1986 Cleveland Browns Season
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1986 Cleveland Browns Season
1986 Cleveland Browns season
OwnerArt Modell
Head coachMarty Schottenheimer
General managerErnie Accorsi
Home fieldCleveland Municipal Stadium
Local radioWWWE
Division place1st AFC Central
Playoff finishWon Divisional Playoffs (Jets) 23-20 (2 OT)
Lost Conference Championship (Broncos) 20-23 (OT)

The 1986 Cleveland Browns season was the team's 37th season with the National Football League. The death of Don Rogers, a promising young defensive back who was preparing to enter his third season in the NFL, cast a black cloud over the team as it prepared for the 1986 season.

Cleveland won their first postseason game since 1969, and for the first time in franchise history, the Browns reached the AFC Championship Game, where they would eventually fall to the Denver Broncos, in the game famous for "The Drive." It would be the first of three AFC Championship games that the Browns would reach in four seasons, all losses to Denver. It remains the best post-merger Browns season as of 2019.

Season Summary

The 1986 Browns finished 12-4 to not only win the division again, but also set a franchise record for regular-season victories in the NFL in addition to securing home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

In one of the most pulsating games in club history, the Browns edged the New York Jets 23-20 in double-overtime in the divisional playoffs. Then, in maybe the most disappointing contest in team annals, the Browns lost to the Denver Broncos by that same score in OT in the AFC Championship Game as quarterback John Elway orchestrated what has become known as The Drive. The Browns were involved in six contests decided by three points or less, and eight decided by six points or less. There were two OT games - in consecutive weeks, no less - when the Browns beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 37-31 and the Houston Oilers 13-10, both in Cleveland. That win started the Browns on a five-game winning streak to end the season, and it was also part of a stretch in which they won eight of nine contests.

There were several other big games in addition to the two OT affairs. The Browns beat the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium for the first time in 16 tries, 27-24. They defeated Miami 26-16 on Monday Night Football, extracting some revenge for their loss to the Dolphins in the divisional playoffs the year before. They wound up clinching the AFC Central crown by going to Cincinnati in the next-to-last game and winning soundly, 34-3. The Bengals finished in second place at 10-6 but did not make the playoffs.

Kosar's career really took off in 1986, as he threw for 3,854 yards and seventeen touchdowns with just ten interceptions for an 83.8 quarterback rating. Wide receiver Brian Brennan, who led the way with 55 receptions and six scores, was one of seven Browns to catch 28 or more passes. The backfield combo of FB Kevin Mack and HB Earnest Byner battled injuries for much of the year. That, along with the increased emphasis on passing, caused the rushing numbers to go way down. As a team, the Browns got just 1,650 yards, with Mack rushing for a team-leading 665. He did, however, run for ten scores.

Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield were among the top cornerbacks in the league, leading a defense that excelled down the stretch, limiting the last four opponents to 17 or fewer points.


NFL Draft

Round Player Position School/Club Team





Regular season

Cleveland opened the regular season on the road against the defending Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears. While the Browns played well in scoring 31 points against the feared Chicago defense, they surrendered a season-high 41 points in a losing effort. The team responded well and won four of the next five games, including wins against divisional rivals Houston and Pittsburgh. The win against Pittsburgh snapped a losing streak of sixteen games for the Browns in Three Rivers Stadium.

After a week seven loss at home against the Green Bay Packers, the Browns won eight of their last nine regular season games to capture the AFC Central division title and finish the year with a franchise-record 12 wins (against 4 losses).


Week Date Opponent Result Attendance Record
1 September 7, 1986 at Chicago Bears L 41-31
2 September 14, 1986 at Houston Oilers W 23-20
3 September 18, 1986 Cincinnati Bengals L 30-13
4 September 28, 1986 Detroit Lions W 24-21
5 October 5, 1986 at Pittsburgh Steelers W 27-24
6 October 12, 1986 Kansas City Chiefs W 20-7
7 October 19, 1986 Green Bay Packers L 17-14
8 October 26, 1986 at Minnesota Vikings W 23-20
9 November 2, 1986 at Indianapolis Colts W 24-9
10 November 10, 1986 Miami Dolphins W 26-16
11 November 16, 1986 at Los Angeles Raiders L 27-14
12 November 23, 1986 Pittsburgh Steelers W 37-31
13 November 30, 1986 Houston Oilers W 13-10
14 December 7, 1986 at Buffalo Bills W 21-17
15 December 14, 1986 at Cincinnati Bengals W 34-3
16 December 21, 1986 San Diego Chargers W 47-17

Game summaries

Week 5

1 234Total
• Browns 0 7610 23
Steelers 6 300 9
  • Date: October 2
  • Location: Three Rivers Stadium
  • Game start: 1:00 p.m.
  • Game weather: 68°F, wind 15 mph
  • Referee: Dick Jorgensen


Week 15

1 234Total
• Browns 14 3143 34
Bengals 3 000 3



AFC Central
Cleveland Browns(1) 12 4 0 .750 5-1 10-2 391 310 W5
Cincinnati Bengals 10 6 0 .625 3-3 7-5 409 394 W1
Pittsburgh Steelers 6 10 0 .375 3-3 4-8 307 336 L1
Houston Oilers 5 11 0 .313 1-5 3-9 274 329 W2

Best Performances

  • Bernie Kosar, November 10, 1986, 401 passing yards vs. Miami Dolphins[4]
  • Bernie Kosar, November 23, 1986, 414 passing yards vs. Pittsburgh Steelers[4]


The first round opponent for the Browns in the playoffs was the New York Jets. In a marathon game that lasted over four hours, the Browns won their first playoff game in 18 years, 23-20, on a 27-yard Mark Moseley field goal in double overtime.

Eight days later, the Browns hosted the Denver Broncos to determine the AFC Championship and a trip to Pasadena, California to face the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. In a repeat of the Browns' playoff game from the previous week, the game was, once again, undecided at the end of regulation with both teams having scored 20 points. Even though the Browns had star defensive players like Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield, the Broncos offense would not give up. The Broncos forced overtime on a 98-yard possession at the end of the fourth quarter that culminated in a game-tying touchdown and later became known simply as "The Drive". The Browns received the ball to begin the overtime period, but were forced to punt after running only three plays. The Broncos then took possession and ultimately scored the game winning points on a 33-yard field goal by Rich Karlis to send Denver to the Super Bowl.

Week Date Opponent Result
Division January 3, 1987 New York Jets W 23-20
Conference Championship January 11, 1987 Denver Broncos L 23-20

AFC Divisional Playoffs

AFC Championship Game

This game is best remembered for "The Drive", during which when the Broncos drove 98 yards to tie the game with 37 seconds left in regulation, and Denver kicker Rich Karlis made the game-winning 33-yard field goal 5:38 into overtime.


  1. ^ "All-Time Assistant Coaches". ClevelandBrowns.com. Archived from the original on May 22, 2008. Retrieved 2009.
  2. ^ Pro-Football-Reference.com
  3. ^ Pro-Football-Reference.com
  4. ^ a b NFL 2001 Record and Fact Book, Workman Publishing Co, New York, NY, ISBN 978-0-7611-2480-1, p. 439

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