This is the one in a series of posts about the best teams that never won a championship in the NFL.
The Browns teams of the late 1980s were all quite good, but the 1986 squad was the best. But, to the sadness of Cleveland die-hards, none of them ever won a championship.
In 1986, the Browns were coming off an 8-8 season where they miraculously made the playoffs due to a weak division, beating down on the 5-11 Oilers as well as the 7-9 Bengals and Steelers. In 1986, they were picked to be an AFC contender.
Bernie Kosar was a very good quarterback, and he had a very successful season in 1986.
Bernie Kosar might have had the worst throwing motion ever, but he had great touch and could really get the ball into tight spots. Although he only threw 17 touchdowns, Kosar piled up yards (3,854 of them) and only threw 10 interceptions. He also had targets like Webster Slaughter, Reggie Lanhorne, Brian Brennan, and his pair of running backs out of the backfield, Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner.
Reggie Langhorne and Webster Slaughter both had solid seasons, with Langhorne catching 39 balls for 678 yards and a touchdown, while Slaughter caught 40 for 577 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Brian Brennan was the Julian Edelman of his era. Speedy, with good hands and a knack for making catches in important spots while dissing coverages. In 1986, he caught 55 balls for 838 yards and 6 touchdowns.
The Browns were a smooth blend of running and passing, although early on their passing game looked shaky due to a run-oriented approach from earlier years. Kosar relied heavily on Mack and Byner, but they were two great guys to have to lean on.
Kevin Mack worked in tandem with Byner, as Byner was more of a speedy back, Mack was the hulking power back. “The Mack Attack” carried the ball 174 times for 665 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Byner looked big, but he had great speed. He carried the ball 94 times for 277 yards 2 touchdowns.
Cleveland averaged over 100 yards on the ground per game in 1986, and their offense ranked 5th in the league. The defense was not a fantastical, suffocating defense, but they were blue-collar tough.
Cleveland finished with a 12-4 record, winning the AFC Central. Their first playoff opponent was the New York Jets, a team that had cruised to a 10-1 start before collapsing and finishing 10-6. The Browns made an improbable comeback as Kosar threw for 489 yards, and finally won the game 23-20 in double OT, in a game that is now known as “The Marathon by the Lake.”
In the AFC Championship game, Cleveland faced Denver, a team led by John Elway, but not much else. The Browns secured a 20-13 lead with around 5 and a half minutes left, and Denver muffed the kickoff, placing them on their own 2 yard line. A Browns victory seemed imminent.
But Elway took Denver down the field, slowly and surely. Cleveland never managed to force a 4th down, as Denver marched down, and with 37 seconds left, John Elway threw a touchdown pass to Mark Jackson to tie the game. Cleveland Stadium was almost silent.
In overtime, Denver got the ball, went down, and actually _missed_ a field goal by about about half a yard, but the officials miscalled it and allowed Denver to win the game, 23-20.
Cleveland blew its best shot at a championship run, and even though they got to the same spot in 1987 and 1989, they still lost to the same team and the same man: John Elway.