Earnest Byner's nine-yard touchdown run with 1:52 remaining today completed the Cleveland Browns' rally for a 35-33 victory over the New York Giants.
That score capped an 80-yard drive and moved the Browns into sole possession of first place in the AFC Central with a 7-6 record. The Giants (8-5) are second in the NFC East, one game behind the Dallas Cowboys, and remain one game ahead of the Washington Redskins, who lost, 35-8, to San Francisco today.
The Giants drove from their 10 to Cleveland's 18 with four seconds left, but Eric Schubert's 34-yard field goal try was wide left after what appeared to be a bad snap.
"I released it too early and I didn't follow through," said center Bart Oates. "It was low and I messed it up. (Holder) Jeff Rutledge did a good job of fielding it, but a snap like that throws off the precision."
Schubert also missed an extra-point kick after Giants' second touchdown. A penalty had moved the ball back 10 yards to the 12.
Giants linebacker Harry Carson said, "The game shouldn't have come down to those kicks. We didn't stop them in the fourth quarter and should have."
"That's why it's very unfair," said defensive end George Martin, "to have our defense play as badly as we did, and have it come down to pointing fingers at Eric."
The Browns trailed, 33-21, with 11:43 remaining before quarterback Gary Danielson led them to 14 straight points.
"The injection of Danielson was like an injection of influenza," said Giants' defensive end Casey Merrill. "He threw balls off his heels, threw ducks for completions . . . He'd limp and crawl and come back and throw again. He'd find a crack and weasel through and get away a pass. I thought we had the game, but Gary Danielson obviously had other ideas."
Danielson, who did not start because of a shoulder injury, replaced rookie Bernie Kosar midway through the third quarter. "It caught me by surprise," Kosar said of the move. "I was disappointed, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't."
The move seemed to backfire when Danielson threw an interception and fumbled after being sacked, setting up two Giants scores. But he got the Browns moving in the fourth quarter and, after Kevin Mack rushed three yards on fourth and two at the Giants' 28, connected with Clarence Weathers on a 25-yard touchdown pass to make it 33-28 with 8:52 left.
On the next drive, Byner caught a 26-yard pass from Danielson on fourth and two to New York's 20. "I wanted to keep the thing going," Browns Coach Marty Schottenheimer said of the fourth-down call. "It really wasn't much of a decision to make. We play to win."
Danielson left the game with a rib injury after a hit by Andy Headen on the play before Byner's touchdown and Kosar made the handoff on the game-winning sweep of left end. "It's a little trap play called from upstairs," said Byner. "I don't know why I cut it outside, but I'm glad I did. The Giants were on a full blitz."
The Browns led, 21-7, in the first half following a 42-yard touchdown run by Mack, a two-yard run by Byner and 37-yard interception return by Al Gross. The Giants had scored on a three-yard run by Joe Morris in the first quarter.
It was his first of three touchdowns and he finished with 131 yards rushing, the best by any running back against the Browns this season.
New York closed to 21-20 on Morris' 58-yard touchdown run and Phil Simms' 29-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline to Bobby Johnson 15 seconds before halftime.
The Giants moved in front, 33-21, as Morris scored on a five-yard run set up by Terry Kinard's 22-yard interception return and Schubert kicked field goals of 35 and 40 yards.
But Schubert didn't make that last, vital field goal.
The snap did not bounce. Rutledge said he pinned it to the ground. While he was setting it up Schubert started to move foward, then hesitated, and finally went through with the kick. As soon as Schubert's right leg touched the ball, Rutledge knew the kick was off to the left and the Giants had lost.
"Eric said for a split-second he paused," said Rutledge. "I'm sure it messed him up a little. I sort of trapped it, and put it right up. If that threw him off, you'll have to ask him. It's a no-win job."
In the locker room, before the media was allowed in, several Giants went over to console Schubert.
"He was hurting, but I told him, 'Don't worry about it,' there'll be other games to win," said Carson. "We still have confidence in him."