Because of what would happen after the following year -- the franchise's move to Baltimore - and along with the fact head coach Bill Belichick and Browns fans didn't exactly hit it off then, the 1994 Cleveland team does not get the credit it deserves.
But when you look at the numbers - when you look at what happened and divorce yourself from the emotion of it - the 1994 season really stands out as one of the better ones in team history.
The Browns finished 11-5 and tied AFC West champion San Diego for the second-best record in the conference. Unfortunately for the Browns, though, the team with the top mark in the AFC was in the Central Division with them, as the Pittsburgh Steelers were just a game better at 12-4. But the Browns were still able to make the playoffs as a wild card.
That leads to the next problem: After beating the other wild card, New England, 20-13 in the first round, the Browns played the Steelers in a divisional contest. And for the third straight time that year, Pittsburgh got the best of them, winning 29-9 at Three Rivers Stadium. The Steelers captured the other two games despite scoring just 17 points both times, 17-10 and 17-7.
Other than that, though, this was truly an outstanding year for the Browns. This was Belichick's fourth season in Cleveland. After going 6-10 in his first year in 1991, representing a dramatic improvement over the 3-13 finish in '90, the Browns got stuck in neutral the next two seasons, going 7-9 both times.
Everybody was getting impatient, except maybe Belichick, who told management upon being hired that it would take five years to completely turn around the Browns. As it turned out, he got it done a year early by accomplishing it in 1994.
Belichick came to Cleveland with the reputation of being a defensive genius after his days as a defensive coordinator on two Super Bowl-winning New York Giants clubs. His defenses the first three years in Cleveland were good, but the 1994 edition was off the charts, leading the league and setting a Browns record (for a 16-game schedule) in points allowed with 204, or an average of just 12.8 per contest.
Although Belichick obviously had a huge hand in defensive decisions, don't underestimate the contributions of coordinator Nick Saban. Saban, who played and coached at nearby Kent State and also coached at Ohio State, was Belichick's first hire, being lured from the University of Toledo, where he had been head coach for one season.
Saban did so well in Cleveland that, with a month still left in the 1994 season, he was hired as the head coach at Michigan State. He went from there to the head coaching job at Louisiana State, where he won a co-national championship, spent two years as head coach of the Miami Dolphins and was hired for the same role with the University of Alabama in 2007.
With Saban and Belichick putting their heads together, the Browns defense made it really tough on opponents. The Browns posted one shutout, 32-0 over a decent (8-8) Arizona Cardinals club. The most points they surrendered in the regular season came in a 26-14 loss at Denver at the midway point. They permitted a combined total of just 29 points in a four-game stretch early in the year.
They allowed only 13 points in one two-game span, and but 15 points in another. They held the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys, whose defensive coordinator was a man by the name of Butch Davis, to just two touchdowns in their most impressive win of the year, a 19-14 decision on the road.
Another eye-catching road triumph was a 26-7 manhandling of a Philadelphia Eagles team that was 7-2 at the time.
In two games against the 10-6 Patriots, where Belichick was matched up against his mentor and then close friend, New England head coach Bill Parcells, the Browns allowed a combined total of just 19 points. They beat the Pats 13-6 at Cleveland in mid-season.
The defense, which was led in part by Pepper Johnson and Carl Banks, two of Belichick's former linebackers with the Giants, allowed less than 20 points in all but three games. The other linebacker in the 4-3 scheme was former Akron (Ohio) St. Vincent-St. Mary High and Notre Dame star Frank Stams.
Free safety Eric Turner, the No. 3 overall pick in Belichick's first draft in 1991, had nine interceptions.
The Browns scored 340 points, their most since 1987, but that was because of the defense setting up excellent field position. The offense itself? It was OK, but not spectacular.
Vinny Testaverde, who was in his first full season as the starting quarterback after the controversial release of popular Bernie Kosar midway through the 1993 campaign, did a good job despite throwing more interceptions (18) than TD passes (16). Backup Mark Rypien, formerly of the Washington Redskins, was efficient when Testaverde was out.
Eric Metcalf was the club's biggest offensive weapon. He rushed for 329 yards, was second in receptions with 47 and returned two punts for scores.
Leroy Hoard rushed for 890 yards, which was the most by a Brown since 1985 until Reuben Droughns got 1,232 in 2005. Rookie wide receiver Derrick Alexander had a team-high 48 catches.
The Browns won six of their first seven games and eight of their first 10, including five in a row. But they sputtered down the stretch, going 3-3. Maybe that's why they stumbled so badly in the playoff contest at Pittsburgh.
|9/4||W28-20||at Cincinnati Bengals||52,778|
|9/25||W21-14||at Indianapolis Colts||55,821|
|10/2||W27-7||New York Jets||76,188|
|10/13||W11-8||at Houston Oilers||50,364|
|10/30||L14-26||at Denver Broncos||73,190|
|11/6||W13-6||New England Patriots||73,878|
|11/13||W26-7||at Philadelphia Eagles||65,233|
|11/20||L13-20||at Kansas City Chiefs||69,121|
|12/4||L13-16||New York Giants||72,068|
|12/10||W19-14||at Dallas Cowboys||64,826|
|12/18||L7-17||at Pittsburgh Steelers||60,808|
|Wild Card Playoff|
|1/1||W20-13||New England Patriots||77,452|
|1/7||L9-29||at Pittsburgh Steelers||58,185|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||273||304|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||69/204||83/242|
|3rd Down Pct.||33.80%||34.30%|
|4th Down: Made/Att||4/12||7/18|
|4th Down Pct.||33.30%||38.90%|
|Total Net Yards||4,832||4,826|
|Avg. Per Game||302||301.6|
|Avg. Per Play||5||4.4|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,657||1,669|
|Avg. Per Game||103.6||104.3|
|Net Yards Passing||3,175||3,157|
|Avg. Per Game||198.4||197.3|
|Net Punting Avg.||80/37.4||97/35.2|
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