BEREA, Ohio (AP) — As Phil Dawson stuffed a seemingly endless supply of cleats into his travel bag, the Browns kicker kept in mind the wicked weather forecast for Sunday’s game in Oakland.
Rain is expected to soak the Bay Area.
“I keep hearing the word torrential,” the soft-spoken Texan said. “Where I come from that means a lot.”
Figures. There will be less-than-ideal conditions when the Browns (3-8) try to snap a 12-game road losing streak as they visit the Raiders (3-8).
But that’s nothing new for Dawson, who despite kicking in swirling winds, on soggy, chewed-up fields and for bad teams throughout his career, is having a perfect season.
In his 14th year with the Browns, the super-steady 37-year-old has never been better. He’s made all 21 field-goal attempts, including five from beyond 50 yards. Dawson, unquestionably the best thing about the Browns since their return as an expansion franchise in 1999, has converted 27 straight kicks since last season, and he’s the only full-time kicker in the NFL without a miss.
Yet, when the league recently released fan balloting for the Pro Bowl, Dawson wasn’t among the top, more than 60,000 votes behind Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski.
Dawson won’t campaign for selection, but punter Reggie Hodges isn’t ashamed to stump for his teammate.
Hodges, who also holds on field-goal tries, has started pushing for Dawson on Twitter, posting his favorite kicker’s statistics on the social media site and ending his messages with (hash)Dawson4ProBowl. Get Hodges started on Dawson’s Pro Bowl worthiness and he makes a pretty strong case for his teammate to be bound for Hawaii when the season ends.
Hodges believes Dawson is being wrongly overlooked.
“He’s been doing it for 14 years and he’s been doing it in the worst conditions,” Hodges said. “Browns Stadium is the toughest place in the NFL to kick — by far. Chicago is a distant second. This place is unbelievable. Late in the year our field gets chewed up, and through the course of a game with the rain and snow, it’s tough for him to find the right spot to kick off of. And to be 21 of 21 with five over 50 (yards), five of five from 40 to 49, that’s incredible. Nobody’s doing that.
“Janikowski is having a great year, but he’s kicking in California. You get a little wind out there — maybe.”
Janikowski has only missed once, from 64 yards. Dawson holds Oakland’s lengthy lefty, who shares the NFL record with a 63-yarder, in very high regard and doesn’t like to compare himself to other kickers — except on game day.
“Each and every week I don’t get an opponent across the line of scrimmage, so I try to compete against the guy I’m going against and obviously going against Sebastian is quite a challenge,” Dawson said. “He’s one of the best there is and deservedly so. I look forward to getting out there and competing against him and see how it totals up at the end of the day.”
But as far as making the Pro Bowl, Dawson isn’t worried about anything other than keeping his head down, striking the ball well and putting it through the uprights.
“It’s not a make-or-break event to feel good about my career,” he said. “It’s obviously been a goal for a long time, so to check the box so to speak, would be meaningful. And for a family of five, free vacations are a highly sought-after event. It would be great to experience.”
The fan’s Pro Bowl balloting, which concludes on Dec. 17, counts as one-third with players’ and coaches’ votes making up the other two-thirds.
Dawson has earned the respect of his peers for not only his consistency this season, but his full body of work. Opposing kickers who visit Browns Stadium, where the unpredictable winds wreak havoc with kicks, often tell Dawson how impressed they are that he’s been so good for so long.
“It’s impressive really, especially, and I don’t want this to come across the wrong way, but for his age and how long he’s been doing it,” said Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey, who has looked up to Dawson for years. “He’s tracking the ball great, just as good as anybody in the league obviously. I think that’s most impressive is all his kicks over 50.”
Maybe more impressive are Dawson’s career numbers at home. He has converted 84.7 percent (149 for 176) of his kicks in Cleveland compared to 78.2 percent (179 for 229) for opposing kickers.
Dawson can count on getting a vote for Browns coach Pat Shurmur.
“He’s been a Pro Bowl quality kicker for a very long time,” Shurmur said. “I’ve got a great deal of respect for who he is and what he is as a player. I’m really glad he kicks for us. I think all that type of stuff, all those accolades, he’s very deserving of that. I’m not going to sit here and campaign for him, but I do really appreciate what he does for our team.”
With five games left, Dawson is again facing an uncertain future with the Browns. For the past two years, the team has been unable to sign him to a long-term contract and used its franchise tag on Dawson. If the team does that for a third year, the Browns would be forced to pay him the average salary of the top five players in the league — a number that could be $15 million.
That’s an unlikely scenario, and Dawson is thinking ahead past Sunday.
“One thing I’ve learned the last couple years is whatever’s going to happen, is going to happen,” he said. “So whether I worry about it or think about it, that doesn’t change things. So while I have an opportunity to come to work each and every day and try to be the best every day, that’s what I’m going to do.”
And so far, that plan has been perfect.
NOTES: Browns KR Josh Cribbs practiced after missing two days with a shoulder/chest injury and expects to return punts and kickoffs against the Raiders. … The Browns left for California following practice, flying out one day earlier than usual. … Browns S Eric Hagg (illness) missed practice but made the trip. … The Oakland-Cleveland matchup will be seen in only seven TV markets: two in Ohio, Medford, Ore., Reno and three California cities.