SANTA CLARA – Phil Dawson has made a total of 839 kicks in his NFL career, but one stands out among all the others:
The last one.
Dawson, 40, a 17-year NFL veteran, said Wednesday he is most proud of the extra point he made to help send Sunday’s game to overtime, enabling the 49ers to pull out an improbable 26-20 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
The 49ers made it into overtime because Bears kicker Robbie Gould yanked a 36-yard attempt wide left on the final snap of regulation. Dawson figured a Bears victory was not a gimme due to the field conditions.
“I can’t speak for him, but I know that extra point I made to tie the game was my favorite kick of my career, and that’s 33 yards,” Dawson said on Wednesday. “So that shows you how confident I was out there.”
Dawson's first kick of the day was blocked, as the Bears’ field-goal-block unit got penetration and Dawson had difficulty getting the required height on the kick due to the soft and slippery field conditions.
At the end of the third quarter, Dawson went onto the field to examine the 23-yard lines on both hashmarks to determine from where he wanted to kick on any possible extra points. Typically, he chooses the left hash. This time, he saw less field damage on the right side.
His kick was tipped but made it through to tie the game at 20-20. For Dawson, it was quite a relief to make a kick that he has been anticipating ever since the NFL moved the extra point back to a 33-yard attempt.
“All year I’ve been waiting for that game-tying PAT because it’s not a PAT any more,” Dawson said. “It’s a field goal. I knew there was going to be a point in the season when we were down seven, we were going to score a dramatic touchdown late in the game and I was going to have to go out and make what is now a touchdown to tie it.
“So I was interested to see how I’d feel in that situation. So there was the buildup. On top of that, take the conditions of Chicago and what had happened on the first PAT, I just think it was a mixture of a lot of stuff.”
While the public response has seemingly been positive toward the number of missed extra points this season – there were eight all of last season and eight in each of the past two weeks alone – Dawson despises the new rule.
“I still hate the rule. I read all the tweets, “It’s great for the game,” and all of that,” Dawson said. “I don’t know of another area in football where you see percentages go down or you see failure increase and people celebrate that.”
Dawson will follow up that kick against the Bears with what figures to be an emotional return to Cleveland, where he played from 1999 to 2012 before signing with the 49ers as a free agent. During his 14 seasons with the Browns, he appeared in one playoff game. In 2013, he kicked the game-winning field goal – also, coincidentally, from 33 yards – on the last play of regulation for a 49ers victory at icy Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
Dawson said he was never in a hurry to get out of Cleveland.
“It was a job – one of 32 jobs in the world,” he said. “You can’t be very picky in my line of work. But I always considered it a privilege to be a Cleveland Brown, and I was grateful to have a job and put my head down and went to work. And before you know it, you’re there 14 years.”
Dawson is unsigned for next season, and he is keeping an open mind about his future, he said.
“Kicking in Cleveland deserves your full attention in December, so that’s where my focus is going to be,” Dawson said.
“If I forget how to kick these last four weeks, no one is going to want me. I’m going to try to finish strong and we’ll see what happens moving forward. I certainly haven’t ruled it out. I still love football. Still have a passion for it. Still want to put the work in that’s required. So we’ll see what happens.”