CLEVELAND, JAN. 9 -- Woof, woof.

That's the battle cry of the Cleveland Browns' defense, called the "Dawgs" around here. And the Dawgs kept the Indianapolis Colts out of the end zone long enough for Bernie Kosar's offense to drive the Browns to a 38-21 victory and to a berth in the AFC championship game next week.

Defense wasn't dominating today. The Browns punted only once and never ended a drive in their territory. And the Colts' offense, behind Jack Trudeau's passing, held its own well into the third quarter.

But in the third period, Cleveland's Felix Wright intercepted a pass deep in his territory and stopped the Colts' momentum. From there, Kosar and the Browns used ball control, mainly Earnest Byner's running (122 yards on 23 carries), to grind down the Colts' defense.

The big play came early in the third period. With the game tied at 14, the Colts had taken the second-half kickoff and driven from their 15 to the Cleveland 20 in 11 plays, using up almost half of the quarter. Eric Dickerson had just run for 14 yards to the Cleveland 16, the Colts were driving (as they had most of the first half), and the crowd of 78,586 was extremely nervous.

Trudeau looked left for tight end Pat Beach. But as Trudeau threw, linebacker Eddie Johnson, blitzing, crashed into him and got a piece of the ball. It fluttered down to the waiting safety, Wright.

"I knew I couldn't get the sack," said Johnson, "so what I tried to do was get his arm. I got a piece of the ball and most of his arm."

Trudeau said Beach had been slightly dazed the play before and "wasn't running as well as he should. I was trying to throw the ball away.

"At that last moment, he hit my arm. It's kind of a quarterback's nightmare. You hope that somebody knocks the ball down."

"It turned the game around, because they went down and scored," said Dickerson, who was held to 50 yards on 15 carries on what he said was an icy field.

"They scored right away. And I think, if we would have held them and gotten the ball back, we'd have scored. We should have scored on that drive; we should have gotten something, a field goal or a touchdown."

From their 14, the Browns took control of the game. Kosar went to veteran tight end Ozzie Newsome for two big plays. At the Browns' 25, he threw to Newsome for 18 yards. Five plays later, he passed to Newsome for 16 more to the Colts' 23.

Byner got the ball four of the next five plays, the last from two yards out for a touchdown, giving Cleveland a 21-14 lead. And he would be the workhorse the rest of the game, because the other half of the Browns' rushing tandem, Kevin Mack, left the game in the first quarter with a stomach virus and never returned.

"He {Mack} didn't say anything about it," said Byner, who scored twice, including a dive from two yards out late in the game that ended the suspense.

"{Byner} showed today what he means to our offense," said Kosar, who completed 20 of 31 passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns. "He runs and blocks. He catches passes, like he did. He really stepped in today and played a position when Kevin got hurt that he really hadn't practiced in two weeks."

"I sensed all week that Earnest Byner would have this kind of a day," said Browns Coach Marty Schottenheimer, who has won three straight Central Division titles with Cleveland.

"I think Earnest Byner would have had a big day today if he had been out there by himself."

After the offense put them ahead, the Browns' defense stuffed Dickerson on the ground and began pressuring Trudeau (21 of 33, 251 yards, two touchdowns). Indianapolis got no further than its 31 on its next two drives.

The next time the Colts reached the end zone, there was little more than a minute left and the game had been decided.

"Cleveland's striking capacity is remarkable," Colts Coach Ron Meyer said. "For them to go 85 yards down the field and score on you, well, that's real discouraging . . . You've got to be able to control the momentum in this game, or any game, in this league."

The Browns controlled Dickerson and Albert Bentley on the ground by committing most of their men to the line of scrimmage. Defensive tackle Dave Puzzouli (eight tackles) outplayed everybody on the Colts' offensive line, and Dickerson said he couldn't run outside as well as he wanted.

"The field was just bad," he said. "We like to run outside plays, off-tackle plays, and we couldn't run them today because of the field conditions. And we thought we could hurt them some with the passing."

"There was no footing," said Colts linebacker Barry Krauss. "It's an advantage for a good bull-rush game."

The teams began by shredding each other's defenses, which had finished first and second in the league in average points allowed (15). They both scored on their first possession.

Cleveland took the opening kickoff and went on a crisp 86-yard drive, converting on five straight third downs during its 15-play drive. Mack ran for 38 yards on five carries, and Kosar passed to Byner over the middle for 10 yards and the score.

Indianapolis went 74 yards to tie. Trudeau, given time by his three Pro Bowl-member offensive line, completed all five of his passes during the drive, the last to Matt Bouza over the middle for 18 yards to the Cleveland 2.

Two plays later, off a good ball fake, Trudeau threw to Beach for the touchdown.

Cleveland regained the lead when, from the Colts' 39, Kosar threw on a deep post to wide receiver Reggie Langhorn. Cornerback Freddie Robinson looked as if he expected help deep from safety Mike Prior, but Prior stayed upfield.

Langhorn caught the pass with his fingertips at the 5, fell, got up, and then ran over Robinson for a 14-7 lead. But the Colts, for the 11th time this season, scored atmost at the end of a half.

They moved 59 yards in seven plays. Trudeau found Billy Brooks between Hanford Dixon and Mark Harper for 29 yards to the Cleveland 19. On the next play, Dickerson beat linebacker Clay Matthews in single coverage. Trudeau passed to him at the goal line and he walked in for the tying score.