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Monday, December 31, 2007

Dawson, Zastudil form record-breaking duo



Cleveland Browns kicking battery celebrates a record season

December 31, 2007


Joe Maxse

The three amigos were celebrating right next to each other in the Browns' locker room after Sunday's 20-7 victory against the San Francisco 49ers.

While Phil Dawson was the center of attention for getting a team-record 120 points by a kicker, the nine-year veteran wanted his good fortune to be spread among holder-punter Dave Zastudil and long snapper Ryan Pontbriand. In fact, he was adamant that all his teammates share in the accomplishment.

"I knew about it, but I wasn't focused on it," said Dawson, who connected on two field goals and two extra points. "It was something I was hoping to get and it was nice to share with my teammates. They all came up to me after the kick."

He passed Lou Groza's kicking total of 115 points in 1964 on a 23-yard field goal a minute before halftime. His 49-yard field goal in the fourth quarter tied him with Leroy Kelly (1968) for the second-best scoring season in Browns history.

Jim Brown, who holds the record with 126 points in 1965, was on hand to congratulate Dawson.

"Yeah, wow, that's one of those things," said Dawson, when Brown and Kelly were mentioned. "It was one of those things that sneak up on you week after week. I had a lot of opportunities this season and I was able to capitalize.

"There has been a pretty big disconnect to the old Browns and this was a chance to bridge that gap. It was fun to watch my teammates respond this season. I hope the fans appreciate that."

Pontbriand said notching 120 points under the conditions the Browns have played makes joining the ranks of Groza and Brown even more remarkable.

"The weather has been absolutely horrible the last month-and-a-half," Pontbriand said. "To make kicks in those conditions, he's one of the best."

Dawson made sure to point out that Zastudil outpunted San Francisco's Andy Lee, the NFC's Pro Bowl selection.

"Today made up for the last two weeks," said Dawson, referring to Zastudil's 42.2-yard average (to Lee's 24.6). "He had a fighting chance to show what he can do."

Dawson said the season and the game should serve as a testament to coach Romeo Crennel.

"I think today more than anything was about [Crennel's] leadership," Dawson said. "It would have been really easy to go through the motions. Romeo told us to go out there and win a football game . . . win your 10th game of the year.

"To win seven in a row at home says a lot after Week 1 [the 34-7 loss to Pittsburgh]. I'm sure a lot of people were saying, 'Here we go again.' "

Milestones


120 Points for Phil Dawson (most by a kicker in franchise history, surpassing Lou Groza’s 115 in 1964; tied for second among all Browns.)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Vrabel named Defensive Player of the Year



Defensive player of year

With the idea being to reward those who played the whole way for a team heading to the postseason, the pick here is New England's do-it-all linebacker, Mike Vrabel, who just earned his first Pro Bowl nod in 11 seasons.

Vrabel is fourth in the AFC in sacks with 11 1/2, has forced five fumbles and can line up almost anywhere on the field. He also has two touchdown catches this year, the ninth and 10th of his career, showing his versatility.

Dawson wins Lucarelli Good Guy Award



December 28, 2007

Tony Grossi

More kudos:

In voting conducted last Sunday, the Cleveland chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America elected quarterback Derek Anderson Browns player of the year and kicker Phil Dawson the Dino Lucarelli Good Guy Award winner.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pro Bowler Vrabel reaches double digits in sacks



By Christopher L. Gasper and Mike Reiss

December 24, 2007

FOXBOROUGH - Since Bill Belichick became the Patriots coach in 2000, no defensive player has reached double digits in sacks - until yesterday.

Newly minted Pro Bowl linebacker Mike Vrabel had two sacks yesterday to give him 11 1/2 for the season. That's the highest total by a Patriot since Andre Tippett recorded 12 1/2 in 1987.

When Vrabel sacked Dolphins quarterback Cleo Lemon for a 5-yard loss in the second quarter on third and 11 from the Miami 34, he set a career high and became the first Patriots player to reach double figures in sacks since Willie McGinest had 11 in 1995.

Vrabel ended the day with the two sacks, five tackles, and two quarterback hits.

"Mike's been doing that all year," said linebacker Junior Seau. "Mike is obviously a Pro Bowler. He comes to work every day. Every day during the week he prepares himself like no other and we're happy to have him on our team."

He hauled down Lemon again for a 4-yard loss in the third quarter, part of the season-high seven sacks New England registered. Vrabel's best play of the game came later on that drive.

With the Dolphins facing fourth and goal from the 1 in the third quarter, Lemon ran a bootleg to his right and appeared to break Vrabel's contain, but the veteran forced the quarterback to go wide of the pylon, turning the ball over on downs.

"He took a flat angle. As old as we get, angles are key in this game," said Seau. "He went in there and took a great angle at it and got him out for us."

"You just got to get in," said Lemon.

Dallas Clark erases two records by Hall of Famer Mackey



By Larry Weisman

December 24, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS — Dallas Clark does not pretend to be an expert in genealogy, but he knows a little bit about his lineage.

Clark's six receptions and two touchdowns in Sunday's 38-15 victory by the Indianapolis Colts against the Houston Texans exemplified the evolution at his position that began with John Mackey. Clark erased two of Mackey's single-season records for a Colts tight end, with his 57th reception and 11th touchdown.

Coach Tony Dungy said he mentioned Clark's achievements in the locker room after the Colts' sixth consecutive victory raised their record to 13-2, and "not a lot of our young guys remember John Mackey. But to me, that's the gold standard."

Mackey, voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992, played for the Baltimore Colts from 1963 to 1971 and finished his career with the San Diego Chargers in 1972. Mackey's receiving skills and speed changed the way his position was played, letting tight ends become receivers as well as blockers. He made five Pro Bowls and missed only one game in 10 seasons. Clark, a five-year veteran, did not need to be told about Mackey, 66, or his importance in NFL history.

"I was fortunate enough to meet him. I won the Mackey Award (given to the top Division I-A tight end) my last year at Iowa. He's a very great man, very passionate about the game," Clark said.

With the Colts unable to move up or down in the playoff pecking order — they're the AFC's No. 2 seed and have a first-round bye — they weren't willing to risk too many injuries in a game they needed mostly for fine-tuning. So when receiver Anthony Gonzalez (bruised foot) and tight end Ben Utecht (shoulder) went out, the passing game looked to Clark and Reggie Wayne (10 catches for 143 yards).

Clark's two touchdown receptions came from close in (6 yards, 11 yards) in the second quarter and gave the Colts a 24-7 lead against the overmatched Texans (7-8).

Clark also had a 15-yard run on a fourth-and-2 play from Houston's 31 on the first drive of the third quarter to set up Clifton Dawson's 4-yard run for a score.

"It's kind of like backyard football. In the NFL, you're not supposed to do that and we don't run a lot of trick plays," Clark said.

The Colts did not indulge in much other gimmickry. They worked some of their younger players into the lineup to ease the load on starters and six players had at least one rushing attempt. Peyton Manning and Jim Sorgi, who relieved early in the fourth quarter, combined to complete passes to eight receivers. The balance was unbeatable: 31 rushes, 31 completed passes.

"We had a couple of big drives there," Manning said. "We didn't have good field position and any time you can go the whole way it can be kind of deflating for a defense."

The Colts kicked a field goal on their first possession and then scored touchdowns on two 92-yard drives. In the second half, they covered 78 and 66 yards on consecutive possessions to thoroughly deflate the Texans (7-8). They were inside the Houston 20-yard line six times, with five trips resulting in touchdowns.

"That was a point of emphasis," coach Tony Dungy said. "It was good to see us get some things done in the red zone."

Better to get them done now. The Colts host the Tennessee Titans in the regular-season finale, then have two weeks to get ready for their first playoff game. They'll decide later in the week how many of their starters will play, and for how long, against the Titans.

"We'll take a look at it," Dungy said. "There are things we still want to do better."

Pro Bowl nod? Vrabel 'gets it'



By Jackie MacMullan

December 23, 2007

FOXBOROUGH - It's akin to waking up on Christmas morning and discovering the present you've always dreamed of - but never dared to ask for - is under the tree.

It makes you want to check the tag twice to make sure it's really for you.

For Mike Vrabel, that "gift" is his first Pro Bowl invitation in his 11-season career. Yet to call it a gift is a misnomer. Nobody gave him anything - least of all the opportunity to amass the gaudy résumé that attracts the attention of Pro Bowl voters. This linebacker has no sack dance, no catchy nickname, no flashy endorsements. Any publicist worth his salt would find a clever way to highlight Vrabel's 10 catches for 10 touchdowns - that is, if he had a publicist.

If you knew Vrabel, you'd realize how absurd that notion truly is. (For you inquiring minds, he doesn't have a chef, a chauffeur, or a nanny, either.)

When the Patriots take the field today against the Miami Dolphins to continue to put the final touches on their pursuit of perfection, No. 50 is clear on why he has been chosen to play among the league's elite.

"It's because our team is winning," he said. "You look at the team with the best records, and they have the most guys going."

Vrabel didn't spend much time handicapping his Pro Bowl chances through the years. He had far more important things to do (like verbally sparring with his coach, cracking on the rookies, disrupting team meetings with his wise-guy asides) and, besides, he had been an integral part of the Patriots defense long enough to understand the landscape.

The rewards of New England's complex schemes, which require intelligence, adaptability, and, above all, selflessness, are all shared. No one defender is featured or promoted. They are interchangeable parts with interchangeable roles. That's how a high-profile player like Adalius Thomas can come to New England and watch his defensive statistics drop precipitously, even as he's doing the job required of him.

"When you come to this team," explained linebacker Tedy Bruschi, "what you have to get used to is that whatever is best for the team, you are going to be asked to do it."

Nobody has typified that mantra more than Vrabel, who, because of injuries, has gone inside to play linebacker, then back outside, then in again, and out again this season. While versatility is one of Vrabel's most valuable assets, it is also his biggest curse when it comes to individual recognition.

He professes not to care, and, in the manner of his day-to-day life, he probably doesn't. Yet everyone likes to be acknowledged for their contributions. Because Vrabel moved around so much, it was a logical assumption he might never gain the proper respect nationally that he has within his own locker room.

"Last year they asked me whether I wanted to be listed as an inside or an outside linebacker [on the Pro Bowl ballot]," Vrabel said. "I told them, 'I don't know. What difference does it make?' "

"People forget the sacrifices he's made for this team over the past few years," said Bruschi. "I've said it a bunch of times: If Vrabel was left in one place for one season, he'd be in Hawaii."

He will be - finally. Vrabel has recorded 69 tackles this season and leads the team in sacks (10) and forced fumbles (5).

The other first-time New England Pro Bowl honorees (Dan Koppen, Logan Mankins, Asante Samuel, Vince Wilfork) are in their 20s, the prime of their careers. Vrabel will be 33 in August. He remains thankful for each and every season he remains healthy enough to strap on his pads and deliver hits.

And yet, as another year passed without that Pro Bowl pineapple attached to the bio, Vrabel became accustomed to the idea he forever would fall into that category of the "underrated former third-round draft pick." You know, admired, yet never officially anointed.

"You start to wonder if [the Pro Bowl invitation] is ever going to happen," said Bruschi, who received his first (and only) Pro Bowl invitation in 2004, his ninth year in the league.

On Friday, Vrabel was teased about his reserved reaction to his personal accomplishment.

"I think I can say I'm proud of myself, proud of my team," Vrabel said. "I've tried to do more and say less, to let my play speak for itself."

Richard Seymour was only 23 the first time he was tapped for the Pro Bowl. It was one of five times he's been chosen, yet the initial phone call always will be memorable, he said.

"At that moment, I thought of all the hard work I had put in over the years," Seymour said. "I thought of all those days in high school when I was doing extra running when no one was looking, the same kind of stuff you know Vrabel has done.


"Mike and I came in together to this team. I've seen the work he's put in over the years, always bringing his lunch pail every day. It's a long overdue honor for him."

Bruschi, who is Vrabel's closest friend on the team, had to learn about his teammate's achievement the way everyone else did. Vrabel didn't call to share the news.

"He's low-key like that," Bruschi said. "I doubt he called anybody."

The linebacker said he notified his wife, his parents, and a couple of buddies from the old days, but then he put the new honor on the shelf, next to the hype about going undefeated and winning another Super Bowl. All those milestones are to be admired later, when his career is over.

"Hey, I was excited," Vrabel said, "but we still have a game to win. Life goes on. The kids still had to be picked up by 3 p.m."

He shared this Pro Bowl "present" with his sons, but they are too young to understand its significance. No matter. The best part about the gift of a Pro Bowl pineapple is it lasts forever.

Dawson's kick as good as it gets



Browns’ black cloud dissipates at Baltimore

December 25, 2007

Tony Grossi

Since the Browns were reborn in 1999, they've had their share of breaks -- most of them bad.

They blew top draft picks and signed the wrong free agents. When they drafted a college stud, he blew out his knee practicing wheelies on a supercharged motorcycle. When they lured reputable players, they suffered unspeakable injuries.

On the field, other than one season in which the planets aligned, the Browns lost more than they won every year.

They lost one game when a player took off his helmet to celebrate prematurely. A bad replay reversal prompted Bottlegate, in which fans pelted officials with beer-filled plastic bottles, nearly causing a forfeit.

This was a franchise in dire need of a singular moment to redefine itself.

That's what happened in Baltimore on Nov. 18 when Phil Dawson's 51-yard field goal to tie the game on the last play of regulation was ruled no good, and then reversed.

The kick was a catharsis, purging Cleveland and Browns fans in particular of all bad karma heaped on their football team.

With the game on the line, the ball sailed to the left of target, glanced off the left upright and ricocheted to the right -- it could've gone the other way -- where it hit the support behind the crossbar and caromed forward through the uprights. One official under one goalpost signaled no good and the other was unsure.

As Baltimore coach Brian Billick waved his team off the field to celebrate an apparent Ravens victory in the locker room, officials huddled to discuss the bizarre play.

Referee Pete Morelli checked to see whether the play could be reviewed by instant replay. Told it could not, he conferred with the two officials who had the best view of the play and sided with the one who believed the ball had passed through the plane of the crossbar before caroming back onto the field.

The field goal was ruled good. Billick had to drag his players out of the locker room for an overtime. They were psychologically beaten. The Browns won the coin toss and Dawson kicked a 33-yard field goal through the middle for the win.

Finally, a controversial ruling went the Browns' way in a crucial victory.
Equally satisfying to Browns fans was having it occur at the expense of Billick, who decided to work for Art Modell in 1999 rather than become the first coach of the expansion Browns.

Until the Browns win a Super Bowl, that's as good as it gets.

Mike Wahle visits with 'wounded warriors'


December 21, 2007

By WCNC Staff

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- They were welcomed like heroes, but treated like old friends. Mike Wahle and his Panthers teammates immediately understood when they met The Wounded Warriors.

"The first thing that strikes you is their enthusiasm. What an unimportant job I have compared to what they do,” Wahle said.

"What they do" is put their lives on the line in Iraq and the Middle East, where duty is an honor and service comes at a price.

The Wounded Warrior Project uses sports-related outings to pump energy into painful and monotonous recoveries. For many, it’s their first return to a mobility they feared was lost forever. It's exhilarating and thrilling, but none of it overshadows the respect they found in Charlotte.

Marine Staff Sgt. Bobby Moon says, "I wouldn't even call it a sacrifice. When you go to Iraq you know things like this can happen."

For Sgt. Moon, from Dickson, Tenn., "things like this" are IED explosions that claimed all but a sliver of his sight. Others' losses are far more obvious. Mike Wahle and the Panthers never asked and never stared. Instead, they simply took note and listened.

"(We listened) not only the soldiers but their families, and when you saw their families come in and their kids and wives and whatnot, and how attached they were. And how every one of those people spoke of their loved ones,” said Wahle.

Sgt. Moon explained how much it meant to the soldiers.

"It means everything. I had a very nice time sitting down and talking with Mr. Wahle, just about everything. Me, him and Sgt. Bono had a nice time just sitting down,” Moon said.

After that conversation and lunch, the servicemen were welcomed into a Panthers locker-room tradition. "Bin ball" is a staple, but on this day it’s different. Marine Sgt. Edwin Bono took his turn at throwing a ball into a clothing bin in the middle of the locker room from many feet away. His love for motorcycles and dreams of a third tour in Iraq are beyond his grasp, but the energy and the camaraderie of this day deliver every bit as much as a trip down the slopes.

Once the roar died down from winning the "Bin ball" competition, Sgt. Bono learned that shot earned him a spot at the midfield coin toss.

He wasn't able to lead the team onto the field the way he would have liked, but he says, "Those conversations with Mike Wahle and his teammates mean more to one Marine than any ski trip or bike ride ever could. That's an honor. I mean it really was."

Colts' offense runs through Dallas Clark



By Jim Corbett

December 22, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS — Dallas Clark is no longer overshadowed by Indianapolis Colts Pro Bowl wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.

The fifth-year tight end has become a game-breaker in his own right and has teamed with Wayne to help pick up the slack during Harrison's nine-game absence this season, courtesy of a bruised left knee.

ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Ron Jaworski says Clark "is as good as it gets at the tight end position."

He is having a career season with 51 catches, including nine touchdown receptions. He has 551 receiving yards, also a new career high.

Clark is even challenging some venerable marks in the Colts' record book. His nine TD grabs tied Hall of Famer John Mackey for the most by a Colts tight end in a single season. And with five more receptions, Clark would surpass Mackey's 40-year-old mark for catches in a season by a Colts tight end.

But his breakout really began last January.

His emergence as an invaluable and trusted weapon for quarterback Peyton Manning started during the Colts' four-game playoff run that culminated in their 29-17 Super Bowl XLI victory against the Chicago Bears.

Clark returned to the lineup just in time a year ago after a Nov. 26, 2006, knee injury against Philadelphia, an injury some believed would end his season.

He not only returned to play but also proved to be the Colts' offensive playoff MVP, leading all receivers in the 2006 postseason with 317 receiving yards. His 21 playoff receptions were nine shy of his 30 catches (for 367 yards) during 12 regular-season games in 2006. And only teammate Joseph Addai, who caught 22 passes, had more receptions in the postseason than Clark.

It should have come as little surprise — Clark's per-game career production in the playoffs doubles his regular-season output see chart. More important, by working the seams and underneath opposing coverages, he's been able to exploit defenses that choose to devote their resources to blanketing Harrison and/or Wayne.

A growing rapport was cemented when Clark and Manning roomed together during training camp this summer, giving Clark an even greater appreciation for all Manning does as the maestro of a complex, no-huddle offense.

"Maybe that instilled a little more trust in me by Peyton," Clark says. "I think a lot had to do with last year's run to the playoffs, and I was able to get a lot of catches. Peyton just looked to me a lot, and it's carried over to this season.

"I feel like I'm finally on that level that Reggie and Marvin have with him.

"Now I feel like we're on the same page. I know my job and feel like we're reading the same coverages with Peyton.

"I feel like I'm there."

Clark likens his ascent to reaching the highest level of a difficult video game.

It took the better part of four years to grasp all the nuances and complexities of offensive coordinator Tom Moore's diverse scheme, an approach Manning has raised to an art form with his pre-snap audibles and clinical diagnoses of defenses.

As a flexible weapon who can line up tight to the line or spread out on either side as a wide or slot receiver, Clark is the most versatile X-factor in Moore's offense.

With Harrison sidelined, Clark has been as valuable this season as he was last postseason. Twenty-eight of Clark's 51 catches have come during the eight-time Pro Bowler's absence.

"He's put up better numbers this year than in the past," Colts president Bill Polian says. "He's just gotten more opportunities because Marvin's been down a while and (rookie slot receiver) Anthony Gonzalez naturally is still developing.

"Dallas has had more opportunities, and he's made the most of them. He's a great receiver, great route runner, good blocker and has great hands."

With defenses increasingly double-teaming Wayne, Clark's versatility has become even more critical to creating matchup advantages.

Put simply, these Colts would be lost without Clark.

"Their offense runs through Dallas Clark," Jaworski says. "That doesn't mean he's getting the ball every play, or that Peyton looks to him all the time.

"(But) Dallas is so versatile. … He's used No. 1 as a tight end and is a very solid blocker in their run game. They flex him out and he gets clean releases as a wide receiver and creates matchup problems against linebackers and safeties in the slot.

"Or he can be an H-back in the run game. He can catch and block, he can go deep. He's intelligent. He reads the blitzes and knows when to be the hot receiver. He's a complete tight end."

Manning believes the Colts likely would not have raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy without Clark's gutty and timely return from a sprained knee just in time for last year's Super Bowl run.

The 6-3, 252-pound Clark came up big when Manning needed him most, too, catching six balls for 137 yards, including a 52-yarder, in the Colts' 38-34 AFC Championship Game comeback against the New England Patriots, a contest the Colts trailed 21-3 in the second quarter.

"There is no doubt in my mind, if he doesn't get himself healthy, take it upon himself to not have surgery on his potentially season-ending knee injury, rehab, get back for the game against Miami (in the regular-season finale where Clark had four catches for 56 yards) where he gets the four-week rust off, and get back for the playoffs, I don't think we win the championship," Manning said during training camp.

"There is no doubt in my mind that's the case. It's a true credit to him for sacrificing his body and getting ready to come back and help us. In the postseason he was huge."

And Manning couldn't help but gush about Clark's ability as a mismatch wherever he lines up.

"He's extremely dependable, makes great catches. He is a nuisance for the defense, and the fact that who do you put on him?"

"Do you put a defensive back on him and sacrifice your run defense? Or do you put a safety or a linebacker on him and sacrifice your pass coverage?"

"Whatever it may be, it's nice having a guy that causes problems for the defense.

"We would not be the same offense without him."

The crucial salary-cap question Polian must figure out this offseason is how to keep both Clark and hard-hitting safety Bob Sanders with both former Iowa Hawkeye teammates in the final year of their deals. Especially since, at 35, Harrison may be starting to wear down.

"With age and now the injury to Marvin, Father Time does catch up to everyone," Jaworski says. "When you have a Bob Sanders, who is the heartbeat of that defense, and a Dallas Clark, who that offense runs through, you have to find a way to keep both those guys long term."

The good news for the Colts is that they have proved they can win without Harrison and, as a result, he has received extended time in the regular season, and a first-round bye if he needs it, to allow him every chance to return for the postseason.

"They've weathered the storm and increased their depth," Jaworski says. "Anthony Gonzalez is no Marvin Harrison. But he's valuable as a slot receiver."

Says Polian of the hopeful return of Harrison: "It'll make us better, because Dallas will go back to tight end, and we won't have to play him in the slot."

Clark credits former teammate and current Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley with showing him the nuances of running out of the slot when Stokley suffered a season-ending Achilles' injury last season. Stokley's tutelage helped Clark reprise his role in the playoffs.

"Brandon is the best slot receiver in the league," Clark says. "I love the way he plays. He's a great guy, great friend, great player. I was very fortunate to watch him practice every day.

"He was just really good at getting defenders off, using his hands really well and setting guys up."

Now Clark is the multi-pronged threat the Colts would be lost without. His nine touchdown catches tie Wayne for the team lead even though the tight end has 31 fewer catches.

"It's a combination of Dallas learning more about the game and being more experienced in our offense and the opportunity coming," coach Tony Dungy says.

"Same thing with Reggie. Reggie has grown every year as a receiver. He's worked on some part of his game every year to be better. Now because of Marvin being out these games, he's getting the opportunity to demonstrate how he's grown. He probably could have been the same player with less balls thrown to him, but we wouldn't notice it as much.

"Both of those guys have gotten opportunities to show how they've grown and they're playing great."

Monday, December 24, 2007

Witness this: Phil Dawson is Cleveland's MVP



December 23, 2007

John Campanelli

Arguments about Cleveland sports are endless: Would we have won the NBA title if Carlos Boozer were still here? Should Chief Wahoo be retired? Is it best to give a Steelers fan an uppercut or a groin shot?

But one question -- who is Cleveland's sports MVP? -- seems to be settled. It's LeBron James, of course.

Or is it?

The most common definition of "value" is the fair price or worth of something. Thinking that way, James, who is probably responsible for about $200 million of the $455 million the Cavaliers franchise is estimated to be worth, is by far the most valuable player in town, if not North America.

But "value" also has a more subtle meaning, something intangible, like the value of a pair of gloves during a blizzard, the value of your mom's advice.

And the value of a certain placekicker for the Browns.

That's right: Phil Dawson, MVP.

Before you dismiss this as lunacy, read on.

No other athlete in town has been as reliable, loyal, durable and affordable than the 5-foot-10 guy from Texas. This year, he's added another adjective: legendary.

This season, the Browns -- by far Cleveland's most popular sports team -- have returned to glory and are on the brink of where they belong: the playoffs. It's no coincidence that this also has been the season in which Dawson's foot has become golden.

Still don't think he's Cleveland's MVP? Consider what he offers -- and then offer a holiday toast to No. 4.

Reliability

This season, Dawson has made an impressive 88.9 percent of his field-goal attempts. In his eight-plus seasons with the Browns, Dawson has made 82.9 percent of his tries. That's fourth best in NFL history. Perhaps most astounding, Dawson makes an incredible 77.8 percent of kicks from 50 yards and beyond.

Durability

The Browns have played 142 games since returning in 1999. Dawson has been the kicker in 139 of them. His only missed period came in 2003, when he broke his arm against the Rams.

Affordability

This season, James will make more than $13 million (not counting endorsements). Tribe slugger Travis Hafner pocketed more than $4 million during 2007. And Dawson? He'll make about $1.7 million.

Productivity

In leading the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, James scored 27 percent of his team's points last season. In helping the Tribe to a division title, Hafner knocked in 13 percent of the Tribe's runs. So far this season, Dawson has scored 30 percent of the Browns' points. Yes, it's apples and oranges, but who cares?

Loyalty

Dawson, who turns 33 next month, is the lone player remaining from the original -- and awful -- reborn Browns team of 1999. More than 350 players have been on the roster since then. In the eight seasons before 2007, the Browns averaged a dreadful 11 losses a year.

Lore

Even before this season, Dawson already had secured a spot in Browns lore. The best field-goal percentage in team history, the first points scored in the new era (a field goal against the Titans in September 1999) rushing touchdown (on a fake field goal against the Bengals in October 1999) of the new era. But this season, he's been magical. He's twice won games with overtime kicks, against Seattle and Baltimore. The Browns got to OT against Baltimore when Dawson's last-second, 51-yard kick bounced off an upright, through the goal and then off the curved bar between the base and crossbar. It's been called the "immaculate deflection."

And then last Sunday, in perhaps the most amazing performance of his career, Dawson kicked two field goals in conditions that were ridiculous (blizzard snow, 46 mph winds). His second was a line-drive 49-yarder than would probably be missed 98 times out of 100. On that one, he again hit that curved bar on the goal post, the one that's now being called "the Dawson bar."

Whitner a quality performer on and off the field



PFW’s annual Xmas gifts cover all the NFL’s bases

December 23, 2007


By Dan Arkush

Buffalo Bills – Continued drafting success. Nobody had a first-day haul like you guys this past April – No. 1 RB Marshawn Lynch, No. 2 MLB Paul Posluszny and No. 3 QB Trent Edwards – and your top pick in 2006, SS Donte Whitner, has proven to be a quality performer both on and off the field (Whitner holds weekly defensive meetings at his home after practice).

Dawson named Pro Football Weekly player of the week



December 23, 2007



Thursday, December 20, 2007

SI: Zastudil has best play of Week 15

December 17, 2007

Ten Things I Think I Think


I think these are my quick-hit thoughts about Week 15:

The 56-yard punt by Dave Zastudil through the snow and wind in Cleveland, a punt that nestled into the snow, dead, at the Buffalo 2, was the best individual play of Week 15.

Dawson wins SI Player of the Week





December 17, 2007

Special Teams Player of the Week

Cleveland K Phil Dawson. To hit a 35-yard field goal in a wind-whipped snowstorm is crazy enough. To follow that with a 49-yarder ... just ridiculous. With that kick, Dawson cemented his Vinatieri-esque reputation as a clutch kicker among clutch kickers. He and Jamal Lewis were the heroes of Cleveland's 8-0 win.

Browns’ Pro Bowlers a credit to Phil Savage’s draft day success



December 19, 2007

Tony Grossi

The honors are also quite a feather in the cap of Browns General Manager Phil Savage. Edwards was his first draft pick after taking over football operations of the Browns in January 2005 and Cribbs was one of the first undrafted players signed after the draft.

Edwards is the first Browns draft pick to make the Pro Bowl with them since five players did so following the 1994 season.

Dawson comes through in clutch



With Zastudil holding, Dawson continues clutch kicking

December 17, 2007

Terry Pluto

Phil Dawson put the exclamation point on that drive with a 35-yard hook of a field goal through an outrageous right-to-left wind for three points.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Aaron Kampman is everyone’s favorite pass rusher




Dawson finds success on ‘most difficult day’



December 17, 2007

Bud Shaw

No kid on the sandlot imagines being the kicker, especially when the sandlot is filling up with snow and the wind is turning playground litter into soaring kites.

The running back slipping and sliding for a TD, sure. The quarterback? Always. Just not Phil Dawson on a day like Sunday.

"I would have to say in my nine years here that was by far the most difficult day to kick a football," Dawson said. "Had there been no snow at all, it would've been in the top five just because of the way the wind was blowing."

The rule Dawson and specialists live by is never give the goal posts away. Keep the kick inside the uprights.

Sounds easy. But that approach wasn't going to work on a day when the gusts reached 40-plus miles an hour.

Try aiming the ball to miss. That's what Dawson had to do. It requires a big foot and bigger nerve.

Twice, Dawson was the golfer starting a shot over water and praying he calculated the wind correctly. One 35-yard draw and a 49-yard fade later, he'd accounted for six of the Browns' points in an 8-0 win they desperately needed.

The usual game-day routine that put him on the field to survey the conditions mid-morning had severe limitations. Sunday morning was beach weather compared to the afternoon.

"The one thing I learned being here so long is that going out there at 9:30 on Sunday morning prepares you for 9:30 on Sunday morning," Dawson said.

He can't remember ever aiming as far left as he did on the second field goal. He picks targets, he said. A letter on the scoreboard. A pink hat in the stands. This one, he had to start out in the no-man's land between the left upright and the sideline.

His kick not only hit dead center but bounced off the crossbar support at approximately the same place his second carom in Baltimore landed. It turned a tough day into a real slog for Buffalo's offense.

"He has that kick down," punter Dave Zastudil kidded.

It's unclear if Dawson is now calling his bank shots in the huddle or when the ball is in the air. But he's now 24-for-27 this season, his team is 9-5 and tied for the division lead.

"When I'm a grandpa back in Texas and I'm telling my grandkids, that will be my story - that I called it," he said.

No one deserves this turnaround season more than Dawson, especially after last year when he staggered to the finish, but in particular because of his longevity.

Having been here in '99 for the restart and for everything else that ran the gamut from mostly bad to awful, his role in making improbable kicks this year has become symbolic of the season.

It makes it easy to put Sunday's game in perspective, even held up to bad weather days such as San Diego in 2004 and Tennessee in 2000. In short, they don't rate much of a mention because context is everything.


"The main difference is that this game mattered," said Dawson. "This is the first game in this stadium that - when this organization started out nine years ago - [it] kind of envisioned this is what Cleveland Browns football is all about.

"A game late in the year. At home. A chance to go to the playoffs. With horrible weather. The Browns coming out on top."

Yep. Just like they drew it up.

On two field goals and a safety - a kicker's dream if no one else's.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Dawson coming through with playoffs on the line



By Tony Grossi

December 14, 2007

Phil Dawson is 22-of-25 overall in field goals and 6-of-8 from 40 yards and more.

Kicker Phil Dawson, the longest-tenured Browns player, has been money in the bank during the Browns' playoff drive.

Since coming up 3 feet short from 52 yards on that game-tying attempt as time expired in Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, Dawson has made 9 of 10 field goals.

Included are pressure kicks, such as:

The 51-yard deflection off the crossbar support in Baltimore to send that game into overtime, followed by a 33-yarder to win it.

A 49-yarder in the driving rain early in the fourth quarter in Giants Stadium, which affected Jets coach Eric Mangini's questionable strategy thereafter.

The six points Dawson accounted for against the Jets pushed his season total to 104, a career-high for him in nine seasons here. He's 22-of-25 overall in field goals and 6-of-8 from 40 yards and more.

"It's been the most rewarding season just because of the way the team's doing," Dawson said. "It's pretty well documented how we've struggled through the years. Yeah, I'm the only guy left from the first team, but we have several guys who've been here a while. To see everybody coming together and being able to win some football games around here, that's as rewarding as it gets for me."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Kansas’ Mark Mangino Named 2007 Walter Camp Coach of the Year



December 11, 2007

NEW HAVEN, CT – Mark Mangino, head coach of the Orange Bowl-bound Kansas Jayhawks, has been selected as the Walter Camp 2007 “Coach of the Year." The Walter Camp Coach of the Year recipient is voted by the nation’s 119 Division I-A coaches and sports information directors.

Mangino is the first Kansas coach to earn the honors. It is the fourth time since 1998 a Big 12 coach has earned Walter Camp Coach of the Year honors. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops won it in 2000 and 2003, while former Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder received it in 1998.

The 2007 season has been a historic one for the Kansas football program. Under Mangino’s guidance, the Jayhawks had their first 11-0 start in school history and earned their highest national ranking (#2 in USA TODAY and AP polls) since 1968.

Mangino's team has been one of the nation's best statistically, ranking among the nation's elite in scoring offense (2nd, 43.3 ppg), total offense (6th, 491 ypg), scoring defense (5th (16.00 ppg) and rushing defense (7th, 91.42 ypg). The well-disciplined Jayhawks top the country in fewest penalties (48) and turnover margin (+1.58).

For its efforts, Kansas (11-1) has been invited to the 2008 Orange Bowl to play ACC-champion Virginia Tech. Two Jayhawk players - junior offensive linemen Anthony Collins and junior cornerback Aqib Talib - were recently recognized as Walter Camp First Team All-Americans.

Mangino has been also recognized as the 2007 Big 12 Coach of the Year, and as The Home Depot and Woody Hayes National Coach of the Year. Mangino was hired at KU in December 2001 after serving 11 seasons as an assistant at Kansas State (1991-1998) and Oklahoma (1999-2001). At Oklahoma, Mangino served as the offensive coordinator for the team that defeated Florida State for the 2000 national championship.

Following that season, Mangino was awarded the Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach. In six seasons, Mangino has taken Kansas to three bowl berths (2003 Tangerine Bowl, 2005 Fort Worth Bowl and 2008 Orange Bowl). Over the last three seasons, Kansas has sported a 24-12 overall record, including a 13-11 mark in Big 12 play.

A native of New Castle, Pa., Mangino is a 1987 graduate of Youngstown University. Mangino and his wife, Mary Jane, have two children.

Mangino, “Player of the Year” award winner Darren McFadden (Arkansas) and the members of the 2007 Walter Camp All-America team will be honored at the organization’s national awards banquet on Saturday, January 12, 2008 at the Yale University Commons.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mike Vrabel earns game ball



Game Balls: Patriots - Steelers

Site Staff

December 9, 2007

We rate the players and their performance tonight as the Patriot's defeated the Steelers 34-13

Game Balls:

Mike Vrabel - Can someone explain why Vrabel hasn't been to the Pro Bowl? He embarrassed Marcus McNeil, and only heard his name mentioned a couple of times on the night. Without him the Patriots defense would be in much worse shape.

Phil Dawson: Sunday's Unsung Hero



By Chris Pokorny

December 09, 2007

Amidst the Cleveland Browns' 24-18 victory over the New York Jets, there was an unsung hero. He may not get the publicity for it due to a few other plays that happened in the game, but without him, we could very well have lost. Who was it?

Was it Joe Jurevicius, who was on the receiving end of two of the Jets' onside kick attempts? No.

Was it Jamal Lewis, who ran pretty hard all day long, especially on his spectacular 31-yard scamper up the middle to "close out" the game? No.

Was it Brandon McDonald, whose shut-down coverage, pass deflections, and key second half interception prevented the Jets from hitting the big play most of the game? No.

Was it Braylon Edwards, who caught a touchdown fade pass off the shoulder of Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis? No.

Was it Sean Jones, whose first-half interception at the goal line stunned the Jets offense and allowed the Browns to never fall behind in the game? No.

If it wasn't any of them, then who was it?

It was Phil Dawson. People have asked the question time and time again: what's going to happen when Dawson needs to be counted on, in tough weather conditions, to make a clutch field goal? Granted, the conditions weren't making the field horrible, but Dawson beautifully drilled a 49-yard field goal attempt in the precipitation near the start of the fourth quarter.

If the Browns had punted there, or missed the field goal, we would have only led 14-6. With only a one possession lead, the Jets' strategy at the end of the game surely would've changed, and could've ultimately led to several different scenarios in which we would've lost.

Props to the Browns for winning, but Dawson's field goal here was as important as his 51-yarder off the Dawson Bar against the Baltimore Ravens. When those kicks figure so critically into two victories, despite the big playmakers in Anderson, Cribbs, Edwards, Winslow, and Lewis, it could be Dawson providing the "X-Factor" to lead us to the promised land.

Kampman and family volunteer for Salvation Army



Aaron Kampman Gets Family Involved in Bell-ringing

December 5, 2007

Green Bay Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman brought his family to ring Salvation Army bells inside Bay Park Square Mall in Ashwaubenon.

The Kampman family was named this year's honorary chairs of Brown County's red kettle campaign.

"The Salvation Army does a tremendous service for our community, does some great things, and we're just doing a little bit to be a part of that," Kampman said.
And he encourages others to ring the bells with their families, too. You can find a red kettle near you and sign-up online at RingBells.org.

Matt Spaeth spreads holiday cheer at local children's hospital



Bringing smiles to those who need them most

December 6, 2007


By Teresa Varley


Some were shy and scared while others didn’t want to stop talking, but in the end it was all about the smiles for the patients at Children’s Hospital who had the chance to meet Steelers players as a part of their annual family holiday dinner.

Tight ends Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, linebackers James Farrior and Clark Haggans and running back Carey Davis were on hand for the event, giving the kids signed pictures and other items, posing for pictures and just bringing happiness to those who are in the hospital at a tough time of year.

“Stuff like this changes the way you look at life,” said Spaeth. “It puts things in perspective. To see their smiles really makes your day. It’s something I enjoy doing.

“It’s all about the kids. I love kids. I love doing stuff like this.”

KU's Mangino named National Coach of the Year

Jayhawks, Mangino fare well in awards

J-W Staff Reports


December 7, 2007

Orlando, Fla. — Kansas University’s football team came away with gobs of hardware at Thursday’s College Football Awards Show.

The most notable honor went to KU coach Mark Mangino, who was named the Home Depot Coach of the Year.

Mangino, in his sixth year at Kansas, led the program out of mediocrity and into the Orange Bowl. The Jayhawks finished the regular season 11-1.

“I appreciate the Home Depot and ESPN for the award,” Mangino said. “However, this award represents our wonderful players and our great assistant coaches, who have worked to make this an incredible season. It’s not about me. It’s about us.”

“Us” also was honored Thursday. The Jayhawks were named Breakthrough Team of the Year for their five-game improvement over last year’s 6-6 season.

In addition, junior cornerback Aqib Talib and junior offensive tackle Anthony Collins were named to the Walter Camp All-America team, voted on by the Football Writers Association of America.

Collins also was an Outland Trophy finalists, but lost to LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. The Outland Trophy goes to the nation’s top interior lineman.

Mangino, already named Big 12 coach of the year, is a finalist for at least two other national coach-of-the-year honors — the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award and the Eddie Robinson Award. The Associated Press names a national coach of the year, as well, which Mangino likely is on a short list of candidates for.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Dolphins' bright spot: Ted Ginn, Jr.



December 9, 2007



Thursday, December 06, 2007

USA Today: Cornrich compares rewards for successful coaches and CEOs


Coaching bonuses take unusual form

By Michael McCarthy and Patrick Bohn, USA TODAY

December 5, 2007

The inclusion of such potentially lucrative short-term goals is increasing in the hyper-competitive world of college football, agents and athletics directors say.

Many coaches previously received longevity bonuses — money for remaining in the job for a prescribed period. But coaches and ADs are under intense pressure from fans, boosters and the media to win immediately. A longevity bonus is worthless if the coach is gone before he can collect it.

College athletics has become a huge business. As competition increases, administrators are using more sophisticated business tools to reward their highest-paid employee, says agent Neil Cornrich of NC Sports.

"Isn't this what stock options are all about?" asks Cornrich, who likes to compare his coaching clients such as Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Kansas' Mark Mangino and South Florida's Jim Leavitt to successful CEOs.

"Successful business models in our society value, and reward, results-based leadership."

NC Sports represents the nation’s highest paid coaches



Stoops' contract makes him the highest paid NCAA coach for the 8th consecutive year; Ferentz in top four

December 5, 2007


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Mark Mangino Named Finalist for Coach of the Year Award



Coach Mangino Recognized For Achievements in Responsibility On and Off the Field

December 4, 2007

LAWRENCE, Kan. -

Kansas Head Football Coach Mark Mangino has been named a finalist for the 2007 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award, which honors the college football coaches who best exemplify responsibility and excellence on and off the field of play. Fans can cast a vote for Coach Mangino to win for Division 1-A by December 15 at www.coachoftheyear.com. The winner will be announced on December 29 during an ABC/ESPN special.

"More than a half-million fan votes were cast for 597 college football coaches this season, a tremendous and passionate outpouring of support from college football fans across the nation," said Greg Gordon, Liberty Mutual vice president, Consumer Marketing. "Each finalist embodies what makes this award different than any other: responsibility - not only to his own team and players, but also to his school and his community."

Mangino, the Big 12 Coach of the Year, led the Jayhawks to a program-best 11 victories and a bid to the FedEx Orange Bowl this year. KU opened the season with 11 straight wins, defeating such traditional powers as Kansas State, Colorado, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M on the road. Mangino's Jayhawks also posted home wins over MAC champion Central Michigan, Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo, Florida International, Baylor, Nebraska and Iowa State at home. In KU's victory over Nebraska on Nov. 3, Mangino's crew dropped a record 76 points on their long-time nemesis.

The Jayhawks received very little fanfare before the season, but earned a spot in the top 25 after winning at then-No. 24 K-State on Oct. 6. After the team's 11th straight victory to open the year, Kansas climbed as high as No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings, as well as No. 2 in the AP and USA Today polls. KU ended the regular season ranked in the No. 8 spot in all three polls.

Bo Pelini named head coach of Nebraska



Four years later, Nebraska names LSU’s Pelini coach

December 3, 2007


Bo Pelini is the new head football coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, leaving the defensive coordinator post at LSU for a job many Cornhusker fans thought he should have been given four years ago.

Interim athletics director and former head coach Tom Osborne announced Pelini's hiring Sunday, after introducing Pelini to the players.

"We need a head coach with strong defensive credentials and great leadership," Osborne said.

Opportunity knocks for Pierre Woods



LBs: Opportunity knocks

By Christopher L. Gasper

December 1, 2007


FOXBOROUGH - Defensive coordinator Dean Pees is an optimist. He sees the loss of starting outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday because of a foot injury, as an opportunity, not an obstacle.

"When somebody else has a problem or is injured it provides an opportunity for somebody else, so you hope that somebody else can step up," said Pees. "Whenever you lose somebody, like when we lost Rodney [ Harrison] in the secondary or [Richard] Seymour up front, you lose depth, too. Somebody has got to just pick up the slack, and we've got to keep going and guys have got to fill in."

Pees has employed a five-man rotation at linebacker this season with Mike Vrabel and Colvin manning the outside spots and Tedy Bruschi, Junior Seau, and Adalius Thomas sharing snaps inside. When Colvin left during the third quarter of last Sunday's 31-28 victory over the Eagles, Thomas, a Pro Bowl outside linebacker last season with the Ravens (the Patriots' opponents Monday night), slid back to his old spot and Seau played full time inside.

That's a lot to ask of the 38-year-old Seau, who has shined as a situational player, considering he has ended each of the last three seasons on injured reserve. Pees acknowledged the team tries to "take reps off of" some players, but said he's not more concerned about Seau or Bruschi, 34, the two elder members of the linebacking corps.

"We're going to need to try to find somebody that we can rotate in there now," said Pees. "That's always good for the front seven to be able to rotate guys in, if you have them."

The most-appealing option may be second-year outside linebacker Pierre Woods. The undrafted free agent out of Michigan showed marked improvement during the preseason, finishing with 17 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. Woods has been credited with just two defensive tackles this season, but he is the Patriots' leader in special teams stops with 14.

"He's a guy that has been a legitimate backup and he's a guy that we are hoping that we can get in the mix," Pees said. "He's done a great job on special teams for Brad [Seely]. He's working hard and he's getting better all the time. We're hoping that he just keeps progressing like that and, if he does, then he's certainly going to give us some depth where we need it."

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