The Browns' 1977 season was really two seasons -- or half-seasons, as it were -- that were opposites of one another.
In the end, unfortunately for the Browns, it was the bad half that won out.
But it wasn't that way in the beginning. Building upon the momentum they had gained in the 9-5 finish of 1976, the Browns shot out of the gate impressively.
In the opener at Cincinnati, they won 13-3, defeating a Bengals team that had gone 10-4 the previous season, the same record as AFC Central champion Pittsburgh.
The next week, on Monday Night Football, the Browns won a thriller, 30-27 in overtime over the New England Patriots, who had posted one of the best records in the NFL in 1976 at 10-4.
One-sided home losses to the Steelers (28-14) and the defending Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders (26-10) followed, but the Browns picked it again by winning three in a row, the last of which was a 44-7 decision over the Kansas City Chiefs. That 37-point margin of victory was the biggest for the Browns in 17 years -- since the next-to-last game of the 1960 -- and it was also team's highest point total since 1968.
The only negative of the win? That it cost the job of Chiefs head coach Paul Wiggin. A great defensive end for the Browns from 1957-67, he was fired after the game, which dropped Kansas City's record to 1-6.
But the Browns were at the other end of the spectrum after defeating Kansas City. With a 5-2 record, head coach Forrest Gregg's team appeared headed for the playoffs for the first time since 1972.
Three of the next four weeks were nightmarish, however, derailing the Browns completely.
It started with a 10-7 home loss to the Bengals, then the Browns went to Pittsburgh and lost 35-31 when a late rally fell short. Two defeats to division foes by a combined total of just seven points were tough to take.
A 21-7 triumph over the New York Giants followed, offering some hope that the Browns could get it turned around, but then the offense fell apart the next week at Cleveland in a 9-0 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
The Browns were only 6-5 and the postseason was all but gone.
And those faint aspirations were completely obliterated in two more losses to middle-of-the-road teams, 37-14 to the San Diego Chargers and 19-15 to the Houston Oilers.
That was not good news for Gregg. Selected the AFC Coach of the Year in 1976, he was fired with one game left.
Defensive coordinator Dick Modzelewski, a key defensive tackle on the Browns' 1964 NFL championship team, took over on an interim basis for the season finale. But not even that helped, as the Browns fell 20-19 to the Seattle Seahawks, in just their second season of existence.
It was -- fittingly -- a hard-to-swallow loss to bring down the curtain on a hard-to-swallow season.
The 6-8 finish, fueled by a 1-6 mark in the second half of the year, was not at all what the Browns had wanted -- or expected -- after that encouraging start.
But there were some positives, one of which was the continued good play of running back Greg Pruitt. He rushed for 1,086 yards, going over the 1,000-yard mark for the third straight season.
Cleo Miller put together his second straight solid year, adding 756 yards and a team-high four rushing touchdowns. He also led the team in pass receptions with 41, while Pruitt was next with 37.
Overall, though, the offense, despite some big outputs, just wasn't prolific enough on a consistent basis, negating a pretty good effort by the defense. Six times, the Browns scored only 14 points or less.
Quarterback Brian Sipe, after making big strides in 1976, seemed to regress a bit in '77, throwing just nine TD passes with 14 interceptions.
Wide receiver Reggie Rucker, after leading the team in catches the previous two seasons, had just 36, or 13 less than his 1976 total.
Running back Mike Pruitt, the team's first-round pick in the 1976 NFL Draft, struggled for a second straight year and was having some fumbling problems. His confidence seemed to be at a low ebb.
Rangy Dave Logan, a promising third-round draft choice in 1976, was struggling as well, having just 24 receptions in two seasons while playing tight end, not wide receiver.
A lot of the pieces seemed to be in place for the Browns to become a more consistent winner, but it appeared those pieces needed to be arranged in a different manner for it all to come to fruition.
The club just needed to find someone who could determine the correct formula to use to make it happen.
|9/18||W 13-3||at Cincinnati Bengals||52,847|
|9/26||W 30-27||New England Patriots (OT)||76,418|
|10/2||L 14-28||Pittsburgh Steelers||80,588|
|10/9||L 10-26||Oakland Raiders||80,236|
|10/16||W 24-23||at Houston Oilers||47,888|
|10/23||W 27-16||at Buffalo Bills||60,905|
|10/30||W 44-7||Kansas City Chiefs||60,381|
|11/6||L 7-10||Cincinnati Bengals||81,932|
|11/13||L 31-35||at Pittsburgh Steelers||47,055|
|11/20||W 21-7||at New York Giants||72,576|
|11/27||L 0-9||Los Angeles Rams||70,352|
|12/4||L 14-37||at San Diego Chargers||37,312|
|12/11||L 15-19||Houston Oilers||30,898|
|12/18||L 19-20||at Seattle Seahawks||61,583|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||271||261|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||76/188||74/186|
|3rd Down Pct.||40.40%||39.80%|
|Total Net Yards||4,375||4,115|
|Avg. Per Game||312.5||293.9|
|Avg. Per Play||4.8||4.6|
|Net Yards Rushing||2,200||2,098|
|Avg. Per Game||157.1||149.9|
|Net Yards Passing||2,175||2,017|
|Avg. Per Game||155.4||144.1|
|Net Punting Avg.||62/30.0||70/33.1|
|Avg. Time Of Possession||30:13:00||29:47:00|
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Joe Thomas anchors a group looking to replace two starters