Most Browns fans reading this well remember the 2002 season, when the club made the playoffs for the first time since its return to the field in 1999.
The Browns won their last two games, including a thrilling 24-16 home decision over the Atlanta Falcons in the finale, and then waited for several hours for the outcome of the late afternoon games. When the dust cleared, the Browns' 9-7 mark, though tying them with the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos, allowed them to vault ahead of those other three teams via tie-breakers and claim the sixth -- and final - AFC postseason berth.
Butch Davis had completely turned things around in his two seasons as head coach, taking a team that had finished just 5-27 in the two years before his arrival, and getting it into the playoffs for the first time since 1994. Although the Browns had finished 7-9 in 2001, providing much hope for '02, the playoff berth was unexpected.
The team was 3-4, coming off an uninspiring 34-17 win over the expansion Houston Texans and mourning the death that week of owner Al Lerner when it went to New York to face the Jets. Falling behind 21-3 in the second quarter, the Browns rallied to win 24-21 over a team that would capture the AFC East title.
Although the Browns lost 23-20 to the Pittsburgh Steelers the following week, the Jets game seemed to turn their season around as they won five of their last seven contests.
The defense, made up of a lot of veterans, came up with big play after big play down the stretch.
Offensively, there were two stories -- or three, to be more accurate. The first one involves rookie running back William Green. The No. 16 overall draft choice struggled to find his rhythm through the first half of the season, then got going and ended up with 887 yards rushing. He carried the team late in the year and provided the biggest play of the year with a 64-yard touchdown burst that closed the scoring in the all-important win over Atlanta.
The last two stories involve quarterbacks Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb. Couch, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1999 and the player on whom the Browns were going to build their team, broke his leg in the second quarter against the Falcons. It ended what had been -- by far -- his best season, as he had as many touchdown passes (18) as interceptions and a 76.8 quarterback rating.
Holcomb, a career journeyman, came on, helped lead the Browns over Atlanta and then had the game of his life at Pittsburgh in the wild-card playoffs. He threw for 429 yards and three touchdowns, but it was not enough in a devastating 36-33 loss. The Browns blew a 24-7 third-quarter lead and a 33-21 advantage with just under four minutes to go.
The performance sparked a quarterback controversy heading into the ensuing offseason that was never really resolved.
But the bigger news - at least in the more immediate future -- came when Davis, citing salary cap overruns, cut or chose not to re-sign a slew of core veterans, including his entire starting linebacker corps. The team never recovered from that move, as evidenced by the 9-23 mark the next two years that caused Davis to resign with five games remaining in 2004.
|9/8||L 39-40||Kansas City Chiefs||72,938|
|9/15||W 20-7||Cincinnati Bengals||73,358|
|9/22||W 31-28 (OT)||at Tennessee Titans||68,804|
|9/29||L 13-16 (OT)||at Pittsburgh Steelers||62,864|
|10/6||L 21-26||Baltimore Ravens||73,688|
|10/13||L 3-17||at Tampa Bay Buccaneers||65,625|
|10/20||W 34-17||Houson Texans||73,248|
|10/27||W 24-21||at New York Jets||78,502|
|11/3||L 20-23||Pittsburgh Steelers||73,718|
|11/17||W 27-20||at Cincinnati Bengals||64,060|
|11/24||W 24-15||at New Orleans Saints||68,295|
|12/1||L 6-13||Carolina Panthers||72,718|
|12/8||W 21-20||at Jacksonville Jaguars||46,267|
|12/15||L 23-28||Indianapolis Colts||73,098|
|12/22||W 14-13||at Baltimore Ravens||69,348|
|12/29||W 24-16||Atlanta Falcons||73,528|
|Wild Card Playoff|
|12/29||L 33-36||at Pittsburgh Steelers||62,595|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||279||291|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||90/222||91/226|
|3rd Down Pct.||40.4||40.3|
|4th Down: Made/Att||8/10||7/14|
|4th Down Pct.||80.0||50.0|
|Total Net Yards||5027||5348|
|Avg. Per Game||314.2||334.3|
|Avg. Per Play||5.1||5.2|
|Net Yards Rushing||1615||2079|
|Avg. Per Game||100.9||129.9|
|Net Yards Passing||3412||3269|
|Avg. Per Game||213.3||204.3|
|Net Punting Avg.||83/34.9||76/31.1|
Cleveland falls to the Bengals, 31-17
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