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Top 75 Moments: No. 51 - Browns defeat Falcons to clinch 2002 playoff berth


To continue our celebration of the franchise's 75th anniversary, we're launching "Browns Countdown: Top 75 Moments" presented by Bridgestone. Over the next month, through videos, articles and more, we'll be highlighting the top 75 moments in Browns history. Our video tributes, which will be available, the Browns' mobile app and the Browns' official YouTube Channel, will dive deep into the top 20 while our articles will put the spotlight on a number of different moments that are sprinkled throughout the top 75.

We're moving down to No. 51, which highlights the Browns' playoff-clinching performance from 2002.

The first waiting period that ended Dec. 29, 2002, at Cleveland Browns Stadium lasted eight years.

That's the amount of time passed between the Browns finishing a season with a winning record. They last did it in 1994, when the Browns clinched a playoff berth just two years before the franchise broke the hearts of Cleveland football fans and relocated to Baltimore. 

The second wait, which arrived after the Browns defeated the Atlanta Falcons 24-16 in their final regular season contest, lasted three hours.

Cleveland ended the season with a 9-7 record and could only make the playoffs if the New England Patriots defeated the Miami Dolphins, a game that went to overtime as the Browns' victory concluded, and if the New York Jets defeated the Green Bay Packers later that afternoon.

"This is just how our season has been,'' wide receiver Quincy Morgan said. "Everything hanging from a thread.''

Browns players watched in the locker room as Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winning field goal for the Patriots. Hours later, the Jets finished the job with a 42-17 win, and the celebration in Cleveland could commence. 

Festivities were well-earned after the Browns sealed their win against the Falcons by scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The 72,528 fans inside the stadium were at their loudest all game, with the peak moment coming when Browns linebacker Dwayne Rudd danced on the orange helmet logo at midfield as the final seconds ticked.

Rookie running back William Green was the true MVP of the game, though. He rushed for 178 yards and scored two touchdowns, including a 64-yard sprint for the final touchdown of the game with less than four minutes remaining.

"I think we're living our dream right now,'' Green said.

But Green's run still didn't officially seal the win for the Browns, who had just three wins that season decided by a scoring margin bigger than one possession.

The Falcons managed to bring the ball back to Cleveland's 1 after quarterback Michael Vick led Atlanta through their two-minute drill. When the Falcons got within inches of the goal-line, they called for two rushing plays from running back Warrick Dunn on third and fourth down.

His first attempt? Stuffed short.

Second attempt? Stopped again.

Finally, the game was over.

"This game was a microcosm of the whole season,'' Browns coach Butch Davis said. "What can you say?''

Earlier this year, the Browns commissioned a panel of historians, alumni and journalists to rank the top 75 moments in Browns history. The group met multiple times to discuss the moments and each member submitted their own final rankings, which were averaged against each other to create the ultimate list.

Building the Top 75 from the bottom up

50. Brian Sipe breaks the Cleveland Browns franchise passing record held previously by Otto Graham (401) by throwing for 444 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-28 win over the Baltimore Colts on Oct. 25, 1981.

51. Browns defeat the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 29, 2002, to clinch playoff berth. William Green broke off a 64-yard run to seal the game away.

52. Baker Mayfield breaks NFL rookie record for most passing touchdowns in as single season (27) on Dec. 30, 2018

54. Browns defeat Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-22, on Jan. 3, 2021, to end NFL's longest playoff drought of 18 years.

55. Browns avenge their first championship game loss to the Los Angeles Rams in 1951 by crushing the Rams in a rematch 37-7 on Oct. 7, 1952.

56. Cleveland Browns draft Joe Thomas on April 28, 2007.

57. Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham is elbowed in the face by a Detroit Lions defender in the first half, and after receiving 15 stitches and a lucite face mask, he comes back in the second half to defeat the Lions, 23-21, on Nov. 15, 1953. Graham's injury helped kickstart the widespread use of facemasks in the NFL.

58. Callie Brownson becomes the first female coach for the Cleveland Browns. She became part of NFL history when the Cleveland Browns played the Washington Football Team on Sept. 27, 2020. The game marked the first time in NFL history a game featured female coaches on each sideline (Brownson for Cleveland and Jennifer King for Washington) along with a female official (Sarah Thomas) on the field.

59. In the first meeting of Jim Brown vs. Johnny Unitas, the Cleveland Browns prevail in a 38-31 shootout against the Baltimore Colts on Nov. 1, 1959. The game also pits Weeb Ewbank against his mentor Paul Brown. Brown rushed for 178 yards and scored five touchdowns while Unitas threw for 397 yards in defeat.

60. Browns clinch a wildcard playoff berth on Dec. 18, 1988, behind backup quarterback Don Strock, who threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-23 victory over the Houston Oilers

61. Blanton Collier replaces Paul Brown as head coach. Collier coached the Browns when they won the 1964 championship.

62. Paul Brown debuts first radio helmet 1956 with QB George Ratterman.

63. Josh Gordon becomes first wide receiver in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard games on Dec. 1, 2013.

65. Phil Dawson retires from the NFL as a Cleveland Brown. Dawson signed with the Browns in 1999 and kicked for the Browns for 14 years.

67. Bobby Mitchell rushes for 232 yards on 14 carries for an incredible 16.6-yard average in a Cleveland Browns 31-17 win against the Washington Redskins on Nov. 15, 1959.

68. Browns' fans create numerous music ballads that are played on Cleveland radio to celebrate the teams resurgence in the late 1980s. Songs include "Oh Bernie Bernie," "Super Bowl Browns" and "Born and Raised on the Browns."

69. Browns defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 21-20, on Dec. 8, 2002 with a 50-yard Hail Mary from Tim Couch to Quincy Morgan with no time left. Couch becomes the only quarterback to have two game-winning passes of 50 yards or more with no time left on the clock.

72. Browns clinch an Eastern Conference title by crushing the New York Giants 52-20 on Dec. 12, 1964.

73. Browns move into first place of the AFC Central Division after defeating the Houston Oilers on Dec. 15, 1985. The Browns would go on to win the AFC Central for the first time since 1980

74. Jeff Garcia and Andre Davis combine to tie the NFL record for the longest pass in NFL history of 99 yards in a Cleveland Browns 34-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 17, 2004.

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