Thursday, November 20, 2008

'Mr. Automatic' keeps faith with saving kick for Browns

Dawson's 56-yard success breaks streak of blowing leads, has team on a high

By Marla Ridenour

November 19, 2008

BEREA: Flirting with infamy, about to become the first NFL team to blow leads of 13 points or more in three consecutive games, the Browns were saved by ''Mr. Automatic.''

With 1:39 remaining in the game Monday night at Buffalo, coach Romeo Crennel confidently called on Phil Dawson for a 56-yard field-goal attempt, even though it would be a career-long for the 33-year-old kicker.

''As soon as we threw the incomplete pass on third down I was ready to go and Romeo gave me the nod,'' Dawson said. ''He had the confidence to send me out there, which I appreciate.''

On a bitterly cold night in Ralph Wilson Stadium, Dawson had already connected on all four of his attempts from 40, 33, 43 and 22 yards. In the previous two games, he'd hit from 54 yards against the Baltimore Ravens and 52 yards against the Denver Broncos.

A year ago in Cleveland, facing the Buffalo Bills in a blizzard, Dawson had made
one of the most difficult field goals in recent Browns history, nailing a 49-yarder.

Crennel's faith in Dawson was rewarded. With the wind at his back, Dawson's kick missed the outstretched right arm of 6-foot-6 defensive tackle Marcus Stroud by inches and cleared the crossbar with a few yards to spare.

When a 47-yard attempt by Rian Lindell of the Bills sailed wide right with 38 seconds left, Dawson's final field goal proved to be the game-winner as the Browns prevailed, 29-27.

''It was unbelievable. It was one of the best kicks I've ever seen. To see it twice for the same team is pretty remarkable,'' said punter/holder Dave Zastudil, also referring to last year's 49-yarder against the Bills.

''As soon as it left his foot I looked up and it looked right on target. I knew that the end we were kicking, the ball carried a little bit better so I knew it had a shot. Then as soon as I saw it about halfway, I said, 'Boy, this thing is probably good.' Then I just turned around and dashed to try to hug him. It was an outstanding kick for a guy who's having an outstanding year.''

Crennel was still gushing about Dawson on Tuesday afternoon.

''I can't say enough about him,'' Crennel said. ''It was a pressure kick and he put it right through with some distance to spare.''

Linebacker Andra Davis, like Dawson a Browns' co-captain, looked at the kick from a broader perspective.

''It helps me sleep better. It was a huge win for us, a huge win for the organization, a huge win for the city,'' Davis said. ''The last couple weeks we've let a couple games slip away. Thank God for Mr. Automatic, Phil Dawson, or it would be another sad day in Cleveland.''

Five of the Browns' past 10 victories in two seasons have been won on Dawson field goals. The one Monday was Dawson's 12th career game-winner.

Asked if it was the best game of his 10-year career, Dawson said, ''I had six one time and we lost against San Diego (in 2006), so I will take five and a win any time. Whether it is five extra points and we win or no field goals, I don't care any more. I've been here a long time and I just want to see this team win.''

Before the game, Dawson said he had determined his limit going into that end zone was the 35-yard line. His attempt came from the 39.

''I naturally get the ball up pretty high, anyway, so I was focused on the line,'' Dawson said. ''I had a 50-plus yarder against Washington to tie the game, and I tried to get on it a little too much and left it out to the right, which you do sometimes when you overstride. I concentrated on just staying short, trusting my technique.''

Going into the home game Sunday against the Houston Texans, Dawson is tied for fifth in the league with three field goals made from 50-plus yards. Jason Hanson of the Detroit Lions leads with six (on six attempts). Dawson has connected on 22 of 24 this season, with his misses coming from 51 yards (against the New York Giants) and 54 yards (against the Washington Redskins).

''Phil has been here for a long time,'' Browns cornerback Brandon McDonald said. ''I wish we could have gotten him a couple more yards to make that kick a little easier. But that's what we live for, moments like that. I'm just glad he made it.''

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