The Cleveland Browns were 7-4, but coming off of a bad loss to the Raiders, as they hosted their fierce rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, on November 23, 1986. Coached by Marty Schottenheimer, the Browns were benefiting from the rapid development of QB Bernie Kosar (pictured at right), who was two days short of his 23rd birthday. TE Ozzie Newsome was nagged by injuries, as were the running backs, but wide receivers Webster Slaughter, Reggie Langhorne, and Brian Brennan were steady.
The Steelers, under the guidance of Head Coach Chuck Noll for the 18th year, had gotten off to a 1-6 start but were now 4-7. QB Mark Malone was inconsistent but playing better after missing two weeks due to a thumb injury. Running backs Walter Abercrombie and Earnest Jackson were effective running behind a good line. The defensive line was lacking when it came to rushing opposing passers and CB Dwayne Woodruff, their best in the backfield at coverage, had gone down for the year in the preseason.
It was a rainy day at Cleveland Municipal Stadium with 76,452 fans in attendance. The Steelers had first possession and drove 75 yards in eight plays. The big one was a pass from Mark Malone to WR Louis Lipps that picked up 44 yards to the Cleveland nine yard line. Walter Abercrombie ran for a one-yard touchdown and Gary Anderson added the extra point.
The teams exchanged punts before the Browns put together a promising drive. Bernie Kosar completed a third-and-10 pass to WR Clarence Weathers that gained 15 yards and throws to Brian Brennan picked up 28 and 21 yards. But after reaching the Pittsburgh four, a holding penalty nullified an apparent touchdown run and Kosar threw a pass that was intercepted by LB Bryan Hinkle.
The Steelers had to punt following a short series and Cleveland was again on the move as the game headed into the second quarter. Kosar connected with FB Kevin Mack for six yards and RB Curtis Dickey for four and two carries by Mack gained another nine yards. Kosar than threw to TE Harry Holt for 23 yards to the Pittsburgh 10 and, following a pass interference penalty, Dickey swept around left end for a two-yard TD to finish off the six-play, 53-yard series. Matt Bahr’s successful conversion tied the score at 7-7.
On Pittsburgh’s next offensive play, Malone’s errant pass was picked off by CB Mark Harper who returned it 31 yards to the Steelers’ 15. Five plays later Mack scored a touchdown from a yard out and, with Bahr kicking the point after, the Browns were now ahead by 14-7.
The Steelers responded with a scoring drive of their own that covered 61 yards in five plays. Malone completed two passes and Abercrombie took a pitchout and ran 38 yards for a TD. Anderson’s kick tied the score again at 14-14.
The Browns wasted no time in regaining the lead. Kosar threw to Webster Slaughter for 31 yards and passes to RB Herman Fontenot and Reggie Langhorne gained another 14 to the Pittsburgh 35. A defensive holding penalty was followed by a nine-yard run by Mack and Kosar then connected with TE Ozzie Newsome for a 20-yard touchdown. Bahr converted and the score was 21-14.
DB Lupe Sanchez returned the ensuing kickoff 58 yards to the Cleveland 40, but after the drive stalled at the 28, Anderson missed a 45-yard field goal attempt. With the clock down to 1:42 remaining in the first half, Kosar passed the Browns into Pittsburgh territory but Bahr was also unsuccessful on a 39-yard field goal try and the score remained unchanged at halftime.
Cleveland had the ball first in the third quarter and punted. The Steelers then drove 63 yards in nine plays to put more points on the board. Malone had completions to TE Preston Gothard for 19 yards and Lipps for 16. A pass interference penalty moved the ball to the Cleveland two and, two plays later, Malone scored a touchdown from a yard out on a quarterback sneak. Anderson knotted the score at 21-21 with the extra point.
The Browns responded strongly as Kosar completed three passes to Langhorne, the first for 20 yards in a second-and-17 situation and the second for 21 yards to convert on third-and-nine. A replay overturned what was originally called a fumble by Kosar to keep the drive alive and Dickey finished off the 12-play, 76-yard series with a four yard touchdown carry. With Bahr adding the PAT, the home team was back on top by 28-21.
Pittsburgh was driving again as the game headed into the fourth quarter. Abercrombie (pictured at left) and Earnest Jackson had good gains and Malone converted a third down with an 11-yard completion to Lipps. Once again it was Malone keeping the ball himself for the final yard and a TD to cap the 11-play, 69-yard possession and, with Anderson’s extra point, the score was tied once more at 28-28.
Kosar went to the air on the next series and connected with Fontenot for 16 yards and Slaughter for 32 as the Browns advanced to the Pittsburgh 28. The drive stalled, however, and Bahr missed wide to the left on a 45-yard field goal attempt.
The Steelers went three-and-out and had to punt, and this time the Browns had a better result. Driving 64 yards in 14 plays, Kosar completed four passes and Mack and Dickey chipped away on the ground. A throw to Slaughter picked up 22 yards to the Pittsburgh 11 in a third-and-seven situation and, four plays later, Bahr made good on a 25-yard field goal try. Cleveland was up by three with 1:55 to play in regulation.
Starting from their 40 following the ensuing kickoff, the Steelers advanced 37 yards in nine plays. Malone hit on passes to Abercrombie for four yards and Lipps for 14. After RB Rich Erenberg dropped a pass with a clear field in front of him, he caught two throws from Malone for eight and five yards to get a first down. Finally, after two runs got the ball to the Cleveland 23, Anderson kicked a 40-yard field goal to knot the score at 31-31 with 11 seconds remaining, thus sending the game into overtime.
Cleveland’s placekicker Matt Bahr suffered knee ligament damage making the tackle on his last kickoff (which proved to be season-ending) and put the Browns at a disadvantage heading into OT because the reserve tight end Holt was the emergency backup and had never attempted a placekick in the NFL.
Both teams had short possessions to start the extra period. Cleveland WR Gerald “Ice Cube” McNeil had a 15-yard return that gave the Browns the ball at their 40. Mack ran four straight times to pick up 15 yards and Kosar, eluding a heavy rush in a third-and-seven situation, threw to Fontenot for another nine yards before connecting with Slaughter (pictured below) for a 36-yard touchdown to win the game by a final score of 37-31.
Despite the back-and-forth nature of the game and the closeness of the score, the Browns dominated in total yards (536 to 339), first downs (35 to 20), and time of possession (40:17 to 26:20). Each team turned the ball over one time apiece. Both teams had difficulties with field goals as Gary Anderson missed one from just inside 40 yards and Matt Bahr was unsuccessful on two of his three tries.
Bernie Kosar had a big performance, completing 28 of 46 passes for 414 yards and two touchdowns while giving up one interception. Webster Slaughter had 6 catches for 134 yards and the game-winning TD while Brian Brennan contributed five receptions for 87 yards and Herman Fontenot added 46 yards on his five catches. Kevin Mack rushed for 106 yards on 24 carries that included a touchdown.
For the Steelers, Mark Malone succeeded on 17 of 28 throws for 197 yards and was intercepted once. Walter Abercrombie gained 86 yards on 15 carries that included two TDs and caught four passes for another 26 yards. Louis Lipps gained 85 yards on his four receptions and John Stallworth also caught four, for 48 yards.
“We felt like we could come in and shut them (the Browns) down,” said Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Tony Dungy. “We knew pretty much what they were going to do. We just didn’t get them stopped.”
Cleveland won its remaining regular season games to place first the AFC Central for the second straight year with a conference-best 12-4 record. The Browns defeated the Jets in the Divisional playoff round but lost the NFC Championship game to Denver. Meanwhile, the loss officially eliminated the Steelers from playoff contention. They ended up at 6-10 and third in the division.
Bernie Kosar passed for 3854 yards, which ranked fourth in the league, and threw 17 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions, giving him a league-low 1.9 interception percentage. He displayed his ability as a clutch performer by topping the NFL with seven game-winning drives. The 414 passing yards against the Steelers remained his career high.