Throughout the Baltimore Ravens’ previous 24 seasons, notable games have been played, both momentous and heartbreaking. The Ravens’ season-opening clash with the Cleveland Browns warrants a look back at their November 18, 2007 meeting in Baltimore.
The outcome of this game birthed the “Phil Dawson Rule,” and cemented the legacy of the eponymous kicker in the annals of NFL history.
On a crisp November afternoon, the Ravens entered Week 11 of the 2007 season with a 4-5 record, precariously on the outside looking-in of a Wild Card berth in the AFC. Having dropped three straight games, including two consecutive losses out of their bye week to AFC North rivals, Baltimore needed a victory over the Browns to prevent a catastrophe.
With former 2003 first-round pick Kyle Boller replacing the injured Steve McNair at QB, the Ravens were faced with the prospect of a lost season, following a then-franchise-best 13-3 record in 2006. Continued Super Bowl aspirations of the prior season were dashed with anemic performances throughout the start of the 2007 campaign, including a thorough Week 9 drubbing by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football.
On the other side of the coin, the Cleveland Browns entered M&T Bank Stadium with a surprising 6-4 mark under the leadership of one-time Ravens afterthought Derek Anderson at QB, and former Ravens RB Jamal Lewis in his first game in Baltimore since leaving in free-agency. With head coach Romeo Crennel at the helm for his third season, Cleveland began to fulfill the promise of Crennel’s pedigree as a Bill Belichick disciple, having put the Browns only one game behind the division-leading Steelers in the race for the AFC North crown.
For only the second time since their return to the NFL in 1999, the oft-hapless Browns were in position to sweep the Ravens, giving Baltimore added pressure to prevent such embarrassment.
The first quarter was a harbinger of events to come, as the Ravens stifled the Browns’ initial drives, yet failed to capitalize on Cleveland’s mistakes while committing their own; a Phil Dawson 28-yard field goal for the Browns would open the scoring and give Cleveland a sliver of confidence. After trading turnovers and possessions, a critical 35-yard pick-six by LB Ray Lewis would give Baltimore their only points in the first half, trailing 13-7 at intermission.
Despite the ugliness of the first two quarters, the Ravens jumped to a one-point lead out of the break, only to falter with two Browns scores; first, on a Derek Anderson 1-yard run, followed by a 100-yard interception return by safety Brodney Pool to put Cleveland ahead by two possessions, 27-14.
Drama would ensue in the fourth quarter, as Baltimore began to remind the Browns of their recent history as the league’s punching bag, tying the game with two Matt Stover field goals and a 27-yard TD grab from Devard Darling. A third Stover kick from 47 yards out, gave the Ravens hope and a small three-point lead with 26 seconds left to play.
However, a critical error on the subsequent kickoff led to a huge 39-yard return by Joshua Cribbs, placing the Browns near midfield. After two pass plays, Cleveland lined up at the Ravens’ 33-yard line with three seconds left in regulation, needing an improbable 51-yard field goal to force overtime.
As time expired, Phil Dawson’s leg boomed a sailing kick off the left upright that bounced forward off the rear crossbar, allowing the Ravens a sigh of relief that they’d lived to fight another day — until head referee Pete Morelli gathered his officials in the endzone for a ruling that would set a new NFL precedent.
As league rules dictate, a field goal is not eligible for formal review. However, as the Ravens spilled into the locker room, the Browns remained on the field, awaiting the final call from officials. Later explained as a “conversation” rather than review, Morelli declared the field goal was good, reasoning that the ball’s crossing of the uprights immediately validated the kick, similar to breaking the invisible plane of the goal line for a touchdown.
With confusion swarming throughout M&T Bank Stadium, the depleted Ravens scrambled to rush their players back onto the field for an unexpected overtime period, eventually faltering to a 33-yard field goal by Dawson to end the game similarly to how it began.
In the wake of this game, the NFL’s Competition Committee would amend its definition of a successful field goal or point-after kick, interpreted as allowing any kick that splits the uprights to count as a score, even if the crossbar reverses its subsequent trajectory.
The loss would become a footnote in Baltimore’s disappointing 2007 season, mired in an eventual nine-game losing streak, including an embarrassing overtime loss to a winless Miami Dolphins team in Week 15 that was the catalyst for Ravens head coach Brian Billick’s firing.
Having vanquished their proverbial older brother, the Browns would finish with a 10-6 record that left them just shy of their first postseason appearance since 2002 — an infamous streak that continues into the 2020 season. To date, the 2007 campaign remains Cleveland’s only season with double-digit victories since their return to the league in 1999, and is the closest they’ve been to a playoff bid in nearly two decades.
Phil Dawson would retire prior to the 2019 season with 21 years in the league, finishing 8th all-time in career field goals made.
However, records are made to be broken, and when his accolades are eventually surpassed, Dawson’s enduring legacy will be the creation of the “Phil Dawson Rule” in his name.
Author’s Note: “This game holds personal significance, as I worked the game as a guest commentator for BaltimoreRavens.com, and witnessed the entire conclusion unfold from the press conference area. Chris McAlister was in such pain at the end of regulation, he needed three trainers to help him get his gear back on for the overtime period. After the final whistle, the players returned and all looked so dejected. Ray Lewis and Willis McGahee had this resigned look on their faces, as if they had already accepted this would be a lost season. In the post-game presser, I had never seen Brian Bililck so annoyed. He shot me an angry look, even though I didn’t ask a question; that was fun.”
History, Box Score, and Statistics: Pro Football Reference