The Browns' first opponents in the playoffs were the New York Jets. But Cleveland took over and began a march down the field, ending with a Kevin Mack touchdown. A pass interference penalty and a completion to Slaughter put the ball at the Jets' five-yard line, and kicker Mark Moseley booted through the tying score with 11 seconds left. It was the team's first playoff victory in 17 years. Denver quarterback John Elway then engineered a yard drive for a touchdown with the cold, whipping wind in his face. Cleveland received the ball first in the sudden-death period but was stopped by the Denver defense.
On Denver's first possession, Elway again led the Broncos on a long drive ending with a Rich Karlis field goal that sailed just inside the left upright and won the game.
The drive, one of the finest ever engineered in a championship game, had been performed directly in the Browns' faces. There was no sneakiness about it; John Elway had simply shown what a man with all the tools could do. It was what everybody who had watched him enter the league as perhaps the most heralded quarterback since Joe Namath knew he could do. One was left with the distinct feeling that Elway would have marched his team down a yard-or yard-or five-mile-long field to pay dirt.
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Although downtrodden by 's playoff defeat, Cleveland continued to win the following season. Byner ran left and broke inside with a clear path to the end zone, but was stripped by Denver's Jeremiah Castille just before crossing the goal line.
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The Broncos ran down the clock before intentionally taking a safety and winning 38— The season was marred by injuries to the Browns' quarterbacks. Kosar was injured in the opener against Kansas City Chiefs and two backups were subsequently injured, leaving Don Strock , who the Browns signed as an emergency fill-in, to start before Kosar's return. Modell felt hiring an offensive coordinator was necessary to keep pace with the Oilers and the Bengals, a pair of divisional opponents then on the rise, but Schottenheimer said it "became evident that some of the differences we had, we weren't going to be able to resolve.
Carson, an architect of Pittsburgh's s " Steel Curtain " defenses, made several changes to Cleveland's lineup. The Broncos led from start to finish, and a long Elway touchdown pass to Sammy Winder put the game way in the fourth quarter. Denver won 37— The defeat in Mile High Stadium proved to be the last of Cleveland's streak of playoff appearances in the mid- to lates. Kosar played through numerous injuries in , including bruising on his right arm and a bad knee.
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Kosar threw more interceptions than touchdowns for the first time in his career, and the defense allowed more points than any other in the league. Belichick, who came to the Browns after 12 years mostly with the Giants under Bill Parcells , quickly made his mark by restricting media access to the team. He acted gruff or bored at press conferences, shrugging, rolling his eyes and often giving short answers to long questions. Behind the scenes, however, he was trying to remake the Browns.
He reformed Cleveland's scouting methods and, in conjunction with player personnel director Mike Lombardi , tried to form a coherent identity: a big and strong cold-weather team. Cleveland's record only improved slightly in to 6—10 as the offense struggled to produce scoring drives and the defense was plagued by injuries.
The team finished with a 7—9 record and did not make the playoffs. By the end of , Kosar's physical decline had long been apparent to Belichick, which left the coach with a difficult choice. Taking over with Los Angeles ahead 13—0, Testaverde led two touchdown drives to win the game. Two weeks later, Belichick named Testaverde the starter. On the verge of tears after a loss to the Dolphins, Kosar said he was disappointed with the decision and felt he had done what he could with what was at his disposal.
Kosar returned after Testaverde suffered a separated right shoulder in a win against the Steelers on October 24, but it was only temporary. The day after a loss against the Broncos the following week, the team cut him. A year-old student at Baldwin—Wallace College picketed outside the team's training facilities with a sign that read, "Cut Belichick, Not Bernie.
Cleveland managed to right the ship in While the quarterback situation had not stabilized, the defense led the league in fewest points allowed. The Browns beat the Patriots in a wild-card game,  but arch-rival Pittsburgh won a 29—9 victory in the divisional playoff, ending the Browns' season.
As the Browns recaptured a hint of past success in , all was not well behind the scenes. Modell was in financial trouble. The origins of Modell's woes dated to , when he worked out a deal to lease Cleveland Municipal Stadium from the city for a pittance: only enough to service the facility's debt and pay property taxes. Stadium Corp. When the stadium was profitable, Modell had used Stadium Corp. Then, when the stadium was taking losses in , he sold Stadium Corp. Gries's complaint was that Modell treated the Browns and Stadium Corp.
The sale of Stadium Corp. In , Modell had to reverse the Browns' purchase of Stadium Corp. This left Modell in need of financial help, and it came in the form of Al Lerner , a banking and real estate executive who bought half of Stadium Corp. His reputation damaged by the lawsuits, Modell was eager to get out of Cleveland.
He met with Baltimore officials about selling the Browns to Lerner and buying an expansion team to replace the Colts, who had left for Indianapolis in He also discussed moving the Browns. Modell ruled out a reversal of his decision, saying his relationship with Cleveland had been irrevocably severed.
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The city immediately sued to prevent the move, on the basis that the lease of the stadium was active until Fans were in an uproar, staging protests, signing petitions, filing lawsuits and appealing to other NFL owners to block the relocation. Advertisers pulled out of the stadium, fearing fans' ire.
At the team's final home game against the Bengals, unruly fans in the Dawg Pound bleachers section rained debris, beer bottles and entire sections of seats onto the field, forcing officials to move play to the opposite end to ensure players' safety. The following February, the warring parties reached a compromise.
Under its terms, Modell would be allowed to take his personnel to Baltimore, but would leave Cleveland the Browns' colors, logos and heritage for a reactivated Browns franchise that would take the field no later than As a result of the deal Modell's team was technically an expansion franchise, called the Baltimore Ravens. Preparations for a reactivated franchise began shortly after Modell, the city and the NFL struck their compromise. Futterer, who had helped bring the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Hornets expansion teams to North Carolina , was charged with marketing the team, selling season tickets and representing the NFL's interests in the construction of a new stadium.
As the stadium's construction got underway, the NFL began to search for an owner for the team, which the league decided would be an expansion franchise March 23, As the Browns geared up to reactivate, the Browns Trust set up a countdown clock for the team's return  and used Hall of Famers such as Lou Groza and Jim Brown extensively to promote the team, alongside celebrity fans including Drew Carey.
Construction on the new stadium finished on time in August , paving the way for Cleveland to host a football game for the first time in more than three years. Citing the precedent set by the Browns' relocation, NFL owners used the threat of a move to convince their cities to build new stadiums with public funds. Cleveland fans' hopes were high upon the arrival of the new team. However, as an expansion team the Browns were forced to build a new roster from scratch using rookies, free agents, and the players other teams chose not to protect in the expansion draft.
With a new team composed of a mix of fresh faces and castoffs, the Browns floundered. The Steelers shut out the Browns 43—0 in the season opener at Cleveland Browns Stadium on September 12, , the first of seven straight losses. A 2—14 season in was followed by a 3—13 record in after Couch suffered a season-ending thumb injury. Early in , Policy and Lerner fired Palmer.
The coach and the team, Policy said, were not headed in the right direction. After rejecting an initial offer in December, Davis accepted the job the following month. Davis had turned around Miami's football program and put the team back in championship contention; Policy and Lerner hoped he could do the same in Cleveland. The Browns improved under Davis, and contended for a spot in the playoffs until a loss in the 15th week against Jacksonville that featured one of the most controversial calls in team history.
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On a fourth-down play that the team needed to convert to stay in the game, Couch threw to receiver Quincy Morgan over the middle. Morgan appeared to bobble the ball before grasping it firmly as he hit the ground. After the pass was ruled complete and Couch spiked the ball to stop the clock, officials reversed Morgan's catch on a Jacksonville challenge.
As Davis pleaded his case that the play could not be reviewed because another play had been run, frustrated fans began throwing plastic beer bottles onto the field. Amid the bedlam, later named " bottlegate ", officials ended the game with 48 seconds on the clock and left the field as objects rained down on them from the stands.
Jacksonville ran down the clock for the win, and the Browns finished the season at 7—9. Cleveland improved again in , but Lerner did not live to see his team make the playoffs.