The Sunday forecast for Cleveland’s lakefront calls for temperatures in the 60s, tricky winds out of the southwest and a 10 percent chance of a slick football.
This according to the region’s most authoritative source when it comes to atmospheric conditions around that city’s FirstEnergy Stadium: Phil Dawson.
The veteran kicker spent 14 seasons in Cleveland before signing with the 49ers in 2013. He’ll make his first return trip Sunday and almost certainly will get a warm reception from the home crowd.
Dawson, 40, often was the Browns’ best offensive weapon and certainly the most consistent. He made 305 field goals from 1999 to 2012, a span in which the Browns had no playoff victories and only two winning seasons. While a steady stream of coaches, general managers and quarterbacks entered and exited the team facility, the one constant was Dawson. And that endeared him to fans.
“He’s seen it all,” said 49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, the Browns’ coach in 2009 and 2010. “He’s been through so many different situations, but he is as steady as you can get. And in a place that hasn’t had a lot of continuity, there’s a person that’s been there and experienced it. And he’s fiercely loyal to the team that he’s on and the people that he works with.”
He even had a rule named after him when he was in Cleveland.
In the closing seconds against the Ravens in 2007, Dawson attempted a 51-yard field goal to tie the score. The attempt seemed to ricochet out and initially was declared no good, which led to a Ravens celebration.
But the ball went through the uprights, hit the curved post and then bounced back out. The play was not reviewable at the time, but officials conferred and changed their call. Dawson went on to make the game-winner in overtime. After the season, the league made field goals and extra points reviewable plays. The “Phil Dawson Rule” was born.
Browns coach Mike Pettine was an assistant with Baltimore then and he remembered the play very well.
“Some of the guys had left the field, not all,” he recalled this week. “The reason I slept well at night on that one is I know it was a crazy ending, but (the officials) got it right. They got it right. He made the kick. It was tough to be on the other side of it, but they got it right.”
Dawson’s success has been built on an unwavering focus and meticulous attention to detail, especially the weather. He was the only player – really the only person – on the field hours before the 49ers’ January 2014 playoff win in Green Bay when the wind chill was minus-10 degrees. The temperature had dropped even more when he booted the game-winning field goal as time expired.
This year, he’s missed only one field-goal attempt, which wasn’t his fault. His first attempt in Week 1 was blocked due to a botched blocking assignment.
Dawson said he’d like to have a “homecoming” of sorts in Cleveland at some point, but that it won’t happen this week. And despite his familiarity with the Browns’ stadium, he doesn’t plan on altering his routine, which is to start testing the field conditions and monitoring the wind – warmer weather tends to bring more wind, he said – four hours before kickoff.
After all, there have been a couple of renovations to the facility since he left. “I’ve got to get in there to see if that’s affected what I know to be true of the winds,” he said.
Pinion’s progress – Early in the season, former 49ers punter Andy Lee, now with the Browns, had the best average in the NFL while the rookie drafted to replace him, Bradley Pinion, was at the other end of the statistics.
Pinion has narrowed the gap. His 39.9-yard net punting average ranks 13th, one spot behind Lee and his 40.4-yard average.
Pinion had his best outing of the season Sunday against the Bears, one in which he averaged 48.1 yards per punt and had a season-long 62-yard punt. What’s changed over the last three games? He’s simply more comfortable than he was early on, according to Pinion.
“I’m no longer a rookie in my own eyes, I guess,” Pinion said. “We only have four games left. I don’t want to say I’m a veteran. But you’re acclimated by now.”
Injury update – Tight end Vance McDonald will not play Sunday in Cleveland. McDonald suffered a concussion in the second quarter of Sunday’s win over the Bears. He did not practice this week and, along with running back Carlos Hyde (foot) and linebacker Michael Wilhoite (ankle), was ruled out for the game.
▪ Ouside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who also suffered a concussion Sunday, practiced Friday and is listed as questionable. Cornerback Tramaine Brock (foot) and wide receiver Torrey Smith (toe, back) also are questionable. Brock practiced Wednesday and Thursday and was added to the practice report Friday. Smith sat out Thursday’s session but was back Friday