COMMENTARY | In just 14 seasons of play since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Cleveland Browns have provided fans with plenty of memorable moments.
Unfortunately, for Browns fans, most of these memories are not of the winning variety. Probably the two most memorable Browns games since 1999 ended with Cleveland on the losing side of the scoreboard.
On December 16, 2001, the infamous "Bottlegate" game occurred. An officiating crew that completely ignored the existing NFL rules regarding instant replay handed the Jacksonville Jaguars a 15-10 victory over the Browns, effectively ending Cleveland's playoff chances that season. Browns fans responded by showering the field with thousands of beer bottles, a moment that temporarily gave the city of Cleveland a bad reputation within the NFL community.
Less than a year later, on September 8, 2002, the Browns were involved in an even more bizarre ending against the Kansas City Chiefs. Trailing the Browns 39-37, the Chiefs were 53 yards away from the end zone with just four seconds left in the game. Kansas City quarterback Trent Green's lateral to offensive lineman John Tait came up 25 yards short of the end zone, but Cleveland linebacker Dwayne Rudd took off his helmet during the play after he thought Green had been sacked. The ensuing penalty allowed Kansas City's Morten Andersen to kick the game-winning field goal, giving the Chiefs an unlikely 40-39 win that day.
Moments like this will live in on infamy for Browns fans, but that doesn't mean they haven't had their fair share of memorable wins to celebrate.
These are the three best:
October 31, 1999 -- Browns 21, New Orleans Saints 16
In 1999, most pundits agreed that the Browns weren't exactly going to set the world on fire in their first year back in the NFL, but no one thought Cleveland's return to football would start off so bad. Heading into this Halloween matchup versus the Saints, the Browns were 0-7 and had been outscored by their opponents by nearly 18 points per game.
The Saints weren't much better at 1-5, but with the home crowd at the Superdome on their side, New Orleans was still heavily favored to beat the Browns. Despite New Orleans running 79 plays to just 40 for the Browns, Cleveland took advantage of five Saints turnovers to stay within striking distance.
Alas, the Browns still trailed the Saints 16-14 with just two seconds remaining in the game. With a Hail Mary being Cleveland's only hope for a victory, quarterback Tim Couch launched a nearly 60-yard pass into the right corner of the end zone, which, after being deflected by two Saints defensive backs, fell into wide receiver Kevin Johnson's arms for the game-winning touchdown. Just like that, the new Cleveland Browns had their first win.
November 18, 2007 -- Browns 33, Baltimore Ravens 30 (OT)
Though the Browns would finish the year with 10 wins in 2007, they entered this road contest with divisional foe Baltimore at just 5-4. A victory over the Ravens in this game would give the Browns a season sweep over their hated rivals for only the second time since their return to the NFL.
As they had all year in 2007, the Browns' offense carried Cleveland on this day and the team held a 27-14 lead going into the final quarter. The tables turned on Cleveland in the fourth quarter, though, as Baltimore scored 16 straight points, and Matt Stover's 47-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in the game put the Ravens ahead 30-27.
A long kickoff return by Josh Cribbs and a couple of quick completions by quarterback Derek Anderson set the table for a 51-yard field goal attempt by Browns kicker Phil dawson to send the game to overtime. Dawson's kick at first glance appeared to have hit the crossbar and bounced back toward the field of play, sending the Browns to defeat. But replays showed the kick actually hit the support beam for the uprights, which would render the field goal good.
Unlike the fiasco against Jacksonville six years earlier, the officials made the correct call, and Dawson's kick was ruled good. After winning the coin toss to start overtime, the Browns took advantage of the now-deflated Ravens, and Dawson's 33-yard field goal on Cleveland's first drive gave it a 33-30 victory that day.
December 29, 2002 -- Browns 24, Atlanta Falcons 16
A win over the Falcons in the regular season finale, combined with a couple of losses by teams in the log-jammed AFC East, would send the 8-7 Browns to the playoffs for the first time since 1994. The Falcons would be no pushover, though, as they entered the game with a record of 9-5-1, and were led by former Denver Broncos head coach and longtime Browns nemesis Dan Reeves.
With Couch suffering a broken leg in the second the quarter, the Browns' offense struggled for three quarters and Cleveland entered the final stanza trailing 16-10. But backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb hooked up with Johnson for a 15-yard touchdown, and after running back William Green dashed 64 yards for a touchdown with four minutes remaining, it looked like the Browns would be victors on this Sunday.
It wasn't quite that easy, though, as Browns fans had to hold their breath as the Falcons ran four plays from Cleveland's 1-yard line in the final two minutes, finally exhaling when running back Warrick Dunn was stuffed for no gain on fourth down. After the New York Jets defeated the Green Bay Packers later that day, the Browns' return to the NFL playoffs was complete.
Shaun Heidrick is a Yahoo! Contributor who has followed the Cleveland Browns for 25 years.
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