburgh Steelers||82,687|
|10/23||W 30-21||Dallas Cowboys||84,721|
|10/30||W 49-17||at Atlanta Falcons||57,235|
|11/6||L 6-16||at Pittsburgh Steelers||39,690|
|11/13||W 27-7||Philadelphia Eagles||77,968|
|11/20||W 14-3||Washington Redskins||78,466|
|11/24||L 14-26||at Dallas Cowboys||75,504|
|12/4||W 49-40||New York Giants||61,651|
|12/11||L 21-33||at Philadelphia Eagles||58,074|
|12/17||W 38-10||at St. Louis Cardinals||47,721|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||278||255|
|Total Net Yards||5,071||4,266|
|Avg. Per Game||362.2||304.7|
|Avg. Per Play||6||4.8|
|Net Yards Rushing||2,166||1,894|
|Avg. Per Game||154.7||135.3|
|Net Yards Passing||2,905||2,372|
|Avg. Per Game||207.5||169.4|
|Net Punting Avg.||57/37.1||56/37.1|
A slow start was followed by a strong finish
14 former Ohio State players to make trip to Indianapolis
Production unexpectedly high despite injuries, turnover
Injury bug bit this group big time in 2015