Greatest Wins in Cleveland Browns History
When the Cleveland Browns were shipped off to Baltimore after the 1995 season, I wasn't all that interested in the National Football League. If someone asked who my favorite team was, I would answer with the Browns, but I probably couldn't have named more than a handful of players on the roster. It wasn't until their re-emergence in 1999 that I started to pay close attention to team and its players—and started digging into the storied history of the franchise. Because of those deep roots entrenched in the city, the Browns have remained beloved by Clevelanders, despite some pretty lousy recent history.
Over the past few years, many fans were asking, "When was the last time the Browns won?" And you can't really blame them. The team toiled in futility during a 19-game winless streak that spanned parts of three years. But even with those struggles, the franchise is still left with an illustrious history that traverses through seven decades and includes many great victories. Some of that franchise history is below:
- All-time record: 517-495-14
- Playoff record: 16-20
- Championships: 8 (no Super Bowl appearances)
- Winning seasons: 37
- Playoff appearances: 28
- Best-ever regular season: 14-0 in 1948
- Worst-ever regular season: 0-16 in 2017
From championship wins to playoff thrillers to victories that provided new beginnings, the Browns have experienced the winning side of a little bit of everything in their 71 years of existence. Here is a list of the 10 greatest wins in franchise history, based on general historical significance, as well as moments that defined new directions for the Browns.
10. December 17, 1995—Browns vs. Bengals
- Score: Cleveland Browns 26, Cincinnati Bengals 10
- Significance: Final win at Municipal Stadium
Buoyed by a sliver of hope that a lawsuit might prevent long-time owner Art Modell from moving the Browns to Baltimore after the season, droves of Clevelanders came out to Municipal Stadium one final time to see if their team could snap a six-game funk. In front of a rowdy crowd of 55,875 fans, the Browns played like a different team behind the arm of quarterback Vinny Testaverde and the legs of Earnest Byner.
Byner was thrust into a major offensive role for the first time in years, carrying the ball 31 times for 121 yards to eclipse the century mark in a game for the first time since 1992. Byner was among several players who had trouble letting go of the city, joining fans near the Dawg Pound after the game to celebrate a franchise rooted in Cleveland history for 50 years. The same could be said for Testaverde, who had one of his best games of the season by completing 32 passes for 241 yards and a pair of touchdowns. That duo led Cleveland to victory over its inter-state rival amidst a wild fourth quarter that saw fans uproot and throw seats, and toss firecrackers onto the field.
Modell may not have been in attendance that day to see the many signs displayed in protest against him, but the victory showed fans the players still cared about them. This game closed the final chapter in the history of Municipal Stadium with a positive moment. All was not lost, however, as the Browns were resurrected in 1999 when construction on a new stadium was completed.
9. October 31, 1999—Browns vs. Saints
- Score: Cleveland 21, New Orleans 16
- Significance: First victory for the "expansion" Browns
It's rare for an expansion franchise to find success in its first season, and that was no different for the 1999 Cleveland Browns, who were made up of mostly rookies and cast-offs from other teams. The "new" Browns were brought back to Cleveland after former owner Art Modell moved the original team to Baltimore following the 1995 season. They had scored just six touchdowns over the first seven weeks, but found the recipe for success in Week 8, knocking off the scuffling Saints at the Superdome on a Hail Mary pass as time expired.
After taking a snap with two seconds on the clock, rookie quarterback Tim Couch was flushed out of the pocket and launched a 60-yard pass into the New Orleans end zone. The ball was tipped by the Saints' defense, then caught by Browns receiver Kevin Johnson to secure the comeback victory. Offensive heroics aside, the Browns also had a very strong defensive showing that truly cemented the victory. Cleveland's defenders hadn't recorded an interception in a month, but picked off two passes in the first half, then forced three fumbles in the second half.
The Browns would win just one more game that season, but getting the first victory in the books helped the young players gain some confidence, which would eventually build up to a playoff appearance in 2002.
8. September 10, 1989—Browns vs. Steelers
- Score: Cleveland 51, Pittsburgh 0
- Significance: Browns win big in season-opener against chief rival
There's no better way to make a statement than by erasing a tumultuous preseason with a vicious thrashing in a heated rivalry game. That's just what the Browns did in 1989, whipping the Steelers at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium in the most lop-sided season-opening shutout since the 1970 merger of the NFL and the American Football League.
The Browns came into the season with a new coach in Bud Carson and were a leading contender to win the American Football Conference, and opened the schedule by handing the Steelers their worst loss in franchise history. Carson, the former Pittsburgh assistant and architect of the vaunted Steel Curtain defenses of the 1970s, replaced Marty Schottenheimer and clearly showed Cleveland's defense some new tricks. The Browns' defenders limited the Steelers to 53 offensive yards, forced Pittsburgh into eight turnovers, and sacked quarterback Bubby Brister six times. That showing set the stage for a fifth straight playoff appearance, which ended with a tough loss in the AFC title game.
7. December 29, 2002—Browns vs. Falcons
- Score: Cleveland 24, Atlanta 16
- Significance: Victory puts "new" Browns into the playoffs
One advantage of an expansion franchise is a core of players often develop together from a young age, and with the right coaching and support system, postseason appearances early in a team's existence are not uncommon. Since the merger of the NFL and AFL, four of the six expansion clubs appeared in the playoffs within the first four seasons of existence—Carolina and Jacksonville in Season 2, and Cleveland and Tampa Bay in Season 4.
Locked in a tight battle for the final playoff spot in the AFC in its 50th NFL season, Cleveland entered the final week of the 2002 season needing a win over the Falcons to make the playoffs for the first time since 1994. Trailing 16-10 entering the fourth quarter and without their starting quarterback, things were looking bleak for the Browns. Tim Couch had been knocked out of the game before halftime, but reserve quarterback Kelly Holcomb engineered a touchdown drive with 6:58 to play, and William Green then rumbled 64 yards for another score on the ensuing drive to all but seal the win with 3:53 to play.
The Browns earned a January date against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round, but lost, 36-33. They haven't been back to the postseason since, despite a 10-win season in 2007.
6. Sept. 21, 1970—Browns vs. Jets
- Score: Cleveland 31, New York Jets 21
- Significance: Victory comes in first Monday Night Football game of all-time
Monday Night Football has featured an abundance of classic matchups and thrilling moments, and for the Browns, their first appearance on the American Broadcasting Company's primetime television stage was certainly one to remember. One year removed from back-to-back conference championship appearances, Cleveland was matched up against Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath and the defending Super Bowl champion Jets to open the 1970 season. The Browns dazzled a home crowd that night, but the weekly spectacle hasn't been as kind to Cleveland since, with the Browns going 16-15 overall. Before beating the Jets again in Week 2 of the 2019 season, the Browns hadn't won on a Monday night since 2008.
The inaugural game—seen by a crowd of 85,703 people in person and an estimated 35 million more at home—was a sloppy one, with 21 penalties assessed between the two teams. The 161 yards that went against the Jets, along with three interceptions thrown by Namath, negated an otherwise prolific offensive performance of 454 yards. Meanwhile, the Browns played a steady game, getting touchdowns on offense, defense, and special teams for the first win in what would be a disappointing 7-7 season. The deciding touchdown came with 35 seconds left in the game, when Namath's pass was intercepted by Billy Andrews and returned for a touchdown.
5. September 6, 1946—Browns vs. Seahawks
- Score: Cleveland 44, Miami Seahawks 0
- Significance: Franchise wins first-ever game
Though five other football teams had played professionally in Cleveland, the Browns were founded by Paul Brown in 1946 as part of the All-America Football Conference, a direct competitor to the NFL. And they were easily the best team in that league from the start. The Browns drew a record crowd in the franchise's first game of all-time. A gathering of 60,315 fans was the largest crowd to ever watch a professional football game, and they were treated to quite a show at Municipal Stadium, as the home team walked away with a dominating shutout.
The AAFC folded after the 1949 season, but by winning all four championships, the Browns were adopted into the NFL. Cleveland would continue its winning ways, and that string of success secured the future of football on the shores of Lake Erie. Lou Groza converted five point-after touchdown kicks and sent three field goals through the uprights to aid Cleveland's inaugural effort, and Browns' defenders added two touchdowns and held Miami to just 27 total offensive yards.
4. September 28, 2018—Browns vs. Jets
- Score: Cleveland 21, New York Jets 17
- Significance: Browns end 19-game winless streak, usher in new era
New coaches. New quarterbacks. Failed draft picks. A winless season. Times got tough for the Browns from 2013–17. Then, in the 2018 NFL Draft, Cleveland selected quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first overall selection—the fourth first-round pick since 2007 to be spent on a potential franchise quarterback. Unlike many of his predecessors, however, Mayfield delivered hope right away and believes he'll usher in the next great era of Browns football.
Mayfield came off the bench mid-game in Week 3 of the 2018 season, and the Browns stormed back to shock the New York Jets and snap a 19-game winless streak. The victory ended a drought that lasted 635 days and lifted the spirits of a team and city which, since 2013, had seen 4 coaches, 12 starting quarterbacks, countless draft busts, a separate 17-game losing streak, and a 0-16 season in 2017. When Mayfield came to the rescue against the Jets, it set the foundation for a 7-8-1 record, Cleveland's finest finish since going 10-6 in 2007.
3. December 24, 1950—Browns vs. Rams
- Score: Cleveland 30, Los Angeles Rams 28
- Significance: Franchise wins first-ever NFL Championship game
Many believed Cleveland would struggle to compete after joining the NFL in 1950. But after posting a 47-4-3 record in the AAFC and winning four straight championships, the Browns had the confidence to prove they belonged among the best professional ranks. It didn't take long for them to show they were no fluke, going 10-2 in the regular season and knocking off the Rams in thrilling fashion in the inaugural NFL championship game. Legendary kicker Lou Groza booted the game-deciding 16-yard field goal with 20 seconds remaining, one week after his pair of field goals made the difference in the conference title game.
The two high-flying offenses traded blows throughout what then-commissioner Bert Bell described as the greatest game of all-time, and together, Cleveland and Los Angeles combined to set six championship-game records:
- Punting average: Bob Waterford, Los Angeles; 50.3 yards per kick
- Receptions: Dante Lavelli, Cleveland; 11
- Longest pass: Waterford; 82 yards
- Longest reception: Glenn Davis, Los Angeles; 82 yards
- Total passes: 65; 33 for Cleveland, 32 for Los Angeles
- First downs, passing: Cleveland; 13
Cleveland's victory came in the first of six straight appearances in the NFL title game, with the Browns winning three of them during the greatest dynasty in franchise history.
2. January 3, 1987—Browns vs. Jets
- Score: Cleveland 23, New York Jets 20 (2 OT)
- Significance: Double-overtime thriller is first playoff win for Browns since 1969
Mark Moseley was likely feeling the pressure as he lined up for a 27-yard field goal attempt in a second overtime period of the AFC Divisional playoffs. He had kicked a record five game-winning field goals in overtime during his career, but the veteran kicker had missed three field goals earlier in the game. With Cleveland hoping for its first playoff victory since 1969, everything hinged on Moseley, who delivered the game-winning kick. Outside of those late-game heroics, the Browns put together record-breaking offensive and defensive performances.
Quarterback Bernie Kosar completed 33 of 64 passes for 489 yards, setting playoff records for attempts and yardage in helping the Browns pile up a postseason-record 558 yards of offense (which smashed the old record of 435). Defensively, Cleveland forced the Jets into a record 12 punts, and with nine sacks, matched the playoff record for a single game.
The Browns needed a furious comeback to advance to the AFC title game, scoring 10 points over the final three minutes to force overtime. Kosar had thrown two rare interceptions in the fourth quarter, but then led two scoring rallies to keep the Browns alive in what was the third-longest game in NFL history.
The 1980s Browns had the team's best chance to build a dynasty since the 1950s. Starting the decade out with the Kardiac Kids, Cleveland made the playoffs in 1980 and 1982, before advancing each season from 1985–89. Gut-wrenching losses with famous nicknames like "The Drive" and "The Fumble," however, kept the Browns from advancing to a Super Bowl and spoiled the primes of several careers.
1. December 27, 1964—Browns vs. Colts
- Score: Cleveland 27, Baltimore Colts 0
- Significance: The last championship victory in franchise history
The Browns had so much success in the 1950s and early '60s that they had no way of knowing that winning the 1964 NFL championship would become such an iconic moment. For more than half a century, the upset victory stood as the city of Cleveland's last professional sports championship, and it still remains the last title for the Browns. In fact, the team has only played for one championship since then (1965), despite 15 playoff appearances. Take away the historic nature of the drought, though, and the game is still remembered as one of the greatest postseason upsets in NFL history. The surprising shutout by the seven-point underdogs was the sixth in the history of the NFL championship game, which debuted in 1933.
The game was played through cold temperatures and blustery winds, and was scoreless at halftime, but the Browns were firing out of the break. Quarterback Frank Ryan connected with Gary Collins for three touchdowns, and Lou Groza added a pair of field goals. That turned a tight game into a nightmare for the Colts, who came into the game winners of 11 straight. Baltimore's high-flying offense—led by legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas—was predicted to pile up the points. Instead, Unitas only threw for 95 yards and tossed a pair of interceptions. Meanwhile, the defense for the Colts—who were coached by native Ohioan and former Browns player Don Shula—focused too much on Hall of Fame fullback Jim Brown and standout rookie receiver Paul Warfield. That left Collins open to catch touchdown passes of 18, 42, and 51 yards, and those receptions gave him the record for touchdown catches in a playoff game.
While there was no championship parade for the Browns, fans got in plenty of celebration. A horde of fans rushed the field before time expired, knocking down a goal post and scattering across the grass of Municipal Stadium. The final 26 seconds of the game were never played due to the chaos—not that they would have made any difference.
Will the Browns Add More Wins Soon?
As mentioned above, sensational rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield brought some hope to Cleveland in 2018—hope the city hasn't felt in decades. He was the shining star in a season otherwise spoiled by turmoil. It was the first full season for another general manager—this time John Dorsey, who has been praised since many of his decisions helped move the Browns from winless to near .500. There was a coaching change mid-season, when Gregg Williams took over for Hue Jackson after Week 8. That made Williams the fifth Browns coach in eight seasons. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley was also fired after Week 8, opening the door for Freddie Kitchens to take over that role.
The combination of Williams, Kitchens, and Mayfield seemed to spark the Browns, who finished 5-3 down the stretch. Mayfield threw 27 touchdown passes, setting a new NFL rookie record, and just missed breaking Cleveland's NFL-worst streak of 11 losing seasons. Because of how well Mayfield and Kitchens co-existed, Kitchens was hired as head coach after the season, and the front office made some headline signings to complement the new offense.
Superstar receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was acquired in a trade with the New York Giants to be paired with Jarvis Landry, another standout receiver who the Browns picked up before the 2018 season. Star running back Kareem Hunt also was signed for the 2019 season, but won't be eligible to play until the ninth game due to a suspension over domestic violence allegations.
Can all this star power combine to bring the Browns back to winning ways not seen since the 1980s? Time will tell, but many experts project Cleveland to have a winning season and make the playoffs in 2019.