History

History: 1974


Team Photo

It had to happen sometime.

After all, it happens to every pro sports team that has enjoyed success for a long time.

Because of getting low draft picks for all those years -- the best teams choose last -- and thus thinning the talent level, a club's extended run at or near the top eventually ends.

And it ended -- in a big way, at that -- for the Browns in 1974.

With the exception of 1956, when the retirement of Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham left the offense without its unquestioned leader and the team went a bad-but-not-horrible 5-7, the Browns had had a great stretch since their inaugural year of 1946.

In the first 10 seasons alone, they accomplished the unprecedented feat of going to the league championship game 10 straight times, winning seven of them. They advanced to the NFL title game again in 1957, '65, '68, '69 and '64, winning that one as well. They also made it to the playoffs in 1967, '71 and '72 and just missed doing so a number of other times.

Even in 1970, when they went 7-7 for their second-worst season since '56, they missed winning the AFC Central by only a game.

Down the stretch in 1973, after they had completed a three-game winning streak with a thrilling, 21-16 come-from-behind win over Pittsburgh, the Browns were sitting pretty at 7-3-1, running neck and neck with the Steelers in the division race with three weeks to go.

Then the roof caved in with a tie and two one-sided losses, forcing a 7-5-2 finish that eliminated the Browns from any playoff contention -- even of the wild-card variety.

"Oh, well," the Browns thought, "we'll come back next year and finish the job and get back to the playoffs."

After all, they had always quickly rebounded from any struggles.

The key word in the Browns' thought process was "finish," for though no one knew it at the time, their great run was finished. Over.

The nose-dive at the end of 1973 bled directly into the '74.

The Browns finished 4-10 that year and did not look good doing it. All those great players who had led the Browns to much success through the 1960s and the early part of the '70s, either had retired or were ready to do so. And, as mentioned, since the Browns had been picking at the tail end of the draft for so long, they had little in the way of reinforcements to step into those stars' shoes.

With the exception of the Denver Broncos, who had a modest 7-6-1 record, none of the teams the Browns defeated in 1974 finished above .500. The Browns topped the Broncos 23-21 by scoring two unanswered touchdowns at the end of the game behind a backup quarterback by the name of Brian Sipe. They beat the 7-7 Houston Oilers 20-7, the 7-7 New England Patriots 21-14 and the 6-8 San Francisco 49ers 7-0 in a tundra-like setting after one of the worst snowstorms in Northeast Ohio history.

Otherwise, it wasn't good. The Browns offense couldn't score enough points behind the direction of quarterback Mike Phipps, taken with the No. 3 overall pick in the 1970 NFL Draft that was acquired when the club dealt HOF wide receiver Paul Warfield to the Miami Dolphins. And the defense had trouble stopping people.

The Browns got off to a 1-5 start, getting humbled 33-7 by the Cincinnati Bengals in -- by far -- the most lopsided opening-day loss in franchise history to that point -- and losing by 22 points (29-7) to the St. Louis Cardinals and by 16 (40-24) to the Oakland Raiders.

They also were thumped by 24 (41-17) by the Dallas Cowboys in the next-to-last game of the season.

But pride is a hard thing to totally extinguish. The Browns players left from those great teams still had it, and despite the lack of overall talent on the club, it helped them to stay close in some other games.

They gave the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers all they could handle in both meetings, losing 20-16 and 26-16), lost by 10 points (34-24) in the rematch with the Bengals, fell by five (15-10) to the 9-5 Buffalo Bills, lost 36-35 to the San Diego Chargers when Sipe fumbled the snap as the club was positioning the ball in the middle of the field for Don Cockroft to kick a game-winning field goal on the final play, and were beaten by four (28-24) in the rematch with the Oilers in the season finale.

On the season as a whole, the Browns started games well and ended them well, being outscored just 62-61 in the first quarter and outscoring their foes 73-63 in the fourth. But in the middle two quarters combined, they were out-done by a whopping 219-117 count, and therein lies most of the reason why they gave up 344 points, the most in team history at the time.

Phipps struggled for the second straight year, throwing just nine TD passes while being intercepted 17 times. He had tossed nine scores and 20 picks in 1973.

But not all of it was his fault. The offensive line was in a state of flux, and there was a dearth of talent at wide receiver.

Plus the running game sputtered as the Browns tried to cope with the retirement of HOF back Leroy Kelly after the 1973 season. It wouldn't be until 1975 before quick, darting Greg Pruitt, the team's second-round draft pick in '73, really began to make his presence felt on a consistent basis.

But Pruitt would do so under a new head coach. Nick Skorich, who had had the job since 1971 and was just the third head coach in the 29-season history of the team, was fired at the end of the year. His replacement would be offensive line coach Forrest Gregg, thus ushering in a new era for the Browns.

Steve King,
Staff Writer


YEAR RESULTS
Preseason Results
National Football League: 2-4
at Los Angeles Rams (28,021) 21-24
San Francisco 49ers (24,008) 21-20
Baltimore Colts at Tampa (25,116) 3-37
Washington Redskins (44,528) 17-20
Cincinnati Bengals at Columbus (36,326) 21-17
at Detroit Lions (42,905) 7-21
 
Regular Season Results
  Regular Season Playoffs Combined Record
League W L T PCT W L T PCT W L T PCT
NFL 4 10 0 .286 0 0 0 .000 4 10 0 .286

Date Result Opponent Att.
9/15 L 7-33 at Cincinnati Bengals 53,113
9/22 W 20-7 Houston Oilers 58,988
9/29 L 7-29 at St. Louis Cardinals 43,472
10/6 L 24-40 Oakland Raiders 65,247
10/13 L 24-34 Cincinnati Bengals 70,897
10/20 L 16-20 at Pittsburgh Steelers 48,100
10/27 W 23-21 Denver Broncos 60,478
11/3 L 35-36 at San Diego Chargers 36,631
11/10 W 21-14 at New England Patriots 61,279
11/17 L 16-26 Pittsburgh Steelers 77,739
11/24 L 10-15 Buffalo Bills 66,504
12/1 W 7-0 San Francisco 49ers 24,559
12/7 L 17-41 at Dallas Cowboys 48,754
12/15 L 24-28 at Houston Oilers 37,910

Score By Periods
1st 2nd 3rd 4th OT Tot.
Browns 61 60 57 73 0 --- 251
Opponents 62 103 116 63 0 --- 344

Team Statistics
Browns Opponent
Total First Downs 223 247
Rushing 104 126
Passing 92 95
Penalty 27 26
3rd Down: Made/Att 67/196 74/193
3rd Down Pct. 34.20% 38.30%
Total Net Yards 3,651 4,440
Avg. Per Game 260.8 317.1
Total Plays 876 890
Avg. Per Play 4.2 5
Net Yards Rushing 1,924 2,415
Avg. Per Game 137.4 172.5
Total Rushes 461 555
Net Yards Passing 1,727 2,025
Avg. Per Game 123.4 144.6
Sacked/Yards Lost 48/402 28/234
Gross Yards 2,129 2,259
Attempts/Completions 367/179 308/139
Completion Pct. 48.80% 45.10%
Had Intercepted 24 24
Punts/Avg. 90/40.5 76/38.0
Net Punting Avg. 90/32.6 76/31.1
Penalties/Yards Lost 78/767 81/731
Fumbles/Ball Lost 34/15 31/16
Touchdowns 30 43
Rushing 14 17
Passing 12 22
Returns 4 4

Scoring
Ru Pa St Df PAT 2Ru 2Pa FG Saf TP
Cockroft, Don 0 0 0 0 29/30 0 0 14/16 0 71
Brown, Ken 4 2 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 36
Pruitt, Greg 3 1 1 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 30
Sipe, Brian 4 0 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 24
Morin, Milt 0 3 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 18
Browns 14 12 1 3 29/30 0 0 14/16 0 251
Opponents 17 22 4 0 38/43 0 0 14/23 3 344

Rushing
No Yds Avg LG TD
Pruitt, Greg 126 540 4.3 54 3
Brown, Ken 125 458 3.7 27 4
McKinnis, Hugh 124 519 4.2 44t 2
Phipps, Mike 39 279 7.2 19 1
Scott, Bo 23 86 3.7 20 0
Browns 461 1,924 4.2 54 14
Opponents 555 2,415 4.4 54 17

Receiving
No Yds Avg LG TD
McKinnis, Hugh 32 258 8.1 55 0
Holden, Steve 30 452 15.1 53 3
Brown, Ken 29 194 6.7 19 2
Morin, Milt 27 330 12.2 32 3
Pruitt, Greg 21 274 13 43 1
Browns 179 2,129 11.9 60t 12
Opponents 139 2,259 16.3 75t 22

Interceptions
No Yds Avg LG TD
Darden, Thom 8 105 13.1 31 0
Scott, Clarence 4 42 10.5 25 0
Hall, Charlie 3 54 18 29t 1
Green, Van 2 56 28 36t 1
Garlington, John 2 33 16.5 28 0
Browns 24 336 14 36t 2
Opponents 24 423 17.6 59 1

Punting
No Yds Avg In20 TB LG BLK
Cockroft, Don 90 3,643 40.5 0 11 64 0
Browns 90 3,643 40.5 0 11 64 0
Opponents 76 2,885 38 0 3 56 0

Punt Returns
No FC Yds Avg LG TD
Pruitt, Greg 27 0 349 12.9 72 0
Darden, Thom 21 0 173 8.2 45 0
Lefear, Billy 2 0 1 0.5 1 0
Brown, Eddie 2 1 0 0 0 0
Browns 52 1 523 10.1 72 0
Opponents 68 5 705 10.4 62t 1

Kickoff Returns
No Yds Avg LG TD
Lefear, Billy 26 574 22.1 41 0
Pruitt, Greg 22 606 27.5 88t 1
Brown, Eddie 6 138 23 36 0
Romaniszyn, Jim 5 48 9.6 17 0
Brown, Ken 1 9 9 9 0
Browns 60 1,375 22.9 88t 1
Opponents 55 1,345 24.5 94t 1

Field Goals
1-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50+ Tot
Cockroft, Don 1/1 7/7 3/3 3/4 0/1 14/16
Browns 1/1 7/7 3/3 3/4 0/1 14/16
Opponents 1/1 3/3 6/7 4/8 0/4 14/23

Passing
Att Cmp Yds Pct Av/At TD TD% Int Int% LG Tkld Ratng
Phipps, Mike 256 117 1,384 45.7 5.41 9 3.5 17 6.6 55 33/280 46.7
Sipe, Brian 108 59 603 54.6 5.58 1 0.9 7 6.5 37 15/122 47
Pruitt, Greg 2 2 115 100 57.5 2 100 0 0 60t 0/0 158.3
Cockroft, Don 1 1 27 100 27 0 0 0 0 27 0/0 118.8
Browns 367 179 2,129 48.8 5.8 12 3.3 24 6.5 60t 48/402 50.6
Opponents 308 139 2,259 45.1 7.33 22 7.1 24 7.8 75t 28/234 61.6