The 1973 season is where the Browns' great run of the 1940s, '50s and '60s -- the one that produced eight league titles and a slew of regular-season victories and accomplishments, making for one of the proudest traditions in all of the NFL -- really started to come to a grinding halt.
But it didn't happen completely until the very end of the season.
Fresh off a thrilling 21-16 come-from-behind decision over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Stadium -- their third victory in a row -- the Browns appeared to be in good shape, standing 7-3-1 with three games to play. Then the team, full of aging veterans who had led the Browns to such success in the 1960s, began to wear out.
A 20-20 tie at Kansas City -- achieved only after the Browns rallied late from a two-touchdown deficit -- then ensued, followed by one-sided losses on the road to the Cincinnati Bengals (34-17) and Los Angeles Rams (30-17). It forced the Browns to finish 7-5-2 and, for the first time in three years, out of the playoffs, where they would remain for six more seasons.
As such, it was a tremendous disappointment for a club that, after finishing 10-4 in 1972 and nearly upsetting Miami in the divisional playoffs on the Dolphins' way to a Super Bowl title and a perfect 17-0 season, thought it could coax at least one more big year out of its older players.
But it failed to happen, not so much so because of the failings of those aforementioned veterans -- all that contributed to it some -- but rather by those of young quarterback Mike Phipps. The team's first-round draft choice in 1970, he showed promising signs when he took over for banged-up Bill Nelsen in the first part of the '72 season and rescued the Browns from a 2-3 start by guiding them on a six-game winning streak.
That promise continued for the first part of 1973, when the Browns opened 3-1 and then 4-2, but then Phipps' turnover problem -- he had just nine touchdown passes to 20 interceptions that year -- began to become a real issue.
And unlike 1972, the Browns running game, which had been so good dating all the way back to the team's inception in 1946, couldn't save him. Leroy Kelly, in the final season of his Pro Football Hall of Fame career with the Browns, gained just 389 yards, a drop-off of 422 yards from the year before.
The club lost four games by 13 or more points, included very one-sided affairs at Pittsburgh (33-6) and at Minnesota (26-3), both powerhouses, and could do no better than play to a 16-16 tie with a bad (2-11-1) San Diego Chargers team.
All this foreshadowed the collapse that was about to happen, putting the Browns into an extended losing cycle for the first time in franchise history.
|9/16||W 24-14||Baltimore Colts||74,303|
|9/23||L 6-33||at Pittsburgh Steelers||49,396|
|9/30||W 12-10||New York Giants||76,065|
|10/7||W 17-10||Cincinnati Bengals||70,805|
|10/15||L 9-7||Miami Dolphins||72,070|
|10/21||W 42-13||Houston Oilers||61,146|
|10/28||T 16-16||San Diego Chargers||68,244|
|11/4||L 3-26||at Minnesota Vikings||45,590|
|11/11||W 23-13||at Houston Oilers||37,230|
|11/18||W 7-3||at Oakland Raiders||47,398|
|11/25||W 21-16||Pittsburgh Steelers||67,773|
|12/2||T 20-20||at Kansas City Chiefs||70,296|
|12/9||L 17-34||at Cincinnati Bengals||58,266|
|12/16||L 17-30||at Los Angeles Rams||73,948|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||200||196|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||61/190||62/205|
|3rd Down Pct.||32.10%||30.20%|
|Total Net Yards||3,341||3,827|
|Avg. Per Game||238.6||273.4|
|Avg. Per Play||3.9||4.5|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,968||2,091|
|Avg. Per Game||140.6||149.4|
|Net Yards Passing||1,373||1,736|
|Avg. Per Game||98.1||124|
|Net Punting Avg.||82/37.1||78/36.4|
Tampa Bay routed Cleveland, 30-13, Friday night
Cleveland falls, 30-13, in Tampa
Cleveland surrendered 305 yards in the first half