Other than the Kardiac Kids of six years before, the 1986 Browns might be the most exciting and entertaining team in franchise history.
Not only was the club good, but it also played a number of thrilling games that kept fans right on the edge of their seats to the very end.
All this after five straight years during which the Browns had some success, but didn't play a consistently exciting brand of football.
The best of those seasons was 1985, when the Browns, riding 1,000-yard rushing performances from both Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner, won the AFC Central after finishing just 8-8. Then they nearly upset the Miami Dolphins in the divisional playoffs, losing 24-21 after leading 21-3 in the third quarter.
Heading into 1986, the defense was there, and so was the running game, obviously. But what the Browns lacked was a sophisticated passing attack that suited the talents of Bernie Kosar, a native of the Youngstown, Ohio suburb of Boardman Township who had finagled his way to the team he followed while growing up, by going through the '85 NFL Supplemental Draft.
Kosar had played well as a rookie in 1985, but there was potential for him to do so much more. Thus, Lindy Infante was brought in as offensive coordinator in the ensuing offseason, and the attack really started chugging along, scoring 390 points, or an average of 24.4 per game.
The Browns finished 12-4 to not only win the division again, but also set a franchise record for regular-season victories in the NFL in addition to securing home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
In one of the most pulsating games in club history, the Browns edged the New York Jets 23-20 in double-overtime in the divisional playoffs. Then, in maybe the most disappointing contest in team annals, the Browns lost to the Denver Broncos by that same score in OT in the AFC Championship Game as quarterback John Elway orchestrated what has become known as The Drive.
Those games are symbolic of the ones in the 1986 regular season, for the Browns were involved in six contests decided by three points or less, and eight decided by six points or less. There were two OT games - in consecutive weeks, no less -- when the Browns beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 37-31 and the Houston Oilers 13-10, both in Cleveland.
That started the Browns on a five-game winning streak to end the season, and it was also part of a stretch in which they won eight of nine contests.
There were several other big games in addition to the two OT affairs. The Browns beat the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium for the first time in 16 tries, 27-24. They defeated Miami 26-16 on Monday Night Football, extracting some revenge for their loss to the Dolphins in the divisional playoffs the year before.
And they clinched the Central crown by going to Cincinnati in the next-to-last game and winning soundly, 34-3. The Bengals finished in second place at 10-6 but did not make the playoffs.
Kosar's career really took off in 1986, as he threw for 3,854 yards and 17 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions for an 83.8 quarterback rating. Wide receiver Brian Brennan, who led the way with 55 receptions and six scores, was one of seven Browns to catch 28 or more passes.
Mack and Byner battled injuries for much of the year. That, along with the increased emphasis on passing, caused the rushing numbers to go way down. As a team, the Browns got just 1,650 yards, with Mack rushing for a team-leading 665. He did, however, run for 10 scores.
Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield were among the top cornerbacks in the league, leading a defense that excelled down the stretch, limiting the last four opponents to 17 or fewer points.
If only the Browns could have held the Broncos to under 17 points as well, then they would have gone to the Super Bowl.
|9/7||L 31-41||at Chicago Bears||66,030|
|9/14||W 23-20||at Houston Oilers||46,049|
|9/18||L 13-30||Cincinnati Bengals||78,779|
|9/28||W 24-21||Detroit Lions||72,029|
|10/5||W 27-24||at Pittsburgh Steelers||57,327|
|10/12||W 20-7||Kansas City Chiefs||71,278|
|10/19||L 14-17||Green Bay Packers||76,438|
|10/26||W 23-20||at Minnesota Vikings||59,133|
|11/2||W 24-9||at Indianapolis Colts||57,962|
|11/10||W 26-16||Miami Dolphins||77,949|
|11/16||L 14-27||at Los Angeles Raiders||65,461|
|11/23||W 37-31||Pittsburgh Steelers (OT)||76,452|
|11/30||W 13-10||Houston Oilers (OT)||62,309|
|12/7||W 21-17||at Buffalo Bills||42,213|
|12/14||W 34-3||at Cincinnati Bengals||58,062|
|12/21||W 47-17||San Diego Chargers||68,505|
|1/3||W 23-20||New York Jets (2OT)||78,106|
|1/11||L 20-23||Denver Broncos (OT)||79,915|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||292||312|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||85/222||80/215|
|3rd Down Pct.||38.30%||37.20%|
|4th Down: Made/Att||14-Jul||18-Oct|
|4th Down Pct.||50.00%||55.60%|
|Total Net Yards||5,395||5,269|
|Avg. Per Game||337.2||329.3|
|Avg. Per Play||5.1||5.1|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,650||1,982|
|Avg. Per Game||103.1||123.9|
|Net Yards Passing||3,744||3,287|
|Avg. Per Game||234||205.4|
|Net Punting Avg.||83/38.0||79/34.0|