History

History: 1968


Team Photo

It had been a while.

In a relative sense -- relative, at least, to that time in team history -- the Browns hadn't done much since 1965, when they lost to the Green Bay Packers 23-12 in the NFL Championship Game.

They finished 9-5 in 1966 and '67, but made the playoffs only in the second year. However, it was a short stay, as the Dallas Cowboys blew them out 52-14 in the Eastern Conference Championship Game.

So the Browns changed some things - thinking-wise and personnel-wise - heading into the 1968 season, hoping to get back into serious title contention. It worked.

After a slow start in which they lost two of their first three games and three of their first five, the re-tooled Browns won eight in a row before falling 27-16 to the St. Louis Cardinals in a meaningless game in the regular-season finale. The result was a 10-4 mark, the Century Division crown (by the slimmest of margins over the 9-4-1 Cardinals) and a spot in the conference title game again opposite those same Cowboys.

Only this time, the Browns advanced, beating Dallas 31-20 to get to the league title game against the Baltimore Colts. The Colts, returning to Cleveland Stadium, where they were stunned by the Browns 27-0 in the championship contest four years before, got revenge with a shutout victory of their own, 34-0.

So it was the Colts and not the Browns who headed to Super Bowl III, where they were stunned once more, this time by the New York Jets, 16-7.

The key to the Browns' turnaround was the insertion of Bill Nelsen at quarterback early in the season. Nelsen replaced Frank Ryan, the architect of that victory over the Colts in 1964. By '68, though, he was really banged up, battling shoulder problems.

Nelsen had arrived in an offseason trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers and was invigorated by going to a team that had a chance to win. At the time, the Steelers were in the midst of a 39-year run without a playoff appearance.

Nelsen made an impact right away, helping to beat the Colts 30-20 to hand Baltimore its only loss in a 13-1 season.

After being outscored 113-89 in the first five weeks, including drubbings of 28-7 by the Cowboys and 24-6 by the Los Angeles Rams in consecutive weeks, the Browns really took off. During that eight-game winning streak, they scored 289 points, an average of 36.1 per contest, while giving up just 133 (16.6). They tallied 45 or more points in three consecutive weeks for the first - and only - time in team history, beating the Steelers 45-24, the Philadelphia Eagles 47-13 and the New York Giants 45-10.

The only team that really had the Browns' number consistently that year - remember, the Browns avenged their regular-season loss to the Cowboys by defeating them in the playoffs - was the Cardinals. In addition to the season-ending 27-16 win in St. Louis, the Cards also triumphed in Cleveland, 27-21. St. Louis used those two victories to put heat on the Browns in the Century race.

For the season, Nelsen threw for 19 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions for an 86.4 quarterback rating. Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield had a team-leading 50 receptions, 12 of which went for TDs, and another Hall of Famer, running back Leroy Kelly, had his best season as a pro, establishing career highs in both rushing yards (1,239) and rushing TDs (16).

But while the offense gelled, you can't discount the defense, either. The Browns set a team record with 32 interceptions in just a 14-game season, with cornerback Ben Davis getting eight and safeties Mike Howell and Ernie Kellerman having six each. The Browns were so good at thievery that Bill Glass - an end - had two picks.

In the end, it was a good season, one that delivered the Browns back to where they were used to being -- among the top teams in the league.

Steve King,
Staff Writer


YEAR RESULTS
Preseason Results
National Football League: 2-3
at Los Angeles Rams (64,020) 21-23
at San Francisco 49ers (26,801) 31-17
at New Orleans Saints (70,045) 27-40
at Buffalo Bills (45,448) 22-12
Green Bay Packers (84,918) 9-31
 
Regular Season Results
  Regular Season Playoffs Combined Record
League W L T PCT W L T PCT W L T PCT
NFL 10 4 0 .714 1 1 0 .500 11 5 0 .688
 
Postseason Results
Conference Championship Game
Date Opponent Result Score
12/21 Dallas Cowboys Win 31-20
NFL Championship Game
Date Opponent Result Score
12/29 Baltimore Colts Loss 0-34
 

Date Result Opponent Att.
9/15 W 24-10 at New Orleans Saints 74,215
9/22 L 7-28 at Dallas Cowboys 68,733
9/29 L 6-24 Los Angeles Rams 82,514
10/5 W 31-24 Pittsburgh Steelers 81,865
10/13 L 21-27 St. Louis Cardinals 79,349
10/20 W 30-20 at Baltimore Colts 60,238
10/27 W 30-7 Atlanta Falcons 67,723
11/3 W 33-21 at San Francisco 49ers 31,359
11/10 W 35-17 New Orleans Saints 71,025
11/17 W 45-24 at Pittsburgh Steelers 41,572
11/24 W 47-13 Philadelphia Eagles 62,338
12/1 W 45-10 New York Giants 83,193
12/8 W 24-21 at Washington Redskins 50,661
12/14 L 16-27 at St. Louis Cardinals 39,746
Playoff
12/21 W 31-20 Dallas Cowboys 81,497
NFL Championship
12/29 L 0-34 Baltimore Colts 80,628

Score By Periods
1st 2nd 3rd 4th OT Tot.
Browns 51 134 97 112 0 --- 394
Opponents 50 84 41 98 0 --- 273

Team Statistics
Browns Opponent
Total First Downs 248 259
Rushing 104 110
Passing 123 130
Penalty 21 19
Total Net Yards 4,861 4,208
Avg. Per Game 347.2 300.6
Total Plays 831 888
Avg. Per Play 5.8 4.7
Net Yards Rushing 2,031 1,842
Avg. Per Game 145.1 131.6
Total Rushes 447 423
Net Yards Passing 2,834 2,248
Avg. Per Game 202.4 160.6
Sacked/Yards Lost 21/181 26/199
Gross Yards 3,015 2,447
Attempts/Completions 363/184 439/213
Completion Pct. 50.70% 48.50%
Had Intercepted 16 32
Punts/Avg. 63/37.3 60/39.9
Net Punting Avg. 63/35.4 60/38.3
Penalties/Yards Lost 74/851 61/620
Fumbles/Ball Lost 23/14 20/14
Touchdowns 49 33
Rushing 20 11
Passing 27 19
Returns 2 3

Scoring
Ru Pa St Df PAT 2Ru 2Pa FG Saf TP
Kelly, Leroy 16 4 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 120
Cockroft, Don 0 0 0 0 46/48 0 0 18/24 0 100
Warfield, Paul 0 12 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 72
Morin, Milt 0 5 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 30
Barney, Eppie 1 1 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 12
Browns 20 27 0 2 46/48 0 0 18/24 0 394
Opponents 11 19 3 0 33/33 0 0 14/26 0 273

Rushing
No Yds Avg LG TD
Kelly, Leroy 248 1,239 5 65 16
Harraway, Charley 91 334 3.7 23 0
Green, Ernie 41 152 3.7 14 0
Leigh, Charles 23 144 6.3 20t 1
Morrison, Reece 18 39 2.2 11 1
Browns 447 2,031 4.5 65 20
Opponents 423 1,842 4.4 44 11

Receiving
No Yds Avg LG TD
Warfield, Paul 50 1,067 21.3 65t 12
Morin, Milt 43 792 18.4 87 5
Kelly, Leroy 22 297 13.5 68t 4
Barney, Eppie 18 189 10.5 18 1
Green, Ernie 16 142 8.9 62t 2

Interceptions
No Yds Avg LG TD
Davis, Ben 8 162 20.3 44 0
Howell, Mike 6 55 9.2 24 0
Kellermann, Ernie 6 29 4.8 12 0
Barnes, Erich 3 64 21.3 40t 1
Houston, Jim 3 11 3.7 7 0
Browns 32 386 12.1 44 2
Opponents 16 152 9.5 40 1

Punting
No Yds Avg In20 TB LG BLK
Cockroft, Don 61 2,297 37.7 0 1 59 0
Collins, Gary 2 52 26 0 0 28 0
Browns 63 2,349 37.3 0 1 59 0
Opponents 60 2,392 39.9 0 4 70 0

Punt Returns
No FC Yds Avg LG TD
Leigh, Charles 14 2 76 5.4 29 0
Davis, Ben 9 8 11 1.2 9 0
Kelly, Leroy 1 0 9 9 9 0
Copeland, Jim 0 0 0 0 0 0
McDonald, Tommy 0 1 0 0 0 0
Browns 24 11 96 4 29 0
Opponents 21 26 120 5.7 17 0

Kickoff Returns
No Yds Avg LG TD
Leigh, Charles 14 322 23 41 0
Ward, Carl 13 236 18.2 35 0
James, Nathaniel 8 166 20.8 43 0
Davis, Ben 8 152 19 33 0
Morrison, Reece 4 85 21.3 33 0
Browns 54 974 18 43 0
Opponents 64 1,412 22.1 80 0

Field Goals
1-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50+ Tot
Cockroft, Don 6/6 7/7 2/4 2/6 1/1 18/24
Browns 6/7 7/8 2/4 2/6 1/2 18/24
Opponents 3/3 4/6 3/7 4/8 0/2 14/26

Passing
Att Cmp Yds Pct Av/At TD TD% Int Int% LG Tkld Ratng
Nelsen, Bill 293 152 2,366 51.9 8.08 19 6.5 10 3.4 87 11/102 86.4
Ryan, Frank 66 31 627 47 9.5 7 10.6 6 9.1 57t Oct-79 78.3
Kelly, Leroy 4 1 34 25 8.5 1 25 0 0 34t 0/0 102.1
Browns 363 184 3,027 50.7 8.34 27 7.4 16 4.4 87 21/181 85.5
Opponents 439 213 2,447 48.5 5.57 19 4.3 32 7.3 56 26/199 49.8