Cleveland Browns: Phil Dawson

Browns' new idea a real dog

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
12:20
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The news that the Cleveland Browns may well have a bullmastiff on the sideline as a mascot this season takes me back to one of my favorite quotes from the post-1999 era.

It happened after the 2002 season. Butch Davis was the Browns' coach, and one of his rules was that players could not leave the team hotel during road trips. Safety Earl Little weighed in that he thought players should be allowed a few hours to go out to dinner or see family. It was not an unreasonable request; most teams allow players some free time on the road.

Kicker Phil Dawson was asked whether he thought the road rules should be changed.

His response was epic.

The only thing he wanted to see changed was more wins. Dawson said he was at the point where he'd practice naked if it meant more wins for the Browns.

Not a pleasant image, but the point was clear then and remains so today.

The thing the Cleveland Browns need to do is win. The rest is a sideshow.

Some of it is an enjoyable sideshow because it’s intrinsic to the game. The team's efforts to upgrade a stadium that needed improvements is an example, and it's commendable. Fans will enjoy the game more with the improvements, especially during the seemingly never-ending TV timeouts.

But the fans' true enjoyment comes from the way the team plays. In the Browns' first game back in 1999, they had fireworks, planes and Drew Carey -- then got demolished by the Steelers. They once had the G.E. Smith Band -- a group that used to play on "Saturday Night Live" -- tucked into a cubbyhole on the sideline. They now have dog races at halftime and a drum corps.

None of it has helped them win.

Now a bullmastiff named Swagger (not named by the team) may be on the sideline and lead the Browns out of the tunnel before games.

The one thing that must be said about this is if it doesn't help them win, the animal is irrelevant. The Browns could follow an ostrich onto the field. A Komodo dragon, a kangaroo, a penguin, a Burmese python -- all wearing a Browns scarf or something. Have at it if it means a win. Pack the stadium with thousands of bullmastiffs.

Practice naked or in tutus. At this point, whatever is done doesn't matter -- provided, as Dawson said, it means more wins.
When it comes to wanting to see a player in the Super Bowl who hasn’t been yet, the Cleveland Browns were nearly unanimous in their choice.

Eighty percent of the 10 players polled preferred Adrian Peterson.

Why does he garner such respect? Because he produces, he’s one of the best, and he’s overcome a significant knee injury to remain one of the best. That is the kind of thing that other players notice, the kind of effort and dedication that other players respect.

The two players other than Peterson to receive votes from the Browns were Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles and Dallas quarterback Tony Romo.

One Browns player received votes from the league: left tackle Joe Thomas. He got just three of 320 votes, less than 1 percent. But it’s something -- as at least three players in the league recognize what he’s contributed.

On the quirky side, former Browns place-kicker Phil Dawson garnered one vote. It did not come from Cleveland.

But in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, Dawson was set up for an almost ideal ending. Had the 49ers scored a touchdown on their final drive, the game-winning point could have come from Dawson. And pleased at least one NFL voter.
It’s almost the ultimate Cleveland tale -- after A Christmas Story of course.

Longtime kicker who works for years in losing and tough seasons leaves and winds up making the game-winning kick in miserable conditions for his new team.

Good for Phil Dawson, a guy whose popularity and standing with the fans in Cleveland remains strong despite the fact he left the Browns.

That’s what happens when a guy gives 14 years of his professional life to largely losing causes yet never loses his professionalism and approach. Dawson was the most dependable player on the Browns during his 14-year tenure, and yes he hated losing.

At one point when a player complained after a losing season that he’d like to be able to do more when the teams go on the road, Dawson said the only thing he wanted to change was win -- that he’d practice naked if they told him if it meant the team won.

Not a pretty image, but the point was clear. And it came from the same guy who finished a game in Cleveland kicking with a broken arm.

Dawson left the Browns this season and signed with San Francisco, where he had another outstanding season. He made 32-of-36 kicks, including 32 of his last 33 and a franchise-record 27 in a row.

He had the second-most points and field goals in 49ers history and won the playoff game with a 33-yard kick in minus-10 degree wind chill.

“I’ve waited a long time to win a playoff game,” Dawson told the media after the game. “And I finally got to do it and it was worth the wait.”

He then credited the rest of the team for giving him a chance to win it. Typical. Dawson is a guy who understands his role, is always ready and never gets too carried away with himself.

Viewers on FOX may have been surprised near the end of the game when a sideline report quoted Dawson saying there was no range, that the conditions made any kick difficult. (Don Cockroft could explain a few things about having to kick in those conditions as well.)

Dawson merely was doing what he always has done: Tell the truth.

The conditions were miserable, and he had to block it out and make the kick. He did -- even putting it between the arms of a diving Packers defender (who was offside).

Dawson is 38, but he seems to get better and stronger the longer he kicks. He made four-of-six from 50 yards or more this season; the last three seasons he’s made 18-of-21 from that distance.

The Browns decision to let Dawson go was never fully explained, but in the end he wound up in a great city with a playoff team and the Browns wound up with Billy Cundiff, who had a good season.

Dawson still ranks as the Browns career leader in field-goal percentage (minimum 100 kicks) and has more field goals made than anyone in team history. He also ranks second in points in team history, behind Lou Groza, whom Dawson always respected greatly.

Dawson may have left and found his playoff success elsewhere, but at some point he should return to Cleveland.

On the day when the Browns put his name in the team’s Ring of Honor.

Morning Brownies: Rivalry wrap

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
9:47
AM ET
The Browns and Steelers have played 29 times since 1999. In the first two seasons after the Browns returned in 1999, they beat the Steelers twice, including in Pittsburgh in their first year back on the field. It was a monumental upset saved by safety Earl Little, who saw Phil Dawson warming up on the sideline while the field goal unit ran out for a last-play kick, and alerted Dawson to get on the field.

Since 2001, the Browns have gone 3-22 against Pittsburgh. The litany of losses has been presented for years. The embarrassing return in 1999. The Chrismas Eve Massacre in 2005. The playoff loss in 2002, when the Browns led 24-7 early in the third quarter only to allow Tommy Maddox (Tommy Maddox?) to lead the Steelers back to the win. There was William Green and Joey Porter fighting before a game, with Porter after the game apologizing and Green nowhere to be found. There was James Harrison's scary hit on Colt McCoy, and the Browns putting McCoy back in the game. And on and on and on.

Longtime Browns followers remember Browns-Steelers games being played on Saturday night at old, cavernous Municipal Stadium. They remember the Kardiac Kids trying to blow through the Steel Curtain. They remember competition.

But an entire new generation of Browns fans has seen little but futility against the Steelers. Night game, day game, early season, late season -- it hardly seems to matter. Except for the occasional aberration -- Charlie Batch starting last season and the Steelers turning the ball over eight times -- the Steelers find a way to win. And when a quarterback the Browns could have drafted wins 15 of 16 games against Cleveland, well it's really folly to pretend there's competition.

A few years ago, Porter basically dismissed this matchup as a rivalry. Porter said it's really not a rivalry unless both teams win. This week in an article for ESPNCleveland.com, Tony Grossi talked to Steelers president Art Rooney, and Rooney said: "It's probably fair to say [the Ravens are] our biggest rival right now."

Ouch.

Clearly this Steelers team is not the Steelers team of the past several years. They lack a run game, are aging in spots and give up big plays. The Browns want to hope they are a different team, one that can beat Pittsburgh in a real and accomplished way.

They wanted that in Cincinnati a week ago, and that result was ugly. They have another chance Sunday. It's a game between teams who are fighting for relevance, with the loser in terrible shape for the final five games. It could be the game that slightly alters the perception of the AFC North. Or it could be one that firmly establishes the Browns as a team that is not quite ready for that next step.

Now let's continue with some Morning Brownies:

Grossi also discusses the remarkable growth in Joe Haden (which I wrote about here), and points out Haden is only 24 and he didn't start playing corner until his freshman year at Florida.

In Pittsburgh, the Steelers acknowledge how well Haden is playing, but Antonio Brown told the Post-Gazette's esteemed Ed Bouchette "I hope so" when asked about Haden simply covering him man-to-man. "One-on-one is better than two-on-one. If you study game plans and prepare for one guy, it's a lot easier with your matchup planning for him than other guys or other zone coverage."

Bud Shaw of The Plain Dealer minces no words in saying the loss to the Bengals was a terrible loss, but points out the Browns have three home games in the next four and can still make a jump this season.

Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer points out that the Browns would be alive for the playoff chase with a win over Pittsburgh. He does so by running through the way the other teams are playing.

Following Sunday's loss, Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal says what everyone wonders about Jason Campbell: "His performance against the Bengals could have been an aberration. But so, too, could have been the two that came before it."
Here is what's happening on the Cleveland Browns' beat:
  • To make room for new kicker Billy Cundiff, the Browns placed guard Jason Pinkston on the injured reserve-designated to return list. Pinkston, who injured his ankle Aug. 15 against Detroit, is eligible to play as early as the week of the Browns’ game vs. Baltimore (Nov. 3). Here's the story in The Plain Dealer about the move.
  • So, why didn't the Browns pay kicker Phil Dawson what he wanted to stay? Vic Carucci of the team's website explains: "The short answer is that, philosophically, that was not in line with the business plan that chief executive officer Joe Banner and the rest of the team’s management put in place upon their arrival. A heavy investment in a kicker might make sense for a team, such as the 49ers, that is a legitimate Super Bowl contender and looking to fill a few holes. For a team like the Browns, who are in the early phases of trying to build that kind of a squad, it doesn’t." For the record, Dawson is earning $1.51 million more than Cundiff.
  • The Plain Dealer's Bud Shaw believes fans can learn a lot about what to expect from the Browns from their kicker situation. "This kicker quandry is not the smell of losing in the air, just the whiff of a team that’s not built to win this season and knows it," Shaw wrote.
  • Rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo will undergo further medical testing this week to determine whether the first-round pick will be able to play in Sunday's regular-season opener, Banner told The Akron Beacon Journal.
The Cleveland Browns are going with Billy Cundiff as their kicker, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

The Browns have made several good moves to improve the team this year, but the new regime mishandled their kicking situation.

I didn't understand why the Browns didn't re-sign Pro Bowl kicker Phil Dawson in free agency. The two kickers (Shayne Graham and Brandon Bogotay) that the Browns brought in this offseason, and subsequently cut, were a downgrade from Dawson. And the same goes with Cundiff, who hasn't been the same since that crushing miss in the AFC Championship Game 21 months ago.

The new decision-makers for the Browns have turned a position of strength into one of weakness. The belief is the new regime wanted a fresh start, and Dawson represented one of the faces of the expansion-era Browns. But this team would have more stability with Dawson. The Browns have over $25 million in salary-cap space and only needed to give Dawson a one-year, $2.35 million contract (what he received from the San Francisco 49ers) to keep him. And, if the Browns were intent on parting ways with Dawson, they should've invested a draft pick in a young kicker.

What you like about the addition of Cundiff is his familiarity with the tricky weather of the AFC North. He kicked for the Browns for five games in 2009 and played for the Baltimore Ravens for 2 1/2 seasons. Cundiff, 33, was a Pro Bowl kicker in 2010 before his career derailed a year later.

After missing nine field goals in the 2011 regular season, Cundiff hooked a 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds that would have tied the AFC Championship Game. Cundiff was cut by the Ravens the next season, and he was released by the Washington Redskins in 2012 after missing five of his 12 field goal attempts (58.3 percent success rate). He is now on his fourth team in two seasons.

So, in the end, the Browns have gone from a Pro Bowl kicker in Dawson to a journeyman in Cundiff.

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