In terms of win and losses, 1985 was hardly a successful season for the Browns, as they finished just 8-8.
But it was indeed a success in another respect, since that .500 mark -- which was three victories better than the previous year's 5-11 record -- was good enough to earn them the AFC Central title by a game over the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers (7-9).
In addition, the Browns nearly advanced to the AFC Championship Game, which they would have hosted against New England. They were dominating the Miami Dolphins 21-3 in the third quarter of their divisional playoff contest at the Orange Bowl before losing 24-21 in what would turn out to be the last game for promising second-year safety Don Rogers. He died of a drug overdose the following June.
It was a year of great change for the Browns. For starters, they were in the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, and captured the division crown for the first time in five years.
Marty Schottenheimer, who took over halfway through 1984 when Sam Rutigliano was fired, was in his first full year as head coach. He brought a mostly new coaching staff with him, including a special teams coach who used to play for the Browns, Bill Cowher.
Doug Dieken, who had been the team's left tackle for 14 years, was asked to retire in the offseason, which he did despite his desire to continue playing.
Bernie Kosar, who wiggled his way to the Browns as their first pick in the 1985 Supplemental Draft, shared quarterback duties with veteran Gary Danielson. They replaced Paul McDonald, who, while constantly under a fierce pass rush, had struggled in 1984 in his first year as a full-time starter.
But Danielson and Kosar didn't wow anyone with their numbers, combining to throw for just 16 touchdowns with 13 interceptions in the run-oriented attack of first-year offensive coordinator Joe Pendry. Saying it was run-oriented is a tremendous understatement about the offense, though. For just the third time in NFL history, two players from the same team - in this case, Kevin Mack (1,104) and Earnest Byner (1,002) - rushed for 1,000 yards in the same season.
What they lacked in the sophistication of their passing attack, the Browns more than made up for with the dominance of their running game. They pounded the ball on everyone, including the Dolphins in the playoff game, with an offense made up mostly of younger players.
Still, it didn't translate into many points. The Browns scored over 30 points just once all year, and they totaled only 46 points combined during a four-game losing streak, ruining a surprisingly good 4-2 start.
What saved the Browns overall - and allowed them to play seven games that were decided by seven points or less -- was their defense. Despite that aforementioned 5-11 record, the defense had played well in 1984. That carried over into '85, as all of the young players on that side of the ball continued to come of age.
The Browns made the playoffs by winning four of their last six games. The biggest of those victories was a nationally-televised 35-33 decision over the New York Giants that wasn't decided until the last play.
Because of the drama that accompanied it, and the fact it came on the road over a playoff-bound Giants team that was just one year away from capturing the Super Bowl, the win not only catapulted the Browns toward the playoffs in 1985 but also served as the launching pad for all the success the team would enjoy for the entire last half of the 1980s.
|9/8||L24-27||St. Louis Cardinals (OT)||62,107|
|9/22||L7-20||at Dallas Cowboys||61,456|
|9/29||W21-7||at San Diego Chargers||52,107|
|10/6||W24-20||New England Patriots||62,139|
|10/13||W21-6||at Houston Oilers||38,386|
|10/20||L20-21||Los Angeles Raiders||77,928|
|11/3||L9-10||at Pittsburgh Steelers||51,976|
|11/10||L10-27||at Cincinnati Bengals||57,293|
|12/1||W35-33||at New York Giants||66,482|
|12/8||L13-31||at Seattle Seahawks||58,477|
|12/22||L10-37||at New York Jets||59,073|
|1/4||L21-24||at Miami Dolphins||75,128|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||271||297|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||79/216||83/228|
|3rd Down Pct.||36.60%||36.40%|
|4th Down: Made/Att||13/21||7/15|
|4th Down Pct.||61.90%||46.70%|
|Total Net Yards||4,921||4,958|
|Avg. Per Game||307.6||309.9|
|Avg. Per Play||5||4.7|
|Net Yards Rushing||2,285||1,851|
|Avg. Per Game||142.8||115.7|
|Net Yards Passing||2,636||3,107|
|Avg. Per Game||164.8||194.2|
|Net Punting Avg.||81/36.5||91/38.1|
A slow start was followed by a strong finish
14 former Ohio State players to make trip to Indianapolis
Production unexpectedly high despite injuries, turnover
Injury bug bit this group big time in 2015