CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Browns running back Kevin Mack admitted his thoughts strayed a little during his team's 23-20 double overtime victory over the New York Jets in an AFC semifinal game.
'Maybe people are tired of hearing me say this, but it isn't the same to me without Earnest Byner in the backfield with me,' said Mack, who had 34 of his 63 yards during the drive that set up Mark Moseley's 27-yard game-winning field goal.
'(Running backs) Curtis Dickey and Herman Fontenot have been great to play with. But Earnest and I had that chemistry. He was cheering on the sidelines and that helped all of us.'
Mack and Byner, who gave the Browns a tandem of 1,000-yard rushers in 1985, have a friendship that goes beyond the sidelines.
'It's like we were childhood friends, college roommates and business partners,' says Byner. 'Maybe even brothers.'
Injuries to each, though, have created a limited partnership in 1986 as the duo played just seven quarters together.
Mack has had a chronically sore shoulder that has affected his running and pass blocking for Bernie Kosar. Byner needed surgery after stretching ligaments in his left ankle. He was placed on injured reserve Oct. 22.
Subsequently, Cleveland's running attack has been weak. For example, Mack had just eight yards on six carries in the first half against the Jets.
'I just couldn't get untracked too quickly,' he said. 'But Bernie told me, he told all of us, that even though we were down 20-10 (in the fourth quarter), we could still come back as a team. We scored 10 points (in the final 1:57 of regulation), and we were pumped for OT.'
On Cleveland's third possession of overtime, Mack converted on third down by bolting four yards over center to the Browns 44. Two plays later, he added eight yards over left tackle for another first down at the Jets 42. After Fontenot reeled off seven yards, Mack put together runs of 15, 4 and 7 yards to bring on Moseley for the winner.
Moseley previously missed from 46 and 44 yards during regulation and was wide right on a 23-yarder in the first overtime.
'But he was a lesson for us all,' Mack said. 'The guy didn't up and quit just because he had tasted failure.
'I know we can do much better than we did, and we'll be able to prove that next Sunday (in the AFC championship game at Cleveland Stadium). Having Earnest back would be great.'
Byner has worked out steadily the past two weeks and could have been activated for the Jets game. Coach Marty Schottenheimer, however, chose to gamble and give Byner an extra week off.
'The decision hasn't been made yet, but I know Earnest is raring to go,' said Schottenheimer. '(Team physician) John Bergfeld told me he should be ready this week, and Earnest was a bit more emphatic.'
Byner was asked what that meant.
'It's Kevin's turn to buy dinner,' he said. 'I want him to do that as a celebration Jan. 25 in Pasadena.'