Nothing lasts forever, and neither did the Browns' great run through the last half of the 1980s.
After five straight playoff appearances, four Central Division titles and three trips to the AFC Championship Game from 1985-89, compiling a regular-season record of 49-29-1, including 41-21-1 the last four years, in the process, the Browns came crashing down to earth in 1990.
They finished 3-13, then a franchise-worst, and gave up 462 points, still the most in club history. They allowed 58 points in one game, in a 44-point loss to the Houston Oilers, which ties for the most in Browns annals. That ended a string of five contests in which the Browns surrendered at least 30 points an outing.
The offense had its issues, too, as the Browns were shut out three times in a season for the first time in history.
The season began with both great optimism and great pessimism. After having had such great success the previous five years, the Browns were looking to do it again. And they got off to a good start, shutting down the Pittsburgh Steelers 13-3 in the opener.
But there were dark clouds surrounding that win. A host of key defensive players held out until a week before the game in a contract dispute. They came in and played well against the Steelers, but many people were worried that those players' lack of preparation and practice would catch up with the defense.
And it did.
That, combined with the advancing age of some of the longer-tenured defensive players, led to the unit's demise.
Some of the offensive stars were getting up there in age as well. For instance, the team's best player, Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome, was in the last of his 13 seasons.
In short, the players on both sides of the ball were getting old all at the same time.
The Browns followed up the win over Pittsburgh with two defeats to teams that would finish just 6-10, the New York Jets (24-21) and San Diego Chargers (24-14).
Then came a real downer, a 34-0 loss at Kansas City. The Browns hadn't lost by more points since early in 1975.
That fueled all kinds of rumors that head coach Bud Carson's job was on the line. He had arrived in 1989 to get the Browns over the hump and into the Super Bowl for the first time. The organization's frustration in not getting there caused Marty Schottenheimer to be fired just days after the 1988 season ended.
Carson got the Browns back to the AFC title game in 1989, but they lost to the Denver Broncos for the third time in fourth years, this time by a much more pronounced 37-21 count.
As 1990 approached, the pressure mounted on Carson to get the Browns at least one step further than he had in '89, and the 2-4 start, punctuated by the one-sided loss to the Chiefs, only served to increase the heat on him.
The Browns bought Carson some time when they erased a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit and edged the pesky Broncos 30-29 on Monday Night Football on a 30-yard, last-play field goal by Jerry Kauric, who had beaten out the popular Matt Bahr for the job.
But then came three straight defeats, a blowout 21-point decision (34-13) at home to the Cincinnati Bengals on MNF and two by close margins, 25-20 to the New Orleans Saints and 20-17 to the defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers.
Management members was encouraged that the Browns had given the talented 49ers all they could handle, and hoped that the club could turn it around and still get back into hunt in a division where none of the teams seemed to be able to take charge.
They were also hopeful that Mike Pagel, who, in a highly controversial move, took over at quarterback for Bernie Kosar in the second half against the 49ers and led a furious comeback to tie the score at 17-17, could provide a spark.
The opponent as he got his first start the following week? The visiting Buffalo Bills, who had fallen 34-30 to the Browns just 10 months before in the divisional playoffs on that same field in one of the most exciting postseason games in franchise history. To spice things up even more, the contest was nationally televised.
The results were nightmarish. The Browns, outscored 28-0 in the second half, including 21-0 in the fourth quarter, were drubbed 42-0, suffering their worst shutout defeat in history. Pagel threw for just 195 yards and was intercepted twice, the second of which was returned 60 yards for the Bills' final touchdown.
The Browns, at 2-7 and the losers of four straight, had reached a low ebb and, with the bye week coming up and a home game against Houston waiting in the wings after that, management decided it was time to make a coaching change. So Carson was fired and replaced on an interim basis by Jim Shofner, in his first season as offensive coordinator. Shofner had been quarterbacks coach for three years (1978-80) during the Kardiac Kids era and had also played six seasons (1958-63) as a defensive back for the team.
He re-inserted Kosar into the lineup, but that didn't help much. The offense improved somewhat, but the losing continued -- 35-23 to the Oilers, 30-13 to the Miami Dolphins and 38-23 to the Los Angeles Rams before the crushing defeat at Houston, extending the losing streak to eight, the longest for the club since 1975.
A 13-10 home win over the struggling Atlanta Falcons broke that skid, but the Browns finished the year with two more defeats, both on the road, 35-0 to Pittsburgh and 21-14 to Cincinnati.
Kosar had the worst season of his career, throwing just 10 TD passes with 15 interceptions for a 65.7 quarterback rating. Pagel ended with only three scoring passes and eight picks for a 48.2 rating.
Collectively and, in many cases, individually, it had been arguably the toughest, most difficult season in Browns history. There was a fear that the Browns could fall off a little in 1990, but nobody anticipated it would be this dramatic.
For the first time in years, the Browns needed a complete overhaul physically, mentally and emotionally, and the search began immediately to find the right coach to do the work.
|9/16||L21-24||at New York Jets||67,354|
|9/23||L14-24||San Diego Chargers||77,429|
|9/30||L0-34||at Kansas City Chiefs||75,462|
|10/8||W30-29||at Denver Broncos||74,814|
|10/14||L20-25||at New Orleans Saints||68,608|
|10/28||L17-20||at San Francisco 49ers||63,672|
|12/2||L23-38||Los Angeles Rams||61,981|
|12/9||L14-58||at Houston Oilers||54,469|
|12/23||L0-35||at Pittsburgh Steelers||51,665|
|12/30||L14-21||at Cincinnati Bengals||60,041|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||259||314|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||81/207||104/211|
|3rd Down Pct.||39.10%||49.30%|
|4th Down: Made/Att||7/19||2/3|
|4th Down Pct.||36.80%||66.70%|
|Total Net Yards||4,367||5,190|
|Avg. Per Game||272.9||324.4|
|Avg. Per Play||4.5||5.3|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,220||2,105|
|Avg. Per Game||76.3||131.6|
|Net Yards Passing||3,147||3,085|
|Avg. Per Game||196.7||192.8|
|Net Punting Avg.||78/31.5||68/35.0|
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