Of the five Browns teams that have gotten to the doorstep of the Super Bowl, the 1987 club was the one that had the most tools.
It was the most talented on both sides of the ball, which is why it made it to the AFC Championship Game for the second straight time, losing once more to the Denver Broncos, 38-33 in a game known simply as The Fumble because of Earnest Byner's pivotal cough up late in the contest. Denver was thumped again in the Super Bowl, falling 42-10 to the Washington Redskins.
The Browns survived a month-long players' strike to go 10-5 (every team lost one game) and win the Central Division crown for the third straight year, finishing a game in front of the wild card-qualifying Houston Oilers (9-6). Even the Browns' replacement players were good, going 2-1 in the three games during the strike.
Four of the Browns' five losses were to playoff clubs. They fell 15-10 to the Oilers during the strike, 28-21 in the opener to a New Orleans Saints team that finished 12-3 and made the playoffs for the first time in its history, 9-7 to the AFC East champion Indianapolis Colts, whom they later defeated 38-21 in the divisional playoffs, and 38-24 on Sunday Night Football to the NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers, who finished with a league-best 13-2 record.
The loss to the Colts and 49ers came in back-to-back weeks, which represented the only real negative part of the season. The other defeat was by 27-24 in overtime to the San Diego Chargers.
The Browns thrashed the Oilers 40-7 in the return match later in the year after the strike ended and the regular players had returned. That was the Browns' most complete performance of the season, and represents the progress the 1987 Browns made over '86.
They didn't have nearly as many close games in 1987 as they had had the previous year. Instead, when they won - which was obviously often - they did so by decided margins. That's evidenced by the fact the Browns outscored their foes in the second and third quarters by a combined count of 266-110.
As good as quarterback Bernie Kosar had been in 1986, he was even better - much better - in '87, throwing for 22 touchdowns with just nine interceptions for a 95.4 passing rating. Kosar was able to spread the ball around. Six Browns had 20 or more receptions, led by running back Earnest Byner's 52.
What Byner lacked in rushing as the emphasis of the offense went to the pass, thus limiting him to just 432 yards, he more than made up for in the aerial game.
Webster Slaughter had seven TD catches, while fellow wide receiver Brian Brennan added six.
Kevin Mack led in rushing with 735 yards. Defensively, the Browns faltered in the regular season only against the 49ers, and that's no shame, since San Francisco had the top offense in the league and was making a lot of defenses look bad.
They also faltered against the Broncos in the conference title game, keeping them on the doorstep of the Super Bowl instead of being able to finally walk through the door.
|9/13||L21-28||at New Orleans Saints||59,900|
|10/4||W20-10||at New England Patriots||14,830|
|10/18||W34-0||at Cincinnati Bengals||40,179|
|10/26||W30-17||Los Angeles Rams||76,933|
|11/1||L24-27||at San Diego Chargers (OT)||55,381|
|11/22||W40-7||at Houston Oilers||51,161|
|11/29||L24-38||at San Francisco 49ers||60,248|
|12/20||W24-17||at Los Angeles Raiders||40,275|
|12/26||W19-13||at Pittsburgh Steelers||56,394|
|1/17||L33-38||at Denver Broncos||75,993|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||310||251|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||86/204||72/204|
|3rd Down Pct.||42.20%||35.30%|
|4th Down: Made/Att||5/11||6/14|
|4th Down Pct.||45.50%||42.90%|
|Total Net Yards||5,200||4,269|
|Avg. Per Game||346.7||284.6|
|Avg. Per Play||5.3||4.7|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,745||1,433|
|Avg. Per Game||116.3||95.5|
|Net Yards Passing||3,455||2,836|
|Avg. Per Game||230.3||189.1|
|Net Punting Avg.||57/35.4||79/32.3|
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