Despite taking the Browns to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, head coach Marty Schottenheimer was fired at the end of the 1988 season. He left the Browns having compiled a record of 44–27 (a 62% winning percentage) with the team. Schottenheimer would once again go through the same scenario with the Chargers, as in 2006, he was fired by them after the Chargers posted the best record in the NFL. The Browns finished the season with a 10-6 record, tied for second place in the AFC Central with the Houston Oilers. The Browns would be awarded second place by posting a better division record than the Oilers. The Browns would clinch a playoff berth for the 4th straight season. In the playoffs, they lost to the Oilers in the Wild Card game, 24-23.
Oilers cornerback Richard Johnson's interception set up kicker Tony Zendejas' game-clinching 49-yard field goal with 1:54 left in the game. After the Browns scored first on a 33-yard field goal by Matt Bahr, Houston marched 91 yards to score on quarterback Warren Moon's 14-yard touchdown pass to running back Allen Pinkett. Then on Cleveland's next drive, Oilers defensive lineman Richard Byrd recovered quarterback Don Strock's fumble to set up Pinkett's 16-yard touchdown run. Bahr later made two field goals to cut Houston's lead, 14–9, before halftime. In the third quarter, backup quarterback Mike Pagel, who replaced an injured Strock, threw a 14-yard touchdown completion to wide receiver Webster Slaughter to put the Browns ahead, 16–14. However, the Oilers marched on a 76-yard drive that was capped with running back Lorenzo White's 1-yard rushing touchdown. After Johnson's interception and Zendejas' subsequent game-clinching 49-yard field goal, Slaughter caught a 2-yard touchdown reception to close out the scoring.