History

History: 1976


Team Photo

After the Browns suffered through 4-10 and 3-11 records in 1974 and '75, respectively, going 9-5 in 1976 was a marked improvement.

The club was in its second year under head coach Forrest Gregg, a Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman with the Green Bay Packers. He was a tough, no-nonsense disciplinarian, which was something the Browns needed after playing for the more lax Nick Skorich from 1971-74.

Gregg's plan was simple: He was going to toughen up the Browns -- re-make them in his own image, as it were -- so they could compete with the likes of the physical Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Central. Although that trait wasn't really evident in 1975, when the Browns had their worst record in history to that point and lost by 36 and 14 points in their two games with Pittsburgh, it was easy to see in '76.

Aside from the much better record, which put them just a game behind division co-champions Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (10-4), they were able to beat the Steelers for the first time since 1973. And in that contest, an 18-16 decision at Cleveland, the Browns showed their physicality when defensive end Joe "Turkey" Jones spiked Steelers HOF quarterback Terry Bradshaw on a sack, putting him out of the game.

That was a huge triumph, for it pumped new life back into the Browns after a 1-3 start that included three straight one-sided defeats, 31-14 at Pittsburgh, 44-13 at Denver and 45-24 at home to the Cincinnati Bengals. The two-point decision over the Steelers was the first of three straight wins, and began a stretch in which the Browns would capture eight of nine games to jump into playoff contention for a time.

However, the year ended on a sour note when a bad Kansas City Chiefs team whipped the Browns 39-14. Gregg was infuriated. The Browns had been eliminated from postseason consideration just before kickoff, and he felt the club, feeling there was nothing left to play for, simply went through the motions.

Still, after winning six more games than they had the season before, 1976 was an unqualified success.

Defensively, the Browns made a real upgrade. After a slow start in which they gave up 120 points in those three consecutive losses to the Steelers, Broncos and Bengals, they surrendered no more than 21 points in a span of nine contests leading up to the finale with the Chiefs.

All-Pro defensive tackle Jerry Sherk was his usual dominant self, and safety Thom Darden had eight interceptions as he came back strong after missing the 1975 season with injuries.

The Browns were winning all the close ones, capturing five games by four points or less. Those spreads would have been larger had the Browns gotten more help from the offense. The attack was better - much better - than it had been the previous two years, but there was still plenty of room to grow.

The Browns scored over 24 points just once - and that was in the season-opening 38-17 win over the New York Jets of first-year coach Lou Holtz, an East Liverpool, Ohio native and an assistant coach on Ohio State's 1968 national championship team.

That game against the Jets was symbolic for another reason, for it represented the passing of the torch at quarterback and the end of the Mike Phipps era.

Phipps had come in the 1970 NFL Draft after the Browns traded future Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield to the Miami Dolphins for the third overall pick. After helping lead the Browns to the playoffs in 1972, his play regressed along with that of the team overall.

But in 1976, the Browns believed that with a better supporting cast, Phipps could excel. They were right -- partly so, at least.

Phipps was masterful against the Jets until separating his shoulder in the third quarter. His career in Cleveland was over at that point.

Brian Sipe, an obscure 13th-round draft pick in 1972 who had languished on the taxi squad -- the forerunner of today's practice squad - for his first two years, took over and played well by throwing for 17 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. But it would be two more years before he really blossomed.

The Browns' best offensive weapon overall was running back Greg Pruitt, who rushed for 1,000 yards for the second straight year and was No. 2 on the club in pass receptions with 45.

Wide receiver Reggie Rucker led the club in catches for the second time in as many years with the Browns. He had 49, good for eight TDs, or 38 percent of the Browns' total of 21.

Steve King,
Staff Writer


YEAR RESULTS
Preseason Results
National Football League: 4-2
Baltimore Colts at Lincoln (20,304) 0-21
Atlanta Falcons at Stillwater (24,227) 31-7
Minnesota Vikings (44,336) 31-7
at Philadelphia Eagles (20,600) 21-17
New England Patriots (36,016) 30-27
at Buffalo Bills (37,951) 10-28
 
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 0 0 .000 9 5 0 .643

Date Result Opponent Att.
9/12 W 38-17 New York Jets 67,496
9/19 L 14-31 at Pittsburgh Steelers 49,169
9/26 L 13-44 at Denver Broncos 62,775
10/3 L 24-45 Cincinnati Bengals 75,817
10/10 W 18-16 Pittsburgh Steelers 76,411
10/17 W 20-17 at Atlanta Falcons 33,364
10/24 W 21-17 San Diego Chargers 60,018
10/31 L 6-21 at Cincinnati Bengals 54,776
11/7 W 21-7 at Houston Oilers 39,828
11/14 W 24-3 Philadelphia Eagles 62,120
11/21 W 24-7 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 36,930
11/28 W 17-13 Miami Dolphins 74,715
12/5 W 13-10 Houston Oilers 56,025
12/12 L 14-39 at Kansas City Chiefs 34,340

Score By Periods
1st 2nd 3rd 4th OT Tot.
Browns 53 92 56 66 0 --- 267
Opponents 62 83 66 76 0 --- 287

Team Statistics
Browns Opponent
Total First Downs 259 244
Rushing 119 109
Passing 111 111
Penalty 29 24
3rd Down: Made/Att 89/202 76/188
3rd Down Pct. 44.10% 40.40%
Total Net Yards 4,542 3,793
Avg. Per Game 324.4 270.9
Total Plays 925 865
Avg. Per Play 4.9 4.4
Net Yards Rushing 2,295 1,761
Avg. Per Game 163.9 125.8
Total Rushes 533 445
Net Yards Passing 2,247 2,032
Avg. Per Game 160.5 145.1
Sacked/Yards Lost 19/152 30/321
Gross Yards 2,399 2,353
Attempts/Completions 373/209 392/225
Completion Pct. 56.00% 57.40%
Had Intercepted 15 21
Punts/Avg. 66/39.1 71/37.3
Net Punting Avg. 66/31.2 71/32.1
Penalties/Yards Lost 107/1,037 89/711
Fumbles/Ball Lost 46/22 24/11
Touchdowns 32 37
Rushing 9 15
Passing 21 18
Returns 2 4

Scoring
Ru Pa St Df PAT 2Ru 2Pa FG Saf TP
Cockroft, Don 0 0 0 0 27/30 0 0 15/28 0 72
Rucker, Reggie 0 8 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 48
Warfield, Paul 0 6 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 36
Pruitt, Greg 4 1 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 30
Roan, Oscar 0 4 0 0 0/0 0 0 0/0 0 24
Browns 9 21 0 2 28/32 0 0 15/28 1 267
Opponents 15 18 4 0 32/37 0 0 11/19 0 287

Rushing
No Yds Avg LG TD
Pruitt, Greg 209 1,000 4.8 64 4
Miller, Cleo 153 613 4 21 4
Poole, Larry 78 356 4.6 26 1
Pruitt, Mike 52 138 2.7 18 0
Sipe, Brian 18 71 3.9 17 0
Browns 533 2,295 4.3 64 9
Opponents 445 1,761 4 59 15

Receiving
No Yds Avg LG TD
Rucker, Reggie 49 676 13.8 45 8
Pruitt, Greg 45 341 7.6 27 1
Warfield, Paul 38 613 16.1 37t 6
Miller, Cleo 16 145 9.1 38 0
Roan, Oscar 15 174 11.6 23t 4
Browns 209 2,399 11.5 52 21
Opponents 225 2,353 10.5 69t 18

Interceptions
No Yds Avg LG TD
Darden, Thom 7 73 10.4 21 0
Scott, Clarence 4 11 2.8 5 0
Bolton, Ron 3 76 25.3 39 1
Babich, Bob 2 29 14.5 21 0
Brown, Terry 1 24 24 24 0
Browns 21 234 11.1 39 1
Opponents 15 123 8.2 34 0

Punting
No Yds Avg In20 TB LG BLK
Cockroft, Don 64 2,487 38.9 8 4 51 3
Mays, Dave 2 91 45.5 1 0 54 0
Browns 66 2,578 39.1 9 4 54 3
Opponents 71 2,650 37.3 14 0 59 0

Punt Returns
No FC Yds Avg LG TD
Holden, Steve 31 2 205 6.6 38 0
Feacher, Ricky 14 1 142 10.1 49 0
Miller, Willie 5 0 22 4.4 8 0
Browns 50 3 369 7.4 49 0
Opponents 45 8 517 11.5 73t 2

Kickoff Returns
No Yds Avg LG TD
Holden, Steve 19 461 24.3 44 0
Feacher, Ricky 14 311 22.2 33 0
Duncan, Brian 6 145 24.2 27 0
Pruitt, Mike 6 106 17.7 30 0
Poole, Larry 3 62 20.7 21 0
Browns 54 1,182 21.9 44 0
Opponents 57 1,347 23.6 97t 1

Field Goals
1-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50+ Tot
Cockroft, Don 2/2 3/6 5/6 4/11 1/3 15/28
Browns 2/2 3/6 5/6 4/11 1/3 15/28
Opponents 0/0 2/4 4/6 5/9 0/0 11/19

Passing
Att Cmp Yds Pct Av/At TD TD% Int Int% LG Tkld Ratng
Sipe, Brian 312 178 2,113 57.1 6.77 17 5.4 14 4.5 52 16/142 77.3
Phipps, Mike 37 20 146 54.1 3.95 3 8.1 0 0 23t 1/6 90.6
Mays, Dave 20 9 101 45 5.05 0 0 1 5 21 2/4 39.8
Pruitt, Greg 3 2 39 66.7 13 1 33.3 0 0 29 0/0 149.3
Cockroft, Don 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 39.6
Browns 373 209 2,399 56 6.43 21 5.6 15 4 52 19/152 77.6
Opponents 392 225 2,353 57.4 6 18 4.6 21 5.4 69t 32/321 67.9