Cleveland Browns: Evaluating the Best Browns Victory in Each Season Since 1999
It's been over a decade since the Cleveland Browns returned to their beloved fans to play again on Sundays.
As a middle school child, growing up, I would watch a show called "Countdown to '99", which discussed the move of the Browns to Baltimore, and build excitement as we'd get closer each day to re-establishing an NFL team in Cleveland.
While it's been a rough 11 seasons for the most part, Browns fans stay close, and always seem to find something big to look forward to regardless of how they fared in the previous season.
First New Franchise Win: 1999
The "New" Browns opened up the season on Sunday Night Football against their biggest rival: The Pittsburgh Steelers.
Regardless of the 43-0 spanking they put on the Browns, it was a time to rejoice in Cleveland. The team was back.
Unfortunately, the Browns started off the inaugural season 0-7 before magic happened in the Louisiana Metrodome.
The 0-7 Browns who drafted Tim Couch with the first pick in the 1999 NFL Draft faced off against the 1-5 New Orleans Saints who selected Ricky Williams with the fifth pick overall in 1999. The only thing New Orleans really remembers from 1999 is that Mike Ditka traded every 1999 draft pick, as well as a first and third-rounder in 2000 just to move up and select the highly touted Texas Longhorn record setter.
It was a case of the Billy Joe's against Tim Couch. Billy Joe Tolliver started the game for New Orleans, and Billy Joe Hebert finished it, as both of them spent most of their day handing the football off to Ricky Williams who ran for 179 yards on 40 rushes.
The Browns offense just couldn't do anything. They managed just nine first downs compared to the 25 they gave up. They mustered up 62 yards of rushing yards, and didn't even eclipse the 250-yard mark in total offense.
With just a few seconds left on the clock, Couch snaps the football out of the shotgun. He see's immediate pressure and rolls out to his right side. Couch releases the football on the Browns 41 yard line and tosses it to the corner of the end zone only to find fellow rookie from Syracuse Kevin Johnson in the end zone catching the football off the tip by a New Orleans defender.
The Browns won the game 21-16, and it marked the start of a what Browns fans hoped would be many wins. The Browns finished just 2-14 on the season, with their second win being over the hated Pittsburgh Steelers.
Courtney Brown's 3-Sack Performance vs. Pittsburgh: 2000
The rivalry with the Browns and the Steelers has been one of the strongest in all of sports for quite some time.
Cleveland rebounded from an embarrassing opening day shutout against the Steelers in 1999 by beating them in the second matchup in the season.
Out of Cleveland's three wins in 2000, the matchup against the Steelers was the greatest, not only because that means that they went up 2-1 since coming back, but because Courtney Brown was healthy and furious.
The Steelers started journeyman quarterback Kent Graham, and Graham felt the pain. Courtney Brown, the first overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft from Penn State had a coming out party on September 17, 2000. He was nearly unable to be blocked, and terrorized Graham who ended up throwing for just 172 yards on 13 completions.
To add on to Courtney Brown's defensive success was that of 1999 first overall pick Tim Couch.
Couch had his "A" game going completing 23 passes out of 31 attempts for 316 yards and two touchdowns, including a 79-yard pass to second year receiver Kevin Johnson.
The win against the Steelers meant so much so early on in the season. The Browns opened up 2-1 and 2-0 in the AFC Central, and hoped to finish the year with more success, only to be disappointed with a 3-13 season.
A Sweep of the Old Browns, Baltimore Can't Get It Done: 2001
The Chris Palmer head coaching era ended after just two seasons in Cleveland. Palmer combined for just five wins in two seasons with the "New" Browns, and it was time for a replacement.
Enter Miami (Fl.) head coach Butch Davis. Davis finished the season at 7-9, winning more games and then some than Chris Palmer.
What made 2001 special wasn't just the massive win column improvement. It was the sweep of the Baltimore Ravens. Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1996, and left Cleveland in the dust without remorse.
The 2001 Browns felt that it was finally time to make him pay.
The Ravens finished the season at 10-6, and it felt good for the Browns to give them 1/3 of their losses on the season.
The 3-2 Baltimore Ravens came into Cleveland Browns Stadium to match up against the 3-2 Cleveland Browns, a team on the rise. Little did the Ravens know that the team on the opposite side of the field would be as ready to play as they were.Coming off a Super Bowl victory, the Ravens had their heads held high and were ready to dominate.
Trent Dilfer replacement Elvis Grbac lead the charge for Baltimore and was replaced by veteran Randall Cunningham after being sacked three times, throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble.
Randall Cunningham was sacked another four times by a much improved Browns defense consisting of Jamir Miller, Dwayne Rudd, rookie Gerard Warren, and Keith McKenzie.
The game also featured Anthony Henry who had his fourth interception of the season after just six games.
The Browns had a big two touchdown third quarter, and shut down the Ravens late surge to win 24-14.
Following that game the Browns had two heartbreaking overtime losses against Chicago and Pittsburgh, only to arrive in Baltimore with another bone to pick.
Anthony Henry had his second three interception game of the season, and haunted Elvis Grbac, making the Ravens think twice about releasing Super Bowl winning quarterback Trent Dilfer.
A 17 point second quarter gave the Browns a 20-7 lead, as they held on in Baltimore to win 27-17 for a sweep of the AFC Central rival Baltimore Ravens, otherwise known as the "Old" Browns.
Northcutt Scores Twice vs. Titans in Overtime Thriller- 2002
Browns fans remember Steve McNair not only from his endeavors with the Titans/Oilers, but his short stint with the Baltimore Ravens.
Cleveland's defense finished 2002 ranked in the Top 10 and were much on the rise, and they shut down star running back Eddie George.
Tennessee took advantage of a few defensive mistakes early on in the game, going into halftime with a 21-7 lead over the Browns.
But the Browns offense was firing on all cylinders. Cleveland connected on 26 first downs compared to Tennessee's 13, and Tim Couch through the football 50 times in the game.
After completing 36 of those passes, Couch finished with three touchdown passes, including two to rookie speedster Andre Davis, who finished with 99 yards on the day.
But it was Dennis Northcutt who made two key plays in the second half that gave the Browns the edge, allowing them to get back in the game.
Northcutt returned a 74 yard punt late in the third quarter to bring the Browns back within one score. Northcutt scored the final touchdown of the game, as he connected on a pass from Tim Couch for eight yards to send the game into overtime.
The Browns won the coin toss and received. Starting on their own 20 yard line after the touchback, Cleveland started a drive. Tim Couch went 3-3 on the final drive, and Jamel White rushed four times for 25 yards as Cleveland got within Phil Dawson's range for a 33-yard game winning field goal.
Lee Suggs Coming out Party vs. Cincinnati- 2003
2002 was arguably the Browns best season since their return, and in 2003, Browns coaches, players and fans all had high hopes to come out and make a huge impact in the AFC North.
Unfortunately, a 5-11 finish ensued after injuries derailed the team, having problems keeping William Green, Kelly Holcomb, Tim Couch and Courtney Brown healthy, just to name about one tenth of the injuries.
But one of those five wins came at the last game of the season on the road against the rising Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals were attempting a playoff run, and standing at 8-7, only the lowly Browns were in their way.
With injuries to William Green, James Jackson and Jamel White, fourth round rookie running back Lee Suggs was called upon at times to make plays, and in the final game of the 2003 season, he made sure he would leave his mark.
Suggs scored two touchdowns and rushed for 186 yards on 26 carries. He scored on runs of 25 yards and 78 (seen below) and rarely went down on first contact.
The Browns were up 13-7 at the half, only to hold off the Bengals in the fourth quarter with a late touchdown and field goal to beat the Bengals 22-14.
Going out on a high note was a must for the Browns, who hoped to keep that momentum going into the 2004 season.
Unfortunately for Suggs, his own injuries kept him from becoming the stud that Clevelanders hoped he could be.
New Quarterback Jeff Garcia Leads Home Opener Win over Baltimore- 2004
After a disappointing 2003 season, the Browns opted to go a different route at quarterback. The Tim Couch project had failed, and Kelly Holcomb wasn't the future of the franchise, either.
Couch was sacked so many times in his first few seasons that he still can't remember who he was drafted by or even if he was drafted.
The time was now to improve the quarterback play, and the Browns brass felt it necessary to bring in a quarterback who knew how to make plays in Jeff Garcia.
I remember being excited to have a new quarterback under center. Garcia was proven, and he was a veteran. He knew how to run an offense and make plays with his feet.
The 2004 season couldn't have started off any better, getting a win at home against the division rival Baltimore Ravens.
While not all of Garcia's throws were pretty, he was effective throwing for 180 yards on 15 completions with one touchdown and even ran a touchdown in.
The Browns offense was still anemic, registering just 10 first downs all game.
But the Browns defense was impregnable. The Ravens were held scoreless in the first half, and their only score was a 42 yard Matt Stover field goal (Stover was the only former Brown still with the Ravens).
Third year linebacker Andra Davis had an interception as well as 2001 standout Anthony Henry. Kenard Lang's three sacks out of nowhere surprised the fans, and the Browns seemed to have kept that momentum they left with in 2003 against the Bengals.
A 20-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens couldn't have been a better way to start the season for a Browns team with a lot of fresh faces.
New Coaches, Faces Take Advantage of Early Bear Struggles- 2005
After the Jeff Garcia project failed quickly thanks to lack of production and nagging injuries, the Browns opted to give Jeff Garcia a chance to make plays and get the Browns on the rebound.
Butch Davis was fired during the 2004 season, and Terry Robiskie finished the season as the interim head coach for the Browns. Shortly after the New England Patriots won Super Bowl 39, the Browns called up defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and offered him a position as the next head coach for the franchise.
Crennel came in and immediately established his 3-4 defensive system that was responsible for shutting down team after team over the course of the previous few seasons.
So with the Dilfer era starting and promising young quarterback Charlie Frye getting ready on the bench, the Browns were looking to start fresh.
After a 1-2 start to the season, Cleveland hosted the Chicago Bears for an inter-conference match up.
The Bears started off slow, only to finish the season 11-5 with a divisional playoff appearance.
But before their hot start, they dropped to the Browns 20-10 after a fourth quarter resurgence by what appeared to be an anemic offense in the first three quarters.
Trent Dilfer and Antonio Bryant connected on two long touchdown passes in the fourth quarter as the Browns came bback from a 10-6 deficit late in the game.
While Cleveland didn't even obtain 300 yards of total offense and turned the ball over twice, they made the necessary plays for the upset to get Romeo Crennel his first home victory as a Cleveland Brown.
Rookie Kamerion Wimbley Harrasses Michael Vick in the ATL- 2006
After a frustrating rookie season as a head coach, Romeo Crennel decided to try and establish a name on defense by building through the NFL Draft.
Cleveland used it's first round pick in 2006 to select Florida State 'tweener defensive end/linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. Crennel wanted a defense that could put pressure on the opposing quarterback after watching them tear apart his secondary throughout 2005.
The aforementioned Charlie Frye took Trent Dilfer's job in 2005 and started the season as the starter for the Browns. While he was quite ineffective for most of his career, his performance against Atlanta was somewhat respectable, as he completed 16 of his 22 passes for one touchdown and 165 yards.
Cleveland's running game couldn't get going with Rueben Droughns, and it was all on the defense to make plays.
Cleveland's pass rush was just too much for the Falcons to handle as Michael Vick attempted 40 passes, completing just 16 of them. The Browns forced two interceptions, and Kamerion Wimbley registered the Browns' only sack of the game, but it was a crucial one in the fourth quarter.
Wimbley was all over Michael Vick and would not let Vick out of his sights. Wimbley had numerous amount of quarterback hurries and led the Browns defense to holding the Falcons and Vick to just 13 points.
I remember being at a Buffalo Wild Wings at the time and thinking to myself that this could be the pass rusher that the Browns need to start making plays on defense.
Special Teams Stuns Baltimore with Cribbs and Dawson (Crossbar-Gate)- 2007
2007 was perhaps the most surprising season for the Browns since the comeback in 1999.
Derek Anderson took over for an ineffective and battered Charlie Frye against Pittsburgh in the second half of the home opener and took off with the job, leading the Browns to a 10-6 season in which they still didn't make the playoffs.
The Browns had another sweep of Baltimore during the season and went 3-3 in the AFC North.
Derek Anderson's first eight starts were quite respectable, and some Browns fans began to think that there was a franchise quarterback at our midst.
But perhaps the greatest and most exciting experience was on November 18, 2007 when the Browns went into Baltimore looking for the sweep.
The game went back and forth with scores, and the Browns went into the fourth quarter with a 27-14 lead.
The Browns defense couldn't hold the Ravens, and with 26 seconds left on the clock, the Browns saw themselves down 33-30.
The Ravens couldn't contain Josh Cribbs in the return game in the second half, and it continued as Cribbs returned a kickoff 39 yards to the Browns 43 yard line.
Derek Anderson completed a six yard and 18-yard pass as the Browns called a timeout with just .03 seconds left on the clock.
Phil Dawson lined up for a 51 yard field goal after making two earlier in the game. The ball is kicked long enough and goes in, hits the left post, drops to the middle crossbar and then bounces back out.
Cleveland fans are screaming with excitement, and Baltimore players are saying that the field goal is no good.
Initially, the zebras made the call as a missed field goal, and Baltimore had won the game. That is, until an official review went up.
The referee came back to the field stating the since the ball had went in, the field goal was good, regardless of the ball coming back out, and the Browns went into overtime.
Cleveland wins the toss and receives the ball in overtime. Josh Cribbs returns the kick 41 yards, and a Derek Anderson/Jamal Lewis combination get the Browns into field goal position for Phil Dawson to knock in his fourth field goal of the game as the Browns prevail 36-33 to win their sixth game of the season.
Derek Anderson Goes off on Monday Night Against Defending Champs- 2008
The 2007 season gave Clevelanders a new found hope.
After a 10-6 finish, the Browns seemed to have found an offense that can score a ton of points and win football games.
Unfortunately, the 2008 season finished with a 5-11 mark, and the Browns' 0-3 start was extremely disappointing. But thanks to the 2007 season, the NFL elected to start putting the Browns on primetime television.
But Cleveland didn't back down on Monday Night Football against the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.
As a matter of fact, some would argue that the Browns should have saved some of that production and spread it out over the course of the entire season to win a few more contests.
Regardless, Cleveland had the Giants' number on Monday night, and Derek Anderson went off trying to prove doubters wrong after his very poor start to 2008.
Anderson threw for 310 yards on just 18 completions for a whopping 17.2 yards per completion and 10 yards per attempt (29).
He scored just two touchdowns, but he managed to connect with Braylon Edwards five times in the game for 154 yards, including a long of 70 yards down the field.
But it wasn't just the offense that came to play. Young cornerbacks Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright both recorded interceptions, Wright's most notably, as he intercepted Eli Manning in the red zone for a 94 yard interception return for touchdown, putting a cap on the game.
Cleveland went on to get the win 35-14 in a route during primetime.
Jerome Harrison Sets Single Game Browns Record vs. Chiefs- 2009
After a miserable 2008 season in which there were maybe three positives to the entire season, the Browns fired head coach Romeo Crennel.
The 2009 season began with Eric Mangini running the show. Mangini had some success with the Jets and seemed to be turning the program around, but was let go in a controversial debate.
The offense was non-existent in 2009, and the coaching staff's reluctance to make a quarterback decision between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn seemed to throw off the overall rhythm on offense.
Not that it would have mattered, because the defense couldn't get to the quarterback or make a tackle on any sort of ball carrier.
But the Browns went on a four game win streak after starting off 1-11 to finish with five wins on the season. It started with an upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers after sacking Big Ben eight times and continued with Jerome Harrison's huge performance against the 3-10 Chiefs.
Brady Quinn was ineffective, completing just 10 of 17 passes for 66 yards and throwing two interceptions. But Harrison ran 34 times against the Chiefs and came up with 286 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.
One of Harrison's scores was on a 71 yard run to end the third quarter as the Browns started to make their late come back after being down 24-20.
But that was just the start. He scored two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter and seemed unstoppable as he began to approach the single game rushing record of 296 yards set by Adrian Peterson two years prior.
Harrison had just 301 yards rushing coming into the Chiefs match up and nearly finished with 1,000 yards after his late rushing resurgence.
Peyton Hillis Leaps His Way to a Career High Against the Patriots- 2010
Mangini finally made a decision between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn...and let them both go. Derek Anderson went to free agency, and Brady Quinn was dealt to the Broncos for a sixth round pick in 2011, a conditional 2012 pick and former seventh round selection Peyton Hillis.
Browns fans were discouraged after being optimistic that Quinn could potentially be the future at the position. Quinn was a first round pick in 2007 after the Browns traded back up in the draft with the Cowboys to make the selection.
At first glance, the trade seemed a bit confusing, as Cleveland would go into the season without a starting quarterback, and trading a former first round pick for seemingly nothing.
Luckily, this is why we play the games.
Peyton Hillis had a little coming out party in 2010, and his best performance was a win against the New England Patriots.
After starting off 1-5, the Browns went into New Orleans and gave the Saints a schlacking. In what most figured to be a fluke win, prepping for victory against the Patriots in the next week seemed unrealistic.
The Browns got started in a hurry scoring 10 points in the first quarter, with Hillis scoring the touchdown. Cleveland went into halftime with a surprising 17-7 lead, only to come out in the second half with even more fire.
Peyton Hillis leaped over two different players in his stunning 184 yard performance, which seemed to defy every law of physics possible, being that he's around 245 pounds.
Hillis scored two touchdowns as the Browns routed the Patriots 34-14, giving the home crowd quite a bit of hope going into the second half of the season.
Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy got his third start of his career, getting his second win, both against quality opponents.
A Glimmer of Hope?
The 2011 Browns will open the season with new head coach Pat Shurmur.
With a new head coach, a young, but promising backfield and a defense seemingly on the rise, Cleveland fans are hopeful that the Browns can start producing wins and making the AFC North into even more of a powerhouse of a division.
Most of the thoughts around the Browns are initially negative, and I created this slideshow to embrace some of the (few) great moments that the Browns have come up with since making their comeback in 1999.
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