When it comes to the Browns' AFC Championship Games against the Denver Broncos, there was The Drive in 1986, The Fumble in 1987 and The ...uh, whatever in 1989.
The last one -- the unnamed one -- is when the Browns fell 37-21 at Mile High Stadium in a game that had virtually none of the drama and suspense of the previous two. The end result was the same, though, as the Browns were denied that elusive first Super Bowl berth for the third time in four years.
This would be the last season of the Browns' great run through the last half of the 1980s. Since then, the Browns have made the playoffs just twice and have never gotten back to the conference title game, so that 16-point loss to Denver - and the 1989 season overall - are still frozen in the memory of many Cleveland fans.
It was a season of ups and downs - way up and way down, for that matter.
The Browns, who would finish 9-6-1 and capture their fourth AFC Central title in five years, started the season with a bang, defeating Pittsburgh 51-0 in the opener to hand the arch rival Steelers their most lopsided loss in club history. What a way for new Browns head coach Bud Carson, a former longtime Steelers assistant, to break in. Talk about making a good first impression.
There was also a 16-13 last-play, regular-season triumph over the Broncos, the Browns' first defeat of Denver since 1974.
The Browns began the year 3-1 and then went to 7-3 after four straight wins. At that point, they appeared to be in great shape.
What followed was a nightmare that nearly cost the Browns a shot at the playoffs. They tied 10-10 in an emotion-charged home game with the Kansas City Chiefs, coached by Marty Schottenheimer, who had been fired as Browns head coach just 11 months before.
Then came a 13-10 Thanksgiving Day loss to the Detroit Lions, who would finish just 7-9. An ugly 21-0 defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals, and a 23-17 overtime setback at Indianapolis, rounded out the lost month.
The Browns salvaged their season by defeating NFC Central champion Minnesota 23-17 in OT, and the Houston Oilers 24-20. With that fast finish, especially the victory at the Astrodome, they edged out the Oilers and Steelers (tied at 9-7) for the division crown, but both of those clubs also made the playoffs as wild cards.
Carson, considered a defensive genius, had been brought in by the Browns to get them over the hump and into the Super Bowl. The Browns knew the road to the world title went through Denver, and they thought Carson would be just the man to figure out a way to stop John Elway, the Broncos' Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback who had bedeviled them in the 1986 and '87 conference championship games.
Through the regular season, the addition of Carson's keen mind seemed to be exactly what the Browns needed. Scrapping Schottenheimer's read-and-react 3-4 defensive alignment and implementing an aggressive, go-after-the-passer 4-3 scheme, the Browns were holding most opposing offenses in check. That, coupled with a productive offense led by quarterback Bernie Kosar (18 TD passes and 14 interceptions) and wide receivers Webster Slaughter (team-leading 65 catches and six scores) and Reggie Langhorne (60 catches), added up to a winning formula.
The offense kept chugging in the playoffs, but the defense, made up mostly of aging veterans, began to wear out. The Browns had to hold on for dear life to beat the Buffalo Bills 34-30 in the divisional round before losing in Denver. So in the playoffs, the Browns ended up surrendering 67 points in just two games -- way, way too many.
Disappointed but determined, the Browns came back in 1990 to give it another try, but they finished just 3-13, causing Carson to be fired after nine games. His tenure as head coach -- and the Browns' efforts to get past Elway and the Broncos and make it to the Super Bowl with that group of players -- was over.
|9/10||W51-0||at Pittsburgh Steelers||57,928|
|9/17||W38-24||New York Jets||73,516|
|9/25||L14-21||at Cincinnati Bengals||55,996|
|10/8||L10-13||at Miami Dolphins (OT)||58,444|
|11/5||W42-31||at Tampa Bay Buccaneers||69,162|
|11/12||W17-7||at Seattle Seahawks||58,978|
|11/19||T10-10||Kansas City Chiefs (OT)||77,922|
|11/23||L10-13||at Detroit Lions||65,624|
|12/10||L17-23||at Indianapolis Colts (OT)||58,550|
|12/17||W23-17||Minnesota Vikings (OT)||70,777|
|12/23||W24-20||at Houston Oilers||58,852|
|1/14||L21-37||at Denver Broncos||76,046|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||285||276|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||82/213||82/230|
|3rd Down Pct.||38.50%||35.70%|
|4th Down: Made/Att||1/9||10/16|
|4th Down Pct.||11.10%||62.50%|
|Total Net Yards||5,042||4,831|
|Avg. Per Game||315.1||301.9|
|Avg. Per Play||5||4.7|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,609||1,670|
|Avg. Per Game||100.6||104.4|
|Net Yards Passing||3,433||3,161|
|Avg. Per Game||214.6||197.6|
|Net Punting Avg.||97/35.0||94/35.1|