Each summer, as we celebrate this great nation’s birthday, a lot of us like to explode things. Mostly, we enjoy exploding fireworks while a select (and probably intoxicated) few add fingers to that equation.
Anyway, this got me thinking. Since 1999, what have been the four most explosive plays for the Cleveland Browns? Why four? Well, it’s the Fourth of July. Seemed like an apropos number.
Sadly, there haven’t been too many plays that can be considered “explosive” and of that lot, not many have occurred on the shores of Lake Erie. Perhaps I’m being too cynical and I’m focusing on all the poorly played games during this time frame. But, oh, have there been so many poorly played games. Still, every once in a great while, the sun hits the dog’s hindquarters and the Browns execute a play that gives us a glimmer of hope.
Below are my four with a few honorable mentions thrown in for good measure. Let me know your four or if I missed one down in the comments.
4. 1999 - Phil Dawson’s 39-yard field goal vs. Steelers: Oh the excitement of Sept. 12, 1999. The Browns were back, baby! National TV. Primetime. The Pittsburgh Steelers were in town. This was amazing.
Then, the game started.
The Browns lost that opener in spectacular fashion 43-0 to set off a painful 2-14 season. Yet two months later, the Browns traveled to Pittsburgh. By now, the Browns got their first win (Oct. 31 in New Orleans), but that opener still stung.
Behind either a triple double or 56 yards rushing from Karim Abdul-Jabbar, two touchdown passes from Tim Couch and the Steelers offensive being led by quarterback Kordell Stewart, the Browns found themselves in a competitive game.
Finally, with no times outs left, the Browns were in position to kick a 39-yard field goal. Rookie Phil Dawson scrambled onto the field and put it through the uprights for the victory.
Sweet revenge. While it was only a field goal, the explosiveness of that victory was felt throughout Browns Town. You remember exactly where you were when Dawson drilled that kick, don’t you?
3. 2005 - Braylon Edwards 80-yard touchdown reception vs. Packers: Let’s face it, the Browns’ first five first-round draft picks since they returned were woefully ineffective. Even tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. in 2004 had his off-the-field motorcycle problems that let to a sputtering start to his career. But in 2005, the Browns selected Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards. Finally, an offensive weapon who could make plays.
While his career fizzled out in Cleveland, his 80-yard touchdown reception against the Green Bay Packers during week two of the 2005 season was a thing of beauty.
At halftime, the Browns clung to a 13-7 lead at Green Bay and for a majority of the third quarter, the teams traded punts. Finally, the Browns took over on their own 20-yard line with 2:42 left in the quarter. After an incomplete pass on first down, Browns quarterback Trent Dilfer connected with Edwards on a basic slant route. Edwards caught the ball in stride then simply out ran the Packers defense for the score.
The Browns would go on to beat Green Bay 26-24 and Edwards showed a steady improvement his first three seasons in Cleveland culminating in 2007 when he had 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns on 80 receptions. It has been all downhill for Edwards since.
2. 2010 - Punter Reggie Hodges’ 68-yard run vs. New Orleans: The Browns traveled down to New Orleans after starting the season 1-5 and now rookie quarterback Colt McCoy was getting the starting nod. He entered the season as the third quarterback on the depth chart. This was worst-case scenario. To make matters worse, the Browns started the previous season 1-11, so there wasn’t much joy in Manginiville.
Somehow, the Browns managed to take a 10-3 lead deep into the second quarter, but Cleveland faced a fourth-and-8 from the Saints 23-yard-line. Punter Reggie Hodges came on for what looked like to be the all-too-familiar punt. It was a fake. He ran 68 yards before getting tackled by Malcolm Jenkins at the Saints 9-yard-line.
The Browns only managed a field goal, but on the Saints next possession, David Bowens returned a Drew Brees pass 30 yards for a touchdown and 20-3 Browns lead. Cleveland would shock the defending Super Bowl champions 30-17 and the next week beat New England Patriots at home 34-17.
1. 2002 - William Green’s 64-yard touchdown run vs. Falcons: The Browns entered the fourth quarter trailing the Falcons 16-10. With 7:03 left in the game, Kelly Holcomb connected with Kevin Johnson on a 15-yard touchdown pass. After the Falcons were unable to answer, the Browns took over on their own 29-yard line with 4:48 left. William Green ran for seven yards on first down and then, on second-and-3, he broke free for a 64-yard touchdown run. Cleveland Browns Stadium erupted. The Browns would eventually win the game thanks to a goal line stand on the ensuring Falcons’ possession. After a bit of help from the New York Jets, the Browns earned the No. 6 seed in the AFC.
It stands as the only playoff berth since the Browns returned to the NFL. Although Green turned out to be another first-round bust, his run is a signature positive moment for a franchise and stadium that has had a lot to forget since 1999.
Sadly, of those four mentioned above, only the Green run occurred in Cleveland Browns Stadium. Here are a few others that didn’t crack my top four, a couple more occurred in Cleveland and all of them are noteworthy.
In no particular order…
2008 – Eric Wright’s 94-yard interception return for a touchdown: The Browns penchant for beating defending Super Bowl champions continued on this Monday Night Football home game. The New York Giants were in town and the Browns were playing out of their minds.
Ahead 27-14 with less than nine minutes remaining in the game, every Browns fan was thinking the same thing. “The Browns will lose 28-27.” With the Giants driving deep into Browns territory, Eric Wright stepped in front of an Eli Manning pass and returned it 94 yards for a touchdown. The stadium erupted and victory was sealed.
2010 – Peyton Hillis 35-yard touchdown run vs. Patriots: A week after the 1-5 Browns traveled down to New Orleans to beat the defending Super Bowl Champions, the Browns returned home to play New England.
For once, the game was dominated by the Browns. New England was never really in the game. It was a complete role reversal.
The victory was sealed with a 35-yard touchdown run by Peyton Hillis with 2:47 remaining to play. The Browns won 34-14 to cap one of the more enjoyable Sundays at the stadium since 1999.
1999 – Tim Couch’s 56-yard hail mary: Beginning with the 43-0 season opening loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns return to the NFL wasn’t kind. Cleveland was 0-7 before traveling down to New Orleans on Oct. 31. The Browns trailed (naturally) in the fourth quarter 16-14, but they had one more shot. With time expiring, Tim Couch let loose a hail mary toward the end zone. Somehow, Kevin Johnson came down with the pass and the Browns won 21-16.