It would be hard to imagine a more one-sided half. Denver gained 234 yards, Cleveland 21, with only one yard rushing compared to Denver's 159. The harried Nelsen completed only two passes and was twice dumped for losses while attempting to pass.
It is to the credit of the Browns that the club made the second half respectable, holding Denver to one field goal. The offense did not do that much more, but the defense limited Denver to half the yardage it had gained in the first two periods.
The loss did not cost Cleveland first place in its division and, for that matter, it is unlikely to cost the club the division title. The Browns are still a game in front, and are a much better team than they appeared to be on this wet and miserable afternoon.
"I think they took us too lightly," one Denver veteran said. "You could tell when we were warming up that they figured us to be nothings. I don't think they'll figure us that way anymore."
Even with this loss the Browns have had a surprisingly successful season, due in large measure to having assumed the personality of their new head coach, Nick Skorich, who succeeded the mild-mannered Blanton Collier this year. Skorich is hard-bitten, with the blocky battered face of a man who once played guard in the single wing, which he did under Jock Sutherland on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the late '40s and early '50s. Skorich had been an assistant to Collier for seven years before taking charge—four years as the defensive coach and three in charge of the offense. But when Collier retired, Skorich immediately set about casting the club in his sterner, more aggressive mold.
"Football is a physical game," he explained last week. "I resented the fact that people did not consider the Browns a physical team. So we started even before training camp to make this a tougher club. I sent the players running and strength programs to follow before they came to camp, and then, during camp, we had more contact than we have had in previous years. If you're going to hit in a game, you have to hit in practice, and that's what we do. We even have physical contact during the week after the season starts. I also believe in scrimmaging the best against the best," Skorich went on. "I mean, our No. 1 offensive unit against the No. 1 defense. They learn from each other. So far, it seems to be working. At least we're a lot more physical and we haven't backed off against any team we have played, as we sometimes did in the past."
The players have taken to Skorich's ways. He is a strict man but a fair one. When the club came on the field the morning before the Denver game for a 45-minute drill on special teams, the captains, Linebacker Jim Houston and Running Back Leroy Kelly, ran their warmup lap clockwise, but the rest of the club, as a put-on, went in the other direction. When they finished, Skorich smiled and said, "That lap was on you. Now take another the right way." There was no grumbling as they dutifully trotted off.
Skorich has the team do a series of 40-yard wind sprints after every practice, except on Saturday. "We do it when they're tired to teach them discipline and give them the ability to go hard at the end of a tough game, when they will also be tired," he said. "We aren't letting down late in the game now."
Indeed, the only weak fourth period the Browns have had this season was against the Oakland Raiders, when they gave up 24 points in the first of their two losses.
Aside from more aggression and more endurance, Skorich attributes the Browns' 4-and-2 record to the continuing good health of Nelsen, the rapid development of the defensive line and the additional speed in the defensive backfield provided by Cornerbacks Ben Davis and Clarence Scott, who was the No. 1 draft choice this year.