After the three-win improvement they had had in 1991 in Bill Belichick's first year as head coach, the Browns wanted to enjoy a similar jump in '92 and make a push to get back into the AFC playoffs.
The Browns did make a jump, but not similar to the one in 1991. They won only one more game, going 7-9, and for a second straight year, three straight losses to end the season -- on the heels of two consecutive wins, no less -- killed any chances they had of getting into the postseason.
It all unfolded in a bizarre way.
The Browns got off to a slow -- and in one very important respect, devastating -- start, losing their first two games. After the second one, a 27-23 decision to the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football, it was discovered that Bernie Kosar had suffered a broken ankle in the first half.
Remarkably, he finished the game, throwing two touchdown passes and helping lead a 20-point comeback that brought the Browns from a 20-3 deficit with 11:53 left to a 23-20 lead 10½ minutes later. But the defense faltered in the closing moments, allowing the Dolphins to escape with a victory.
And the next week, Kosar's replacement, Todd Philcox, finished the game against the Los Angeles Raiders despite having fractured the thumb on his throwing (right) hand in the first half. It would cause him to miss eight weeks, an especially disappointing situation for him personally since that was his first career start and he probably would have played the next nine games until Kosar's return.
But at least Philcox had something good to think about during his recuperation, for he had had a hand in the Browns beating the Raiders 28-16. Eric Metcalf scored four TDs, the most by a Brown since Pro Football Hall of Famer Leroy Kelly in 1968, and three of them came on passes from Philcox. Two of the tosses covered 69 and 63 yards.
Former Ohio Stater Mike Tomczak took over for Philcox, becoming the team's third starting quarterback in as many weeks. After a rough debut -- a 12-0 home loss to old nemesis John Elway and the Denver Broncos -- Tomczak got going, leading the Browns to three triumphs in a row and getting them to 4-3 and over the .500 mark for the first time since Week 3 of 1991.
One victory (17-9) came over the eventual Central Division champion Pittsburgh Steelers, and another (17-6) was over the Green Bay Packers in Brett Favre's third career start.
In all, Tomczak led the Browns to a respectable 4-3 record as a starter before Kosar returned in a 27-14 win over the Chicago Bears. Following that game and a 37-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals the following week in which Kosar set a team record for completion percentage (82.6, on 19-of-23 passing for 239 yards and two TDs), the Browns were 7-6 and in the playoff chase.
But then came those three losses, the first of which was a 24-14 loss at Detroit to a Lions team that would finish just 5-11. That got the Browns off track, and they never recovered.
The defense continued to improve on the year, giving up 275 points, or 23 fewer than the unit had allowed in 1991. In two years under Belichick, the defense had shaved 187 points off its franchise-worst performance in 1990, when the Browns surrendered 462.
Offensively, Kosar, Tomczak and Philcox combined to throw for 18 TDs with 16 interceptions and an 82.7 quarterback rating. Considering all the injuries the Browns had suffered at the position, that was outstanding.
The fact Philcox had the best rating of the three at 97.3 gave Belichick confidence he could do the job, as would be revealed midway through 1993 when the coach cut Kosar and replaced him with the Syracuse product.
Rangy wide receiver Michael Jackson, though, was the most pleasant surprise on the team. A sixth-round pick in the 1991 NFL Draft out of Southern Mississippi, the 6-foot-4, 195-pounder tied with Metcalf for the team lead in receptions with 47 and added a club-best seven TD catches.
The Browns also increased their rushing yards to 1,607 -- just two more than their foes -- from 1,360 in 1992.
But in the end, those late-season collapses were killing the Browns. In the last six games, combined, from 1991 and '92 -- three in both seasons -- they had scored no more than 14 points. In 11 of their 16 contests in 1992, they scored 19 points or less.
They had to figure out a way to score more points, and if they could, then it might lead to more success for the team, especially in those important late-season games.
|9/6||L14-Mar||at Indianapolis Colts||50,766|
|9/20||W28-16||at Los Angeles Raiders||48,102|
|10/18||W17-6||Green Bay Packers||69,268|
|10/25||W19-17||at New England Patriots||32,219|
|11/1||L30-Oct||at Cincinnati Bengals||54,765|
|11/8||W24-14||at Houston Oilers||57,348|
|11/15||L13-14||San Diego Chargers||58,396|
|11/22||L13-17||at Minnesota Vikings||53,323|
|12/13||L14-24||at Detroit Lions||65,970|
|12/27||L13-23||at Pittsburgh Steelers||53,776|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||242||281|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||67/196||76/205|
|3rd Down Pct.||34.20%||37.10%|
|4th Down: Made/Att||9/17||7/14|
|4th Down Pct.||52.90%||50.00%|
|Total Net Yards||4,492||4,757|
|Avg. Per Game||280.8||297.3|
|Avg. Per Play||5.1||4.9|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,607||1,605|
|Avg. Per Game||100.4||100.3|
|Net Yards Passing||2,885||3,152|
|Avg. Per Game||180.3||197|
|Net Punting Avg.||75/38.0||74/38.7|
John DeFilippo, Chris Tabor and Jim O'Neil meet with reporters
The Browns head coach talks with reporters before Thursday's practice
Pressure on QB Joe Flacco has to be authentic
Breaking down the fantasy football implications of Browns-Ravens
Cleveland's quarterback talks after Wednesday's practice