CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns finished an unforgettable regular season, then braced for overtime — about seven hours worth.
Joshua Cribbs returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown, Jamal Lewis rushed for 128 yards and rookie quarterback Brady Quinn made his long-awaited NFL debut as the Browns beat the San Francisco 49ers 20-7 Sunday. Then they settled in front of their TVs to cheer for the Indianapolis Colts.
The Browns (10-6), just 4-12 a year ago, would make the AFC playoffs for the first time since 2002 if the defending Super Bowl champions beat the Tennessee Titans (9-6) on Sunday night.
In the final minutes, Cleveland fans chanted ‘‘Let’s Go Colts,’’ and after the scoreboard clock reached 0:00, fans celebrated as Kiss’ ‘‘Rock and Roll All Night’’ pumped through the stadium’s loudspeakers.
It’s a fitting conclusion for these down-to-the-very-last tick Browns, whose surprising turnaround in coach Romeo Crennel’s third season included several games won — and lost — in the final seconds.
Derek Anderson threw a TD pass to Braylon Edwards and Phil Dawson kicked two field goals as the Browns finished 7-1 at home for the first time in club history.
Cleveland’s 10 wins are its most since its expansion rebirth. The Browns last posted double-digit wins in 1994 (11).
But they showered, dressed and left Cleveland Browns Stadium not knowing if they’ll play at least one more game. Their immediate future was in hands of the Colts.
Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy was expected to rest many of his starters for the postseason, but the Browns were hoping he would keep Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Co. in long enough against the Titans to extend Cleveland’s season into the new year.
One wait is over for Browns fans. They finally got to see Quinn, who came in late in the first half when Anderson left with an injured finger.
Dawson kicked field goals of 24 and 49 yards and set a club record for points by a kicker with 120 — 6 shy of tying Hall of Famer Jim Brown’s overall team mark.
Anderson began the season as a backup and finished as a Pro Bowl alternate. His emergence kept Quinn, the Browns’ first-round draft pick, on the bench all season.
However, Anderson hurt his right pinky late in the first half and was replaced by Quinn. The Notre Dame golden boy received a rousing ovation when he jogged into Cleveland’s huddle with 3:11 left in the first half.
Anderson returned after halftime and finished 11-of-20 for 152 yards, but threw an interception and was again shaky coming off a four-pick performance last week in a loss at Cincinnati that cost Cleveland a chance to clinch a wild-card spot.
Quinn was 3-of-8 for 45 yards in his one series, but had his first career TD pass dropped by Kellen Winslow in the end zone.
The season is mercifully over for the 49ers (5-11), who had to start Chris Weinke at quarterback. He was the fourth QB to start for San Francisco, following Alex Smith, Trent Dilfer and Shaun Hill, who all got hurt.
It was likely the final game for San Francisco defensive end Bryant Young, expected to retire following his 14th season. The four-time Pro Bowler was carried off the field after the home finale against Tampa Bay.
Weinke went 13-for-22 for 104 yards, throwing a 7-yard TD pass to Darrell Jackson in the first half. The Browns sacked Weinke five times.
The Browns relinquished control of their playoff future with a loss last week, but they came out as if beating the 49ers was a must.
Cribbs returned San Francisco’s first punt 53 yards, then took the next one back all the way. It was the first career TD punt return for Cribbs, who ran two kickoffs back for TDs this season.
Anderson’s 45-yard TD to Edwards made it 14-0.
On Cleveland’s next possession, Anderson was hit by safety Michael Lewis on an incompletion and went to the sideline clutching his hand. He was quickly taken to the locker room for X-rays, which were negative.
With Anderson eligible to become a restricted free agent, the Browns could be faced with a difficult decision this winter: keep the QB who won them 10 games or turn their offense over to Quinn.
For now, though, their only concern was getting one more game.