In a snap, they were seconds from despair.
Dawson's 22-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left following a bounced snap from Ryan Pontbriand with just over two minutes left, giving the St. Louis Rams a 13-12 win over the bungling Browns, who again failed to score a touchdown at home and couldn't count on their steady kicker to bail them out.
"You leave with a helpless feeling. It's tough," Browns quarterback Colt McCoy said. "We should have won -- more than once. You kind of scratch your head and wonder, 'Where is all this bad luck coming from? Why?' "
Dawson made four field goals in blustery conditions, but his attempt with 2:13 remaining fluttered left of the upright, capping a series of late gaffes by the Browns (3-6), who were booed by their fans as they left the field.
"That's the maddening part," said Dawson. "It's not about how many you made. It's about how many you missed."
Pontbriand, a Pro Bowler considered the NFL's best long snapper, accidentally hiked the ball off the right foot of center Alex Mack, who lines up at left guard for field-goal attempts. The ball skipped back to holder Brad Maynard, who did a great job of placing it for Dawson. However, the 13-year veteran's timing was thrown off and Dawson missed the chip shot.
"It's on me," Pontbriand said. "My fault. It's my job to get the ball back there and it didn't get there. On those plays, I'm always upside down and never see a thing. From my point of view, everything was normal. But as soon as it came out, I knew something was wrong. It looked like a snap I had never snapped before."
It was an especially painful loss for first-year Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who spent the previous two seasons as the Rams offensive coordinator. Following the game, Shurmur was noticeably upset, mostly because of his young team's costly mistakes.
"What can I say?" Shurmur said. "We were in position to win. I'm disappointed we lost. It hasn't sunk in enough to go through my head yet. I've got a thick head."
As Dawson lined up for his final kick, the Rams, who had five players sustain game-ending injuries, were already planning their strategy for a last drive.
They didn't realize they were in Cleveland, where the beleaguered Browns have a habit of horrid losses.
"I thought this stuff only happened to the Rams," Jackson joked. "I didn't think it happened to other teams."
Brown's 34-yard field goal gave the Rams a 13-12 lead with 7:42 remaining. That score was set up by a fumble by Browns return specialist Josh Cribbs, who was stripped trying to get extra yards on a punt return by Rams linebacker David Nixon.
Brown, though, knocked his kickoff out of bounds, giving it to the Browns at the 40. McCoy, helped by a personal foul for horse collaring by the Rams, moved Cleveland to the St. Louis 9. But that's where the Browns, who haven't scored a touchdown in more than 123 consecutive minutes at home, got conservative.
After a run by Chris Ogbonnaya, starting because Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty are hurt, picked up 1 yard, McCoy handed off to tight end Alex Smith on second down, a questionable call given Smith hasn't had a rushing attempt all season. Smith fumbled as he neared the line, but it was recovered by Cribbs.
Ogbonnaya picked up 3 yards on third down, setting up Dawson to put the Browns ahead.
But what seemed like a routine kick for Dawson, who made attempts from 44, 32, 43 and 27 yards, turned into another bizarre moment for the Browns. And, it was the latest special teams breakdown for Cleveland, which had two field goals blocked and gave up a touchdown on a fake field goal earlier this season.
Bradford finished 15 of 26 for 155 yards with a TD and interception. Jackson went over 100 yards for the third game in a row.
McCoy went 20 of 27 for 218 yards, but the Browns can't find the end zone. They are the only team in the league that hasn't scored a TD in the first or third quarters.
Five Rams did not return after getting hurt. Coach Steve Spagnuolo said CB Al Harris and TE Michael Hoomanawanui have "significant" knee injuries. Both will have MRIs on Monday. RB Cadillac Williams strained his calf running onto the field. ... OT Rodger Saffold suffered a head injury and S Darian Stewart hurt his neck. ... Dawson has converted four field goals in a game 10 times. ... Ogbonnaya got a career-high 90 yards, including a 32-yarder, the longest by a Browns back in 2011. ... McCoy's 74.1 completion percentage is his best this season. ... Jackson has 30 career games over 100 yards, second in team history to Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson's 38.