History

History: 1971


Team Photo

Things run in cycles.

Yes, what goes around, comes around -- even in football.

Just as 1967 was the last full year for Browns quarterback Frank Ryan before Bill Nelsen took over, so, too, was 1971 the last full season for Nelsen before Mike Phipps took over.

Nelsen, obtained from the Pittsburgh Steelers before the 1968 season in one of the best trades in club history, had directed the Browns to back-to-back NFL Championship Game appearances in his first two years with the club. A tremendous leader, he was also as courageous and gutsy of a player as the team has ever had, playing on knees that were in worse shape than those of Joe Namath.

Those knees finally started to get the best of him as the 1970s arrived. Nelsen's 1971 numbers weren't pretty -- he had 10 more interceptions (23) than TD passes (13) after throwing for 58 TDs and 45 picks the previous three years -- but he was able to make plays exactly when the Browns needed them.

And just as the 1967 Browns returned to the playoffs following a one-year absence, so, too, did the '71 club, which was in its first season under new head coach Nick Skorich after Blanton Collier's final team in 1970 had finished just 7-7, ending a string of three consecutive postseason berths.

As was the case in 1967, the '71 Browns went 9-5 and won a division crown. They captured the AFC Central for the first time, finishing three games in front of the soon-to-emerge Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8).

The Browns started fast - winning four of their first five games, including a 14-13 road decision over the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Colts - and finished fast, capturing their last five, including a 20-13 road verdict in the season finale over the playoff-bound Washington Redskins.

But in between, the Browns really struggled, losing four straight and being outscored by 97-30. Actually, in the first three games of that stretch, the margin of deficit was even worse, 84-23.

These 1971 Browns were the predecessors of the Kardiac Kids a decade later, for they were involved in six games decided by seven points or less, winning five, including three in a row at the end of the year. They beat the division rival Cincinnati Bengals twice by a combined total of seven points, 27-24 and 31-27.

After blowing out another Central foe, the Houston Oilers, 31-0 in the opener, their largest margin of victory the rest of the year was 20 points in a 27-7 home triumph over the Patriots, who were in their first year of going by the New England moniker after being known as Boston for the first 11 years of their existence.

And yes, the 1967 team had a similar resume, being involved in seven games decided by seven points or less.

But regardless of the margin of victory or the way they did it, the bottom line is that the Browns were winning again in 1971. They had recaptured the winning tradition they had had in their successful run through the 1960s.

Running back Leroy Kelly was on the downside of his Pro Football Hall of Fame career, but he did manage to rush for 865 yards and 10 touchdowns -- still good for a 14-game season, Wide receiver Fair Hooker led the team in receptions with 45.

Just as was the case in 1968, when the Browns pulled off a 30-20 upset at Baltimore during the regular season and then were beaten decisively by the Colts -- 34-0 -- at home in the playoffs, the host Browns fell 20-3 to Johnny Unitas and the Colts in the divisional round at Cleveland after upsetting them by a point at Baltimore in the regular season.

The Browns, who had been so hot at the end of that 1971 regular season, suddenly could do nothing right that day against the Colts, especially offensively, as they got just 165 total yards. Nelsen was intercepted three times and had a quarterback rating of only 18.8.

The way things ended is the last correlation between the 1967 and '71 seasons. The 1967 Browns finished strong, winning four of their last five, then got whipped by the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs 52-14.

The one-sided loss to the Colts in the 1971 postseason was the first for the Browns since Week 9 of the regular season.

Steve King,
Staff Writer


YEAR RESULTS
Preseason Results
National Football League: 1-5
at San Francisco 49ers (40,000) 24-38
at Los Angeles Rams (52,503) 5-17
at Dallas Cowboys (69,099) 15-16
Chicago Bears at South Bend (43,568) 19-20
New York Giants (82,710) 30-7
at St. Louis Cardinals (46,171) 13-27
 
Regular Season Results
  Regular Season Playoffs Combined Record
League W L T PCT W L T PCT W L T PCT
NFL 9 5 0 .643 0 1 0 .000 9 6 0 .600
 
Postseason Results
Divisional Playoff Game
Date Opponent Result Score
12/26 Baltimore Colts Loss 3-20
 

Date Result Opponent Att.
9/19 W 31-0 Houston Oilers 73,387
9/26 W 14-13 at Baltimore Colts 56,837
10/4 L 20-34 Oakland Raiders 84,285
10/10 W 27-17 Pittsburgh Steelers 83,391
10/17 W 27-24 at Cincinnati Bengals 60,284
10/24 L 0-27 Denver Broncos 75,674
10/31 L 14-31 Atlanta Falcons 76,825
11/7 L 9-26 at Pittsburgh Steelers 50,202
11/14 L 7-13 at Kansas City Chiefs 50,388
11/21 W 27-7 New England Patriots 65,238
11/28 W 37-24 at Houston Oilers 37,921
12/5 W 31-27 Cincinnati Bengals 82,705
12/12 W 21-17 at New Orleans Saints 72,794
12/19 W 20-13 at Washington Redskins 53,041
Playoff
12/26 L 3-20 Baltimore Colts 74,082

Score By Periods
1st 2nd 3rd 4th OT Tot.
Browns 47 71 64 103 0 --- 285
Opponents 51 120 23 79 0 --- 273

Team Statistics
Browns Opponent
Total First Downs 231 232
Rushing 89 115
Passing 127 100
Penalty 15 17
Total Net Yards 3,857 4,194
Avg. Per Game 275.5 299.6
Total Plays 859 848
Avg. Per Play 4.5 4.9
Net Yards Rushing 1,558 2,227
Avg. Per Game 111.3 159.1
Total Rushes 461 484
Net Yards Passing 2,299 1,967
Avg. Per Game 164.2 140.5
Sacked/Yards Lost 22/222 25/203
Gross Yards 2,521 2,170
Attempts/Completions 376/188 339/156
Completion Pct. 50.00% 46.00%
Had Intercepted 27 24
Punts/Avg. 67/39.9 66/42.4
Net Punting Avg. 67/36.5 66/37.0
Penalties/Yards Lost 68/612 86/772
Fumbles/Ball Lost 29/18 31/16
Touchdowns 34 30
Rushing 19 14
Passing 14 12
Returns 1 4

Scoring
Ru Pa St Df PAT 2Ru 2Pa FG Saf TP
Cockroft, Don 0 0 0 0 34/34 0 0 15/28 0 79
Kelly, Leroy 10 2 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 72
Scott, Bo 9 1 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 60
Pitts, Frank 0 4 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 24
Collins, Gary 0 3 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 18
Browns 19 14 0 1 34/34 0 0 15/28 1 285
Opponents 14 12 4 0 30/30 0 0 21/31 0 273

Rushing
No Yds Avg LG TD
Kelly, Leroy 234 865 3.7 35 10
Scott, Bo 179 606 3.4 35 9
Nelsen, Bill 13 -18 -1.4 4 0
Brown, Ken 11 47 4.3 17 0
Cornell, Bo 11 12 1.1 6 0
Browns 461 1,558 3.4 35 19
Opponents 484 2,227 4.6 86t 14

Receiving
No Yds Avg LG TD
Hooker, Fair 45 649 14.4 48 1
Morin, Milt 40 581 14.5 31 2
Scott, Bo 30 233 7.8 35 1
Pitts, Frank 27 487 18 53t 4
Kelly, Leroy 25 252 10.1 29 2
Browns 188 2,521 13.4 53t 14
Opponents 156 2,170 13.9 53 12

Interceptions
No Yds Avg LG TD
Sumner, Walt 5 35 7 25 0
Scott, Clarence 4 47 11.8 21 0
Andrews, Billy 3 34 11.3 19 0
Kellermann, Ernie 3 0 0 0 0
Howell, Mike 2 93 46.5 68 0
Browns 24 283 11.8 68 0
Opponents 27 453 16.8 66 2

Punting
No Yds Avg In20 TB LG BLK
Cockroft, Don 62 2,508 40.5 0 2 59 2
Collins, Gary 5 162 32.4 0 0 42 0
Browns 67 2,670 39.9 0 2 59 2
Opponents 66 2,800 42.4 0 7 59 1

Punt Returns
No FC Yds Avg LG TD
Kelly, Leroy 30 4 292 9.7 74 0
Jones, Dave 9 2 63 7 20 0
Kellermann, Ernie 1 0 4 4 4 0
Browns 40 6 359 9 74 0
Opponents 26 19 227 8.7 45 0

Kickoff Returns
No Yds Avg LG TD
Brown, Ken 15 330 22 35 0
Morrison, Reece 9 267 29.7 52 0
Pitts, Frank 9 238 26.4 35 0
Brown, Stan 7 157 22.4 32 0
Houston, Jim 1 21 21 21 0
Browns 46 1,065 23.2 52 0
Opponents 55 1,252 22.8 58 0

Field Goals
1-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50+ Tot
Cockroft, Don 2/3 6/6 6/9 1/9 0/1 15/28
Browns 2/3 6/6 6/9 1/9 0/1 15/28
Opponents 6/7 9/11 4/8 2/4 0/1 21/31

Passing
Att Cmp Yds Pct Av/At TD TD% Int Int% LG Tkld Ratng
Nelsen, Bill 325 174 2,319 53.5 7.14 13 4 23 7.1 53t 22/222 60.3
Phipps, Mike 47 13 179 27.7 3.81 1 2.1 4 8.5 39 0/0 14.6
Kelly, Leroy 4 1 23 25 5.75 0 0 0 0 23 0/0 51
Browns 376 188 2,521 50 6.7 14 3.7 27 7.2 53t 22/222 54.2
Opponents 339 156 2,170 46 6.4 12 3.5 24 7.1 53 25/203 49.4