The Cleveland Browns have had several memorable moments through the first 13 games of the 2023 NFL season.
Starting in Week 1 when defensive end Myles Garrett sealed a win over the Cincinnati Bengals with a sack of quarterback Joe Burrow, and continuing through quarterback P.J. Walker leading a pair of fourth-quarter scoring drives to take down the San Francisco 49ers, running back Kareem Hunt’s game-winning touchdown run against the Indianapolis Colts, quarterback Deshaun Watson rallying the Browns past the Baltimore Ravens, and quarterback Joe Flacco’s improbable three-touchdown day against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Browns have used every available avenue to enter this weekend as the AFC’s No. 5 seed.
Lost a bit in all the highlight plays has been the consistent performance of another key member in placekicker Dustin Hopkins, who the Browns picked up right before the start of the season in a trade from the Los Angeles Chargers for the low price of a seventh-round pick in the 2025 NFL Draft.
It is a bit of an understatement to say that Hopkins has steadied the kicking situation after a rocky 2022 from rookie kicker Cade York. All Hopkins has done so far this season is:
- currently lead the NFL with 31 field goals, breaking Phil Dawson’s franchise single-season record in the process,
- convert all eight of his field goal attempts from 50 yards or more, and,
- hit game-winning field goals against the 49ers (29 yards), Ravens (40 yards), and Pittsburgh Steelers (34 yards).
Being able to rely on your kicker gives the Browns a big edge, according to special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“I think that whenever you can lean on your kicker to put points on the board, it helps the team obviously because you just have the confidence in him to do so. And everyone on the roster, everyone in the building, trusts (Dustin) to come through. He’s done a good job in practice, the practice reps, the week in, week out, the consistency. He’s really been the best kicker in football in my opinion. He really has. I mean, we play in conditions that are not easy. Our stadium is not easy to kick in. We play games outside in the weather. And he’s done a great job. He’s been the best in the league in my opinion.”
With four games left in the regular season, the Browns are likely going to find themselves in a tight spot or two late in a game and in need of a kick in a big moment.
And while not everything has gone as planned this year, having a kicker who is currently “the best in the league” should be a comforting thought as the Browns continue their push toward the playoffs.