History

History: 1972


Team Photo

One last hurrah.

That's the best way to describe the 1972 season for the Browns.

This was the end of a nine-year span in which the Browns made the playoffs seven times, won an NFL championship and got to the league title game on three other occasions.

The 1972 team not only made it to the postseason as a wild card with a 10-4 record, but also nearly pulled off what would have been one of the biggest upsets in team history. Playing in the AFC divisional round in Miami against a Dolphins team that would go 17-0 and win the Super Bowl, the Browns lost 20-14 after blowing a 14-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

The Browns started the year with Bill Nelsen, a veteran who had arrived from the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 1968 trade, as their starting quarterback. But when Nelsen, whose knees were just about shot, struggled early and the team followed suit by getting off to a rocky 2-3 start, the move was made to Mike Phipps, drafted in 1970 with the No.3 overall pick the Browns obtained by trading Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield to Miami.

Although Phipps didn't have a good year statistically - he completed only 47.2 percent of his passes and threw for just 13 touchdowns with 16 interceptions - he was able to make plays when he had to.

And anyway, he was in just his third season and had spent most of his time on the bench, so the Browns thought he would improve as he played more.

The Browns were only 2-3 and had been outscored 48-7 in their last two games, and 74-17 in their three losses, before a six-game winning streak ensued. Included in that was a last-second, 26-24 comeback decision at home over the Steelers, who were trying to win the AFC Central title and make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

The Browns finished second to the Steelers (11-3) by a game after winning eight of their last nine contests, the only loss being a 30-0 decision in the rematch in Pittsburgh.

Also, the Browns turned back the Denver Broncos on the road 27-20. What the Browns wouldn't have done 15 and 17 years later -- in the 1987 and '89 AFC Championship Games, respectively, at Mile High Stadium -- to have beaten the Broncos in Denver.

Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Leroy Kelly, in his last good season, rushed for 811 yards. Wide receiver Frank Pitts led the team in receptions with 36, good for eight touchdowns -- or 62 percent of the team total of 13.

But it was the defense that saved the season for the Browns. The unit gave up over 30 points only twice all year, posted a shutout and kept foes to 17 points or less eight times.

Helping lead the defense were cornerback Ben Davis and safety Thom Darden from Sandusky, Ohio, who had three interceptions each. But the only interception returned for a TD all year was by none other than a defensive end, Canton McKinley (Ohio) High School product Nick Roman, whose 36-yard score jump-started the team in an important, late-season, come-from-behind 27-10 win over the Buffalo Bills.

Former longtime Browns assistant coach Nick Skorich had gotten his club to the playoffs in both seasons as head coach, and the future looked bright as the team closed the book on 1972 and looked forward to '73. So neither he nor anyone else then could have imagined it would be eight long years -- until that 1980 Kardiac Kids season -- before the Browns got back to the playoffs again.

Steve King,
Staff Writer


YEAR RESULTS
Preseason Results
National Football League: 0-6
at Los Angeles Rams (64,803) 3-13
at San Francisco 49ers (58,364) 13-20
Detroit Lions at Ann Arbor (58,422) 7-34
Minnesota Vikings (70,583) 17-20
Cincinnati Benglas at Columbus (84,816) 21-27
at New York Giants (60,152) 21-28
 
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 0 1 0 .000 10 5 0 .667
 
Postseason Results
Divisional Playoff Game
Date Opponent Result Score
12/24 at Miami Dolphins Loss 14-20
 

Date Result Opponent Att.
9/17 L 10-26 Green Bay Packers 75,771
9/24 W 27-17 at Philadelphia Eagles 65,720
10/1 W 27-6 Cincinnati Bengals 81,564
10/8 L 7-31 Kansas City Chiefs 83,819
10/15 L 0-17 Chicago Bears 72,339
10/22 W 23-17 at Houston Oilers 38,113
10/29 W 27-20 at Denver Broncos 51,656
11/5 W 20-0 Houston Oilers 61,985
11/13 W 21-17 at San Diego Chargers 54,205
11/19 W 26-24 Pittsburgh Steelers 83,009
11/26 W 27-10 Buffalo Bills 70,104
12/3 L 0-30 at Pittsburgh Steelers 50,350
12/9 W 27-24 at Cincinnati Bengals 59,524
12/17 W 26-10 at New York Jets 62,614
Playoff
12/24 L 14-20 at Miami Dolphins 78,196

Score By Periods
1st 2nd 3rd 4th OT Tot.
Browns 39 95 46 88 0 --- 268
Opponents 61 57 72 59 0 --- 249

Team Statistics
Browns Opponent
Total First Downs 215 240
Rushing 102 130
Passing 101 89
Penalty 12 21
Total Net Yards 3,709 4,069
Avg. Per Game 264.9 290.6
Total Plays 817 868
Avg. Per Play 4.5 4.7
Net Yards Rushing 1,793 2,333
Avg. Per Game 128.1 166.6
Total Rushes 453 520
Net Yards Passing 1,916 1,736
Avg. Per Game 136.9 124
Sacked/Yards Lost 27/219 38/258
Gross Yards 2,135 1,994
Attempts/Completions 337/158 310/160
Completion Pct. 46.90% 51.60%
Had Intercepted 19 13
Punts/Avg. 81/43.2 74/40.9
Net Punting Avg. 81/38.8 74/38.0
Penalties/Yards Lost 57/536 63/557
Fumbles/Ball Lost 21/9 39/16
Touchdowns 29 27
Rushing 13 13
Passing 13 14
Returns 3 0

Scoring
Ru Pa St Df PAT 2Ru 2Pa FG Saf TP
Cockroft, Don 0 0 0 0 28/29 0 0 22/27 0 94
Pitts, Frank 0 8 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 48
Kelly, Leroy 4 1 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 30
Phipps, Mike 5 0 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 30
Hooker, Fair 0 2 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 12
Browns 13 13 1 2 28/29 0 0 22/27 0 268
Opponents 13 14 0 0 27/27 0 0 20/29 0 249

Rushing
No Yds Avg LG TD
Kelly, Leroy 224 811 3.6 18 4
Scott, Bo 123 571 4.6 27t 2
Phipps, Mike 60 256 4.3 18 5
Brown, Ken 32 114 3.6 14 2
Cornell, Bo 7 8 1.1 7 0
Browns 453 1,793 4 27t 13
Opponents 520 2,333 4.5 75t 13

Receiving
No Yds Avg LG TD
Pitts, Frank 36 620 17.2 80t 8
Hooker, Fair 32 441 13.8 43 2
Morin, Milt 30 540 18 36 1
Kelly, Leroy 23 204 8.9 28 1
Scott, Bo 23 172 7.5 30 0
Browns 158 2,135 13.5 80t 13
Opponents 160 1,994 12.5 80t 14

Interceptions
No Yds Avg LG TD
Darden, Thom 3 64 21.3 20 0
Davis, Ben 3 10 3.3 10 0
Roman, Nick 1 36 36 36t 1
Briggs, Bob 1 16 16 16 0
Hall, Charlie 1 12 12 12 0
Browns 13 154 11.8 36t 1
Opponents 19 145 7.6 35 0

Punting
No Yds Avg In20 TB LG BLK
Cockroft, Don 81 3,498 43.2 0 4 65 0
Browns 81 3,498 43.2 0 4 65 0
Opponents 74 3,023 40.9 0 7 60 0

Punt Returns
No FC Yds Avg LG TD
Majors, Bobby 16 6 96 6 41 0
Darden, Thom 15 7 71 4.7 37 0
Kelly, Leroy 5 3 40 8 14 0
Sumner, Walt 1 2 14 14 14 0
Browns 37 18 221 6 41 0
Opponents 46 21 357 7.8 60 0

Kickoff Returns
No Yds Avg LG TD
Brown, Ken 20 473 23.6 47 0
Majors, Bobby 10 222 22.2 40 0
Lefear, Billy 6 138 23 29 0
Morrison, Reece 3 67 22.3 32 0
Johnson, Walter 2 33 16.5 24 0
Browns 41 933 22.8 47 0
Opponents 50 1,198 24 66 0

Field Goals
1-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50+ Tot
Cockroft, Don 5/5 7/8 7/8 2/5 1/1 22/27
Browns 5/5 7/8 7/8 2/5 1/1 22/27
Opponents 6/7 2/5 7/9 5/7 0/1 20/29

Passing
Att Cmp Yds Pct Av/At TD TD% Int Int% LG Tkld Ratng
Phipps, Mike 305 144 1,994 47.2 6.54 13 4.3 16 5.2 80t 23/183 61
Nelsen, Bill 31 14 141 45.2 4.55 0 0 3 9.7 26 3/29 19.1
Kelly, Leroy 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1/7 39.6
Browns 337 158 2,135 46.9 6.34 13 3.9 19 5.6 80t 27/219 56.9
Opponents 310 160 1,994 51.6 6.43 14 4.5 13 4.2 80t 38/258 69.5