The 1974 season was a tough one for the Browns.
They started 1-5 and finished 4-10 -- by far the worst in franchise history.
But as difficult as that season was, 1975 turned out to be even worse. The Browns lost their first nine games -- again, a team record -- en route to going 3-11 in Forrest Gregg's first year as head coach after having been promoted from offensive line coach following the offseason firing of Nick Skorich.
Making matters even harder to swallow was the fact that, save for a 16-15 decision at Denver in Week 5 and a 24-17 decision at Cincinnati in the season opener, the losses were pretty much one-sided. At home no less, the Browns fell 42-10 to the Minnesota Vikings, 42-6 to the Pittsburgh Steelers and 40-10 to the Houston Oilers, the worse three-game stretch they've ever had.
Later in the year -- in fact, it was the last of those nine consecutive defeats -- the Browns were beaten 38-17 at Oakland.
The Steelers and Vikings both finished 12-2 and met in the Super Bowl, the Oilers just missed the playoffs at 10-4 and the 11-3 Raiders lost to Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game, but none of that was of any consolation to a franchise as proud as the Browns.
After 1974, the Browns were hoping that '75, in which the team went to orange pants and altered its basic uniform design for the first time since that inaugural season of 1946, would usher in a new era of success. But it didn't work out that way.
The problem for the Browns was that they were replacing old-line, accomplished veterans from the team's glory days of the 1960s with free agents from other teams, or young players.
In addition, the Browns were struggling to find a quarterback. Mike Phipps, the No. 3 overall pick in the 1970 NFL Draft, threw just four touchdown passes with 19 interceptions on the year. More and more, the Browns were thinking about a second-year pro -- a 13th-round draft choice in 1972 who then spent two years on the taxi squad, the equivalent of today's practice squad -- named Brian Sipe.
That kind of complete makeover takes time, as the Browns, going through two straight losing seasons for the first time in franchise history, were finding out.
But this season of dark clouds was not without some silver linings. Collectively, the Browns got it together in the final five games, going 3-2, generating some much-needed momentum and providing hope that things might be different in 1976.
That stretch began with a 35-23 home win over the Bengals, which, as it turned out, was oh, so costly for Cincinnati as head coach Paul Brown's club finished 11-3 and just a game behind the Steelers in the AFC Central.
It continued the following week with a 17-16 triumph over the New Orleans Saints as the Browns put together consecutive wins for the first time since weeks 9 through 11 of the 1973 season.
The other win, coming in the next-to-last game, was as one-sided as the Browns had had in two years as well. They blew out the Kansas City Chiefs 40-14 in the mud at Cleveland, with the 26-point margin of victory being their biggest since they routed the Oilers by 29, 42-13, midway through 1973.
It also represented the most points scored by the Browns since that game, and the fewest allowed all year.
The hero was Greg Pruitt. With Pro Football Hall of Famer Leroy Kelly having retired after the 1973 season, Pruitt, the first of the team's two second-round draft picks that year, had taken a quantum leap in '75 into settling into his job as the go-to running back. He raced for 214 yards, still the seventh-best performance in team history, en route to putting together the first of his three straight 1,000-yard seasons by getting 1,067. He became the first 1,000-yard runner for the team since Kelly in 1968.
Pruitt averaged a healthy 4.8 yards per carry in 1975, the highest by a Brown since Kelly's 5.0 in 1968, and, while scoring three times against the Chiefs, rushed for eight touchdowns, the most since Kelly's 10 in '71.
Also in that game, wide receiver Reggie Rucker, obtained from the New England Patriots on draft day in 1975, had his biggest day of the year with six receptions for 130 yards. He ended the season with 60 catches, tops in the AFC and second-best in the NFL. It was also the second-most receptions in team history, behind only the 62 Mac Speedie amassed in 1952, his final season with the Browns.
Even the two losses during that late stretch weren't nearly as bad as the ones early in the year. At Pittsburgh, where they had not won in five previous tries, the Browns led 17-7 late in the first half before going on to lose 31-17. While disappointing, that's still a lot better than the 42-6 defeat the Steelers put on the Browns two months earlier.
In the season finale, the Browns fell at Houston 21-10, a marked improvement over the 40-10 defeat they suffered to the Oilers at Cleveland.
It was, all in all, a decent end to a tough year, and the Browns were hoping to dwell on that fact in the offseason and build on it.
|9/21||L 17-24||at Cincinnati Bengals||52,874|
|9/28||L 10-42||Minnesota Vikings||68,064|
|10/5||L 6-42||Pittsburgh Steelers||73,595|
|10/12||L 10-40||Houston Oilers||46,531|
|10/19||L 15-16||at Denver Broncos||52,590|
|10/26||L 7-23||Washington Redskins||56,702|
|11/2||L 7-21||at Baltimore Colts||35,235|
|11/9||L 10-21||at Detroit Lions||75,283|
|11/16||L 17-38||at Oakland Raiders||50,461|
|11/23||W 35-23||Cincinnati Bengals||56,427|
|11/30||W 17-16||New Orleans Saints||44,753|
|12/7||L 17-31||at Pittsburgh Steelers||47,962|
|12/14||W 40-14||Kansas City Chiefs||44,368|
|12/21||L 10-21||at Houston Oilers||43,770|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||247||274|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||78/210||96/213|
|3rd Down Pct.||37.10%||45.10%|
|Total Net Yards||3,807||4,621|
|Avg. Per Game||271.9||330.1|
|Avg. Per Play||4.2||4.9|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,850||2,032|
|Avg. Per Game||132.1||145.1|
|Net Yards Passing||1,957||2,589|
|Avg. Per Game||139.8||184.9|
|Net Punting Avg.||82/34.7||73/34.5|