CHICAGO, JAN. 10 -- The Cleveland Browns have, once again, become the top contender for the AFC championship. The Indianapolis Colts, for the first time in a decade, became a team on the right road, and a team of the future.
The Browns, 38-21 winners over the Colts Saturday, say they aren't satisfied and won't be until they get to the Super Bowl. It's the one thing that has eluded them.
Forgive the Browns if they have a feeling of deja vu. They found themselves the hot team in the AFC championship game last year as well, and were about four minutes away from the franchise's first Super Bowl appearance. Then came John Elway and The Drive, a 98-yarder that has highlighted highlight films ever since and haunted the Browns' dreams.
"I hear people talk about our football team and what's expected of us," Coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "The level of expectation of the Cleveland Browns was established by this football team. Nobody else. We're comfortable with that expectation. Our goal is always going to be to try to become the champions of the National Football League. For us to shoot for anything less than that, I think, is wrong."
In making their second straight AFC title game appearance, the Browns say they've learned from their experience of last season.
"We know we have to play four, five, maybe six quarters to win the football game," said tight end Ozzie Newsome.
When they lost a regular season game to the Colts in Cleveland, 9-7, Dec. 6 for their second loss in a row, they hit bottom. Earnest Byner fumbled inside the Colts 5 and Kosar had his lowest yardage total of the season.
"I think, after that week," said Byner, "after that fumble against the Colts, I think I started working again. I really started concentrating on the ball, getting my pads down a little lower and running through the hole."
Saturday, he ran for 122 yards on a field that Colts back Eric Dickerson said was icy.
"In the second half," Colts linebacker Cliff Odom said, "they were able to control the line of scrimmage and get three or four yards a pop."
"We committed 11 guys to the run as much as possible," Browns cornerback Frank Minnifield said. "You had 11 guys concentrating on Eric Dickerson every down."
A big contributor was fifth-year tackle Dave Puzzuoli, who replaced injured Bob Golic and made eight tackles.
"I got nervous," he said, "but just being around the guys before the game, clowning around, we're a loose team, and we've been there before. I'm probably the guy that screws around as much as anyone."
Although the Colts couldn't run, quarterback Jack Trudeau kept them in the game. He became the starter only when Gary Hogeboom was injured. But he made big plays Saturday.
"I enjoyed the opportunity that I could show I could play the game," he said. He threw for two touchdowns and 251 yards before being knocked out of the game late in the fourth quarter.
But without a consistent contribution from Dickerson, the Colts couldn't win.
"The only way a team like that can hurt you is a guy like Dickerson breaks loose," Browns linebacker Eddie Johnson said.
But the Colts are no longer a team, as Dickerson thought when he was with the Rams, that is easy to run up the numbers against.
"I was guilty of that," he said. "When we played the Colts, I'd say, let's work on the stats this week . . . next year, hopefully if we get in the playoffs, we'll be at home, where it's 70 degrees inside."