AFC North: Kevin Huber

Bengals sign punter T.J. Conley

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
CINCINNATI -- On the same day they announced the start date of their training camp, the Cincinnati Bengals signed a special-teams player whose primary function will be to give them an additional training camp leg.

Punter T.J. Conley, formerly of the Browns and Jets, was signed Wednesday by the Bengals to serve as a backup to starting punter Kevin Huber, who ought to be fully recovered by late July from a December jaw injury. Huber missed the final two games of the regular season and a playoff game after breaking his jaw following a hard blindside hit from the Pittsburgh Steelers' Terence Garvin.

Conley comes to the Bengals after having spent the 2013 preseason with the Browns. He didn't make the team once the regular season started.

The 28-year-old last appeared in a regular-season game in 2011. He punted in all 16 games for the Jets that year, averaging 42.7 yards on 92 punts. His 38.8-yard net average was the highest in Jets history; the statistic was first tracked in 1976. He also had 32 kicks that fell inside the 20 and six touchbacks. Like he did with the Browns last season, Conley started the 2012 season with the Jets, but didn't make the main club by the regular season.

He entered the NFL with the Jets in 2009 as a free agent.

In an attempt to save their punters' and kickers' legs in the preseason, teams often sign multiple punters and kickers to help with the load. Conley will get some experience backing up Huber, just as kicker/punter Quinn Sharp ought to do the same behind kicker Mike Nugent. Sharp was signed to a future's contract at the end of the 2013 season.
Kevin Huber Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsTerence Garvin's hit on punter Kevin Huber brought up questions about what constitutes a defenseless player.
Now that the Cincinnati Bengals' season has ended, and coaching changes have kicked off the unofficial start to the offseason, we're counting down the 10 plays that helped shape the Bengals' 11-5, AFC North championship season.

When we reach the No. 1 play, we'll add in links to each play on the countdown.

Big plays, particularly those from Cincinnati's defense, and explosive ones from the likes of Giovani Bernard, were critical to the way 2013 played out.

So far, the key plays have ranged the gamut. From James Harrison's interception against the Browns, to A.J. Green's Hail Mary haul in Baltimore, to Reggie Nelson's big blitz that set up Mike Nugent's game-winning field goal at Detroit, the plays have covered significant moments in the season.

As is the case with most top 10 lists, determining these plays was completely subjective. They could be placed in virtually any slot among these 10, or not among them at all. Some certainly won't make the cut that many believe should. It's the nature of lists. Somewhere a cut off has to come. Anyway, let's get back to it, with No. 4:


When: Dec. 15, 2013

Where: Heinz Field, where the Bengals lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 30-20.

What happened: The Bengals had already committed a pair of major special teams errors when this play happened early in the loss. A botched, wind-swept long snap to punter Kevin Huber ended up turning into a 1-yard Steelers touchdown run a play later. Cedric Peerman's attempt at waving off Brandon Tate on what would have been a long Peerman kick return was interpreted as a fair catch signal by officials. Instead of starting the drive after the touchdown at their own 47, where Peerman ultimately went down before the penalty was ruled, the Bengals ended up starting at their own 9.

A subsequent punt set up good enough field position for the Steelers that they ended up driving and getting in the end zone for a second time. After Cincinnati's next drive stalled out, Huber was called upon for a third time to punt -- and the first quarter still hadn't finished.

With 1:27 remaining in the opening quarter and his team down 14-0, Huber's feet rested around his own 20-yard line when he let loose of a 38-yard punt that traveled straight down the middle of the field. Explosive Steelers return man Antonio Brown didn't have to drift underneath the ball to field it. Instead, he took two steps left and one step back right to settle under the ball. Then he cut, making one Bengal miss before sprinting into an alley up the middle of the field.

Just as Brown started accelerating and switching into another gear, Steelers blocker Terence Garvin put his sights on the final Bengals player standing between his returner and the end zone. It was Huber.

Garvin, charging some 20 yards across the field to catch up to Huber, made one of the league's more devastating blindside hits of the year. Brown cruised to a 67-yard punt return for touchdown. Watched in slow motion, the hit showed where Garvin's helmet made contact with Huber's neck and facemask area. When the punter hit the ground, he didn't move initially.

After several minutes of evaluation by trainers, Huber jumped up and jogged into the Bengals' locker room almost as if nothing happened. The only way you knew something serious had occurred was because he had a piece of bloodied gauze in his mouth, flapping in the bitter cold wind as he made the run. His game was over, and the Bengals -- comeback bid or not -- were, too.

What they said about it: NFL head of officials, Dean Blandino, on NFL Network two days later: "Huber, he's a punter. And the key is he's defenseless throughout the down. Even though he's pursuing the play, he still gets defenseless-player protection. You can't hit him in the head or neck, and you can't use the crown or forehead parts of the helmet to the body." (Garvin should have been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, Blandino added).

Huber: "It's great they said it [the apology], but at the end of the day, it doesn't do anything now."

Garvin: "I fell down on the play and I got up and saw [Brown] coming toward me so I was like, 'Oh, I've got to try and help him break on this play. I wasn't out there trying to be vicious. When you're in the game, you're really just trying to make a play and help your team out."

How the Bengals' season was impacted: Cincinnati ultimately lost the game, forcing it to wait one more week before claiming a third AFC North championship. Huber's season came to an abrupt due to a broken jaw and cracked vertebrae he received from the hit. The Bengals went through two more punters before their season ended. One of those punters, Shawn Powell, will be forever remembered for his 10-yard punt that shanked into the first two rows of Paul Brown Stadium's seats.

So why does this play not only make the countdown, but comes in so high? More than any other play during the season, this one had people across the country buzzing. Player safety concerns were raised and rules terminology (what constitutes a "defenseless player") became an issue. This play couldn't have been left off the countdown for the far-ranging impact it had. Huber will be back healthy long before 2014's training camp opens.

All-AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A trio of defensive stars, two Pro Bowl offensive players and an injured specialist comprised the Cincinnati Bengals' six selections to the All-AFC North team that was released Thursday. The four reporters who cover the teams in the division made the picks.

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the NFL's leading regular-season tackler, was joined by defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson on the defensive side of the all-division team. They were all part of a unit that finished the year ranked third in total defense, and one that was second in the league in limiting third-down conversions. Last Friday, Burfict was named to his first Pro Bowl as an inside linebacker. The second-year player, who was originally signed as an undrafted rookie, finished the regular season with 171 tackles, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Dunlap recorded a career-high 58 tackles and had 7.5 sacks. Johnson, who could be heading toward free agency in the coming weeks, had a career-high 56 tackles and led the league with eight batted balls at the line of scrimmage.

Cincinnati's offensive selections were led by receiver A.J. Green. He was selected to the team after catching a career-high 98 passes for another career-high 1,426 yards. He finished just 15 yards shy of a franchise record. He was joined on the all-division team by offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth, who made it as a left tackle. Across the last five games, Whitworth shuffled between left tackle and left guard as injuries depleted the Bengals' offensive line. Particularly, it was left guard Clint Boling's ACL injury against the Chargers in Week 13 that caused the shifting to occur.

Another injured Bengal was included on the All-AFC North team. Punter Kevin Huber, who had an average net of 40.5 yards before a season-ending jaw injury in Week 15, made it as the division's top punter. He had punts of 75 and 70 yards this season ahead of the blindside hit against the Steelers that broke his jaw. The NFL later said a flag should have been thrown for the hit, but since one wasn't, Huber and his coverage team allowed their only punt return touchdown of the season.

Despite winning the AFC North, the Bengals were outpaced on the all-division team by the Browns and Ravens. Both teams had seven players selected. Like the Bengals, the Steelers also had six. One of Pittsburgh's selections, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, made it when the Bengals' Andy Dalton didn't. Dalton had more wins, yards, touchdowns and a higher QBR than any other quarterback in the division. He also finished the season setting a pair of Bengals records. In addition to Dalton, a case for inclusion could have been made for rookie running back Giovani Bernard, receiver Marvin Jones, defensive tackle Domata Peko and cornerback Adam Jones.

CINCINNATI -- While the Cincinnati Bengals' 2013 season is very much alive and well with an appearance in this weekend's opening round of the playoffs, the calendar year itself is now over.

Since the year has come to a close, there's no time like the present to take a look back at its latest Bengals regular season through the lens of heroic actions. As winners of the AFC North, the Bengals have certainly had their share of heroism this season.

As you can tell by the headline of this posting, this isn't an ordinary list of "heroes." This one is comprised of those who have made some of the most behind-the-scenes difference in the Bengals' season. You won't see Andy Dalton on this list. You won't see A.J. Green on this list. You won't see Vontaze Burfict, either. Their impact is quite real, and very visible.

So, without further ado ... let's get to it:

DE Wallace Gilberry. It's hard to think of a defensive lineman in Cincinnati who has quietly had as strong a season as the seventh-year end. Despite coming off the bench much of the year, he finished the regular season tied with Carlos Dunlap for the team lead with 7.5 sacks. He also proved his versatility by playing both on the inside and outside of the line following defensive tackle Geno Atkins' season-ending injury. Once Atkins was lost with a torn ACL, Gilberry was among those who stepped inside to play in key downs. His athleticism there gave the Bengals an added measure of versatility in the pass rush. Of his sacks, 4.0 came against some of the NFL's top quarterbacks, three of which are now in the playoffs. He got to Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.

CB Adam Jones. Another veteran, Jones had his share of timely big-play opportunities that went his way during the regular season. Against Pittsburgh three weeks ago, he intercepted a Roethlisberger pass deep downfield that gave the Bengals hope in the middle of a game that they had trailed to that point. Although they still ended up losing, the third-quarter pick-off had the potential to change momentum for the Bengals. Considering where it was recovered, the interception was reminiscent of Jones' pick in the final 16 seconds of the Week 6 game against the Patriots. In the middle of a driving rainstorm, he picked off a Brady pass to ice the 13-6 win. Statistically, Jones this year had his best season since 2006, when he starred with the Tennessee Titans. His 55 tackles and three interceptions this season were his most since the 63 tackles and four interceptions he had that year. He also appeared in all 16 games for the first time in his career.

DB Chris Crocker. Once again an early-season acquisition, the former free agent paid dividends for the Bengals in more ways than one. In addition to making plays defensively -- he had two interceptions and 1.5 sacks -- Crocker was the same soothing locker room presence he always has been. An unofficial player's spokesman, he routinely addressed the media, giving a sense of the pulse of the team, and he served as a mentor for some of the younger players who have followed his lead. One of them, Dre Kirkpatrick, has begun accepting the knowledge Crocker, Jones and Terence Newman have begun passing down to him. Like Jones, Crocker's role increased dramatically following the loss of cornerback Leon Hall to a torn ACL. Even without Hall and Atkins, among others, the Bengals still ended up ranking third in the league in total defense.

OT Anthony Collins. We've written a fair amount about Collins this season, but what has made him special has been his ability to play both sides of the offensive line. He's filled in at right tackle for Andre Smith at times this season, and has more famously taken over at left tackle in the way of injury. After left guard Clint Boling suffered an ACL injury, he was replaced by an offensive line shuffle that included moving Collins off the bench to left tackle and placing left tackle Andrew Whitworth at left guard. The unit has actually played better under the current format than it did with the previous group of starters. According to Pro Football Focus, Collins hasn't allowed a sack or quarterback hit in nearly 600 snaps this season. He also hadn't been charged with a penalty until last week.

P Kevin Huber. His season may have come to an end against Pittsburgh three games ago, but Huber was making a case for team MVP at times this season. His 40.5 net punting average ranked as seventh in the league following last week's games. That number probably would have been a lot higher had it not been for a 67-yard punt return touchdown Cincinnati allowed on the play that ended his year. He broke his jaw and cracked vertebrae on a play the NFL later said should have been penalized. The vicious blindside hit on Huber opened a hole that Steelers punt returner Antonio Brown sprinted through as he beat the Bengals for the score. Cincinnati has had trouble replacing Huber. Shawn Powell was released this week after shanking a punt that traveled 10 yards and hooked left into the stands. The Bengals are now on punter No. 3 this season.

Bengals' front office. Cincinnati's brass deserves some credit for the way it handled signings and other moves in 2013. By re-signing Atkins and Dunlap, franchise tagging defensive end Michael Johnson and bringing back veterans like Crocker and Jones, the group put together a team that at least has the talent and depth to go on a postseason run. The jury still is out as to whether or not the team assembled will go on such a run, but the talent distribution on the roster itself could arguably be tops in the AFC. The traditionally cheap ownership group smartly opened its pocket book at the right times this year.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 16

December, 23, 2013
CINCINNATI -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 42-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings:

Mind-boggling Bernard: Bengals running back Giovani Bernard did it again. He wowed all those watching with yet another dazzling, tackle-breaking, defender-avoiding run. On one third-quarter run after the catch, he completely confounded the Vikings as he cut, spun, shook, stiff-armed and danced his way to a 41-yard gain off a short screen that began near midfield. On the next play, Mohamed Sanu's touchdown catch gave Cincinnati a 28-point second-half lead. In all, five Vikings missed tackles on Bernard's run that included a spin move, two jump-cuts and a stiff-arm. The play was reminiscent of a fourth-quarter 35-yard touchdown run Bernard had against the Dolphins on Halloween. That play was completed with a flip into the end zone. Asked Sunday what he said to Bernard after the latest run, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden smiled and said: "He should have scored." Bernard was wrestled down at the Minnesota 7.

Playmakers: Bernard wasn't the only Bengal with a head-turning play. Cincinnati's receivers got in on the act as well. It started with Marvin Jones' diving catch out of bounds and continued with Andrew Hawkins' leaping grab deep in Vikings territory to set up another score. At one point, the Bengals appeared in such a quarterback-receiver rhythm that anything thrown within a 15-yard radius of a particular pass-catcher was going to get caught. Quarterback Andy Dalton's completion percentage reflected that fact, too. He completed more than 70 percent of his passes for the fifth time this season. Along with those receptions, the Bengals had a quirky interception. As cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick went up to defend one pass -- he appeared to make contact with the receiver worthy of pass interference -- the ball hit his helmet and bounced in the sky. Safety George Iloka, who fell and was on his back, reached his hands out as the ball was falling. It fell right into his lap for his first career interception. It was one of three picks for the Bengals on Sunday.

Forty times four club: Thanks in large part to Dalton's four-touchdown, 366-yard passing effort, the Bengals hit the 40-point mark for a fourth consecutive home game. They also scored 42 points in the previous home game against the Indianapolis Colts. They scored 41 against the Cleveland Browns the home game before that, and hit 49 against the Jets a game before that. In most of those other games, Cincinnati had a better run-pass average than it had Sunday. On 37 total carries, the Bengals picked up only 81 yards for a 2.19 average. They didn't need to stay on the ground, though. An injury-depleted Vikings secondary had enough soft zones for Dalton to routinely find open receivers.

Powell does enough: When Kevin Huber was placed on injured reserve Tuesday following a hit that broke his jaw and cracked vertebrae in his neck, the Bengals were simply looking for a replacement who could do a good enough job. Shawn Powell may not have been exceptional Sunday, but he was strong. Of his four punts, only one was returned. That return only happened because the ball drifted into the middle of the field. With the rest of the punts booted toward the sideline, returner Marcus Sherels couldn't break away. Overall, the Bengals' special-teams units didn't play their best Sunday, but Powell kept field position mostly in Cincinnati's favor.
Jennings/DaltonGetty ImagesCan Greg Jennings and the Vikings help spoil the playoff hopes of Andy Dalton and the Bengals?
The Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals are two teams headed in completely opposite directions.

For the Vikings, the 2013 season has been a difficult one, defined mostly by a quarterbacking carousel and the lack of wins because of it. As for the Bengals, the year has been a mostly good one. With home wins over the Packers and Patriots, and road victories against the Lions and Chargers, the Bengals have looked for much of the year like a team poised for a longer postseason run than the past two years. Cincinnati's 2011 and 2012 seasons ended with first-round playoff losses.

If the 9-5 Bengals are even going to get to this postseason this year, though, they first have to bounce back from a Sunday night loss at Pittsburgh and beat the four-win Vikings. Such a win isn't a guarantee. Minnesota has embraced the role of postseason spoiler, rolling NFC East-leading Philadelphia last weekend.

To break down the contest, Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and Bengals reporter Coley Harvey teamed up for this edition of Double Coverage. As this week's visitor, we'll start with Ben:

Ben Goessling: Andy Dalton was one of the Vikings' options at QB when they drafted Christian Ponder in 2011. The Vikings seem to have given up on Ponder, and while Dalton has been better, it's hard to tell whether he's going to be the answer in Cincinnati long-term. How do the Bengals feel about his progress?

Coley Harvey: It certainly appears that for now the Bengals feel comfortable with Dalton moving forward. Despite calls at times this season from some groups of angry fans, the Bengals have remained firm in their support of him. No matter how poorly Dalton played, they weren't shopping for another quarterback, and they weren't trying to give backup Josh Johnson any shared playing time. In short, they were committed to seeing Dalton through the year. And why not? Although he has had some struggles this season, Dalton has still shown that he can handle the duties of being a starting quarterback. He was the AFC's offensive player of the month for October, and had three consecutive 300-yard passing games during one stretch. If Dalton can't get the Bengals past the first round of the playoffs, it will be interesting to see whether the sides discuss a contract extension, with the 2014 season his last on his current contract.

To your broader point, Ben, that 2011 quarterback class certainly hasn't been all that amazing.

Speaking of progressing quarterbacks, it seems like Matt Cassel has given the Vikings some semblance of offensive success in games he's appeared in this season. Why didn't Minnesota stick with him sooner?

Goessling: That's been the big question all season here, and on Sunday, coach Leslie Frazier finally gave those of us in the media a hint of what we'd expected all along. He said the Vikings always liked Cassel, but had to go through the "process" a little bit, and unfortunately weren't able to win games in the meantime. The "process" I believe he's referring to is the act of evaluating Christian Ponder to a point where the Vikings could be absolutely sure he wasn't the answer at the position. When Josh Freeman got inserted into the mix -- and both Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman said the Vikings planned to play Freeman soon -- that complicated things even more. The biggest thing Cassel had working against him was his age (31), and the Vikings didn't necessarily see him as the long-term guy. The question will be whether the quarterback tryouts wind up costing Frazier his job, but now that Cassel's starting, maybe Frazier will be able to make a case to keep his job by showing he can win when he has a competent quarterback.

The Vikings have struggled all year with small, shifty running backs. How do you expect Giovani Bernard to fare against them Sunday?

Harvey: If the Vikings have struggled with those types of backs, then they could be in serious trouble Sunday, Ben. Bernard has been the five-tool player the Bengals thought they were drafting earlier this year and more. Not only can he hit the edge hard on pitches and outside runs, but he has enough power in his smaller body to hit the middle of a defensive line hard and keep going. His most important trait, though, may be what he's able to do as a receiver. You'll see the Bengals use him fairly regularly in the screen game. If the blocking sets up right on those plays, he won't just go for 5 or 6 additional yards. He typically will break off another 10, 15, 20 or more yards after the catch. Once the rookie gets in space, it's like he hits a fourth and fifth gear.

Having said all of that, I do believe he and the more between-the-tackles running BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be keys to the game. If they get going, the Bengals have a chance to showcase the balanced offense that has been coming on of late.

Minnesota has obviously had one of the NFL's best rushing attacks the past seven seasons because of Adrian Peterson. Matt Asiata did a great job of getting to the end zone last week. What kind of challenge do you think he poses the Bengals if he ends up playing in place of Peterson?

Goessling: Not much of one, based on what we saw last week. Asiata averaged less than 2 yards a carry, and while he runs hard between the tackles, he doesn't offer much else; he doesn't break tackles the way Toby Gerhart can, and Peterson's gifts are obviously on a different level from either of those guys. I think Peterson will play, though; he wanted it known last week that he could have gone, and Frazier said after the game that he expected Peterson would be back. The guy prides himself on his pain tolerance, and as hard as he pushed to play last week, I'd be really surprised if he's not in there Sunday.

Assuming he plays, how tough a matchup is this for Peterson? The Bengals have been one of the NFL's best teams against the run this year. What's made them so effective there?

Harvey: It won't be an easy one for Peterson. This Bengals' defense prides itself on playing physically, emotionally and flowing quickly to the football, particularly when it's on the ground. If this were a normal week, I might contend that as good as Cincinnati's run defense has been that Peterson might still end up surprising them and have a big day. This isn't a normal week, though. The Bengals are coming off a loss that had many questioning their heart and attitude, and they also happen to be playing this game at home. There's something about Paul Brown Stadium this season. Opponents have struggled, and the Bengals have fed off the crowd's energy. Cincinnati is 6-0 at home this season, and the defense is a big reason. If linebacker James Harrison (concussion) doesn't play, that could take away a key piece of the Bengals' run defense.

Cincinnati lost punter Kevin Huber to a season-ending injury last week and is bringing along his replacement, Shawn Powell, this week. He'll be kicking to Minnesota's Marcus Sherels. How dynamic is Sherels, Ben? His numbers seem so-so for most of the season, but he does have a return for touchdown.

Goessling: I think you summed it up nicely there, Coley. Sherels did have the punt return touchdown, but his numbers otherwise have been just OK. The thing the Vikings like about him is that he doesn't make mistakes. He fumbled a punt earlier this year, but he's typically very sure-handed and makes good decisions about when to call for a fair catch. He doesn't get them in trouble by taking unnecessary chances, and special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer is a big fan of his partly because of his decision-making skills. But watch out, though. The Vikings are trying to find ways to get Cordarrelle Patterson the ball now that teams have stopped kicking to him, and Frazier mentioned they could give him a look on punt returns. If that happens, the Vikings will have a completely different kind of threat back there on punts.

CINCINNATI -- Marvin Lewis thinks there has been more than enough talk this week about the violent play at Pittsburgh last weekend that sidelined his punter for the remainder of the season.

Whether or not the blindside hit was clean is no longer of any consequence to the Cincinnati Bengals' coach. He thinks it's time the world moves on from discussing the play and focuses on other things. Namely, Sunday's game between the Bengals and Minnesota Vikings.

With a postseason berth still on the line and the Bengals needing to win their last two games, his mind has already drifted elsewhere. As it very well should.

[+] EnlargeKevin Huber and Terence Garvin
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsThe Bengals have been mum about the hit that ended punter Kevin Huber's season. Coach Marvin Lewis, for one, wants to move on.
But why should the rest of ours? We still have five days to write about and talk about Cincinnati's next contest. There are still several elements of the shot heard 'round the Ohio Valley that deserve to be debated. Particularly this one: Were the Bengals right to not retaliate after Steelers special-teamer Terence Garvin sent Bengals punter Kevin Huber to the hospital with a devastating hit?

I say they were.

Some of you probably do not share that sentiment. That's OK. I can understand why.

Football, at its foundation, is a violent sport. It's about hitting and colliding and blocking and pushing. For some, it's the ultimate test of machismo. (How hard can I hit you and how quickly will you pick yourself up?) In that vein, it's also a sport that hinges on teamwork. (Will you help me up and have my back if I get knocked down?)

It's the part about helping that some Bengals fans have had a problem with the last couple of days.

In the time since Huber was bloodied and broken by Garvin's helmet-to-face-mask hit in the first quarter of Sunday night's 30-20 loss at Pittsburgh, there have been questions about why the Bengals didn't jump to Huber's defense at any point during the rest of the game. There are those who wanted to see a Steeler get popped high on a tackle or an off-ball block. Others have wondered why Bengals offensive linemen didn't dive low at the knees of Steelers linebackers. Still others are wondering why the Bengals haven't said much about the hit in the days since.

We'll answer those concerns in reverse order.

For starters, the Bengals haven't said much because, aside from social media, they haven't really had the forum to say anything. Even though Lewis spoke with reporters Tuesday, players have been off limits since Sunday. And immediately after the game, none took the bait when asked to discuss any anger they felt when they saw Huber lying on the ground in obvious pain.

The closest reporters could come to getting the Bengals to share those feelings was when kicker Mike Nugent was asked about being angry after the play.

"Honestly, I didn't see the hit," said Nugent, who ended up punting in place of Huber for the rest of the game. "I was watching the ball the whole time. I wish I could comment more on it, but I have to see it on film. It makes you wonder, though, how someone breaks their jaw. It had to be a pretty high hit."

The Bengals' locker room will be open for the first time this week late Wednesday morning, and presumably after film study.

As for reasons the Bengals didn't retaliate, how's this -- they were trailing 21-0 at the time, and as much as their thoughts might have been with Huber, they also needed to focus on overcoming the massive deficit.

Eventually, their defense started holding and the offense got rolling. The comeback bid wasn't enough in the end, though.

Yes, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati will meet again. It won't happen until next season, the same time Huber makes his return. Even if Garvin isn't playing for the Steelers then, the Bengals probably will see him at some point. Even if there are years that separate them from facing him again, you can be sure that some current Bengals will remember his hit.

In different days, those Bengals may have actively sought ways to get back at him. But in this NFL, one that preaches the value of player safety and player integrity, don't expect the old-school retaliation you may want. Fines are too steep.

The only retaliatory option the Bengals have is to just do what they set out to do before the season began: win the division and win the Super Bowl. In this league, the sweetest revenge is playing when everyone else is at home watching.
CINCINNATI -- At long last, the list of players in the Cincinnati Bengals' locker room who I previously covered has doubled in size.

We've now gone from one (Michael Johnson) to two (Shawn Powell).

That's obviously a personal win, and one probably only understood by sports writers who have made similar moves to new beats. More important than any of that, though, for the Bengals, it's also a win. A very big one.

Christmas came early for Cincinnati on Tuesday when it signed the free-agent punter Powell to take over for Kevin Huber. After taking a vicious shot from Pittsburgh return team blocker Terence Garvin, Huber suffered a season-ending injury. The helmet-to-face mask hit sent Huber flying, and caused him to break his jaw and crack vertebrae in his back.

[+] EnlargeShawn Powell
Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY SportsShawn Powell will replace injured punter Kevin Huber.
Huber was formally placed on injured reserve Tuesday and will have oral surgery Friday as he begins the recovery process. According to Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, Huber shouldn't experience any effects of the injury in the long term. He should be able to return by the start of next season.

This late in the season, most teams are well set in their special teams and punting ways. They know precisely what they want their punter to do and their punter knows exactly where to put the ball in each situation. His coverage unit also typically has a feel for where it is that he wants to kick, his hang time and an understanding of how long it can take to get down the field.

That's why the timing of Huber's injury couldn't be worse for the Bengals. As they get set for a playoff push, they need as much familiarity as they can muster across the final weeks of the season.

Powell will provide a semblance of that.

In the 6-foot-4, 243-pound kicker, the Bengals not only get a timely replacement, but they also pick up a player who matches much of what coach Marvin Lewis described in his weekly news conference that preceded the news about Powell's signing.

Lewis said the Bengals were about to sign a punter who: understood special teams coach Darrin Simmons' directional punting philosophy, and could also hold on field goals and point-after attempts. Before his injury, Huber was the team's holder on those plays. After Huber's injury, starting quarterback Andy Dalton had to take over and hold for kicker Mike Nugent's point-after attempts. Nugent ended up filling Huber's duties at the punter, averaging 40 net yards on his two punts. Those relief efforts by Nugent were enough to get him named an honorable mention selection to ESPN Stats & Info's weekly Punter of the Week awards, compiled by Mark Simon.

Like I mentioned before, I covered Powell before arriving on the Bengals beat earlier this year. Before he was signed by the Buffalo Bills following the 2012 draft, Powell played at Florida State. His last year at FSU was my first on the beat there.

When it comes to directional punting, that's certainly something he knows how to do, even as eccentric as his directional style may be to NFL punting traditionalists. Since college, Powell has worked the rugby style of kicking into his repertoire. Back then, he was pretty good at it.

"Coach Darrin told us [the five punters who tried out Tuesday] when we went out there that we're strictly a directional team," Powell said. "That actually benefits me being with Bruce DeHaven my rookie year in Buffalo. He wanted it out of bounds or on the sideline."

Powell, who beat out Chris Kluwe and Drew Butler among others, said he honed his rugby style of punting in college in an effort to send "line-drive missiles" that will hit the ground and roll down the sidelines. He figured the harder he hit the ball toward the corners, the more difficult it was for a returner to decide whether or not he wanted to pick up the ball and go, or to let it go out of bounds. That's typically where having a coverage team full of fast, athletic players would help.

The Bengals certainly have that type of crew. Coupled with Huber's high hang time, his propensity for kicking long, and the Bengals' quick cover team, Cincinnati had the league's fifth-best net punting average across the first 14 weeks of the season. Before Sunday's game at Pittsburgh, the Bengals had been averaging 41.64 net yards per punt. All of that said, though, the second-year punter didn't do much of the rugby kick while in Buffalo parts of the last two seasons. It's not promised that he'll do them that often in Cincinnati, either.

Hang time -- on his non-rugby style punts -- is something Powell has been working a lot on the last two months since his Oct. 4 release from the Bills. He also has been working on the mental side of punting. His goal has been to avoid letting one bad kick turn into another and another and another.

"One thing I learned is: 'You're only as good as your last punt,'" Powell said. "I'm just teaching myself that if you have a bad punt, let's get it over with. Go out the next time and have a good punt.

"I don't like being on the outside looking in. I like being on the inside and hopefully I finish strong for the Bengals and hopefully another opportunity will arise."

Huber's presence certainly will be missed, but the Bengals ought to quite satisfied with the replacement they signed.

Terence Garvin likely to be fined by NFL

December, 16, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- After watching countless replays of Terence Garvin's crushing block on Bengals punter Kevin Huber, I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Steelers linebacker will be fined by the NFL.

That is not to say there isn’t some gray on the play in which Antonio Brown scored on a 67-yard punt return.

Garvin lined up Huber in the chest before hitting him and appeared to make a good, if ferocious, block. But when Garvin finished his block the crown of his helmet hit Huber’s chin, leaving the latter with a broken jaw and a serious neck injury, according to ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen.

Punters are not protected from hits if they try to make a tackle as Huber clearly did. But they are afforded the same protection as other players who are deemed defenseless and cannot be hit above the shoulders.

It is close as to whether Garvin violated that rule or simply made a textbook block on a player who probably should have been more aware of where he was on the field -- or what position he put himself in when he gave chase to Brown.

But a league that has made improving player safety a top priority is going to err on the side of caution, which is why Garvin should expect some mail from the NFL this week.

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 15

December, 16, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 30-20 win against the Cincinnati Bengals:

[+] EnlargeAntonio Brown
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarThrough 14 games this season, Antonio Brown is averaging 13.8 yards per reception for the Steelers.
Roethlisberger, Brown shine again: And then there were two. The Steelers' MVP award, which the players will vote on shortly, is down to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger continues to have the finest statistical season of his career, already establishing a new Steelers record for completions in a season (340). Roethlisberger, who completed 80 percent of his passes against the Bengals, needs 414 passing yards in the final two games to break the Steelers' single-season record, which he holds. Brown, meanwhile, became the first player in the NFL since 2001 with at least five catches and 50 receiving yards in each of his team's first 14 games, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The fourth-year veteran also joined Hines Ward as the only players in Steelers history to catch at least 95 passes in a season. Flip a coin between Roethlisberger and Brown, who won the Steelers' MVP award in 2011. It is that close between the two players.

Was it legal? Brown gave the Steelers a commanding three-touchdown lead with his 67-yard punt return near the end of the first quarter, and a devastating block by rookie linebacker Terence Garvin helped spring him. Garvin demolished Kevin Huber with a block that left the Bengals punter with a fractured jaw, and the NFL will determine whether the blindside hit violated the rule on crack-back blocks that it instituted in 2009, a season after Ward broke Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers' jaw with a block that happened behind the play. Garvin did not get flagged on the play, and he said the block was a legal one. "I thought I hit him pretty square, right in his chest. Nobody said anything to me about it," Garvin said. "I saw AB about to break and I really just wanted to finish up and help him get all the way out."

A different look: Garvin, who made the Steelers as an undrafted free agent, has worked his way into the Steelers' nickel defense. Garvin, who played safety at West Virginia, replaced Vince Williams when the Steelers went to their nickel package against the Bengals. The Steelers used the nickel extensively against Cincinnati, allowing Troy Polamalu to play safety more than he has in recent games. "My shoulders are pretty fresh," Polamalu said after he recorded five tackles and forced a fumble. The Steelers sustained a couple of injuries on defense, most notable a calf injury that sidelined outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley early in the game. Woodley missed three games earlier this season with a calf injury. The seventh-year veteran hurt his other calf against the Bengals. Cornerback Ike Taylor sustained a rib injury, but he said after the game that he is fine.

Big Ben blitzes Bengals: The offensive line allowed just one sack, and gave Roethlisberger enough time to pick apart the Bengals when they didn't blitz him. Roethlisberger completed 17 of 20 passes when the Bengals rushed four or fewer players, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Andy Dalton, by comparison, completed just 14 of 28 passes when the Steelers didn't blitz the Bengals quarterback. The one thing that didn't sit well with Roethlisberger after he improved to 14-6 lifetime against the Bengals: The Steelers had to settle for three Shaun Suisham field goals, including twice after they had driven inside Cincinnati's 10-yard line. "I'm disappointed because I thought we could have been better in the red zone," Roethlisberger said. "We could have put seven points on the board a couple of times."

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 15

December, 16, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 30-20 loss to the Steelers:

Huber's hit: On Cincinnati's final punt of the opening period, Bengals punter Kevin Huber was blindsided by Pittsburgh's Terence Garvin on a hit that left the kicker motionless on the ground a few moments, and that ultimately led him to have his jaw wired shut before he left Pittsburgh. On the play the NFL is expected to review this week, Huber broke his jaw, and likely ended his season. After the game, Bengals kicker Mike Nugent, who relieved Huber and punted for the first time since high school, said he was saddened by the sight of the hit.

Slow start hurts run: That tackle wasn't the only thing that went wrong for Huber on Sunday night. During his first punt attempt of the game, he fumbled a wide snap near his own end zone and had nowhere to run as the Steelers gave chase. He didn't even have time to recover and get off an emergency rugby kick or sprint to the back of the end zone for a safety. Instead, he was tackled into the end zone and downed at the 1-yard line. A play later, the Steelers scored their first touchdown of the game. It was the first of three hiccups on special teams that had a hand in a 21-0 deficit the Bengals had a tough time climbing out from. The hole was so deep that Cincinnati really couldn't run the ball like it had hoped, and was forced to go to the air to try to quickly make up yards and scores. After going beyond the 150-yard rushing mark the previous two games, the Bengals were held to just 57 yards on the ground against Pittsburgh. Had they been able to run a little more regularly, they may have had a more balanced offensive attack, similar to the one they showed against San Diego and Indianapolis.

Dink, dunk, win: Eventually, the Bengals were able to get their passing game going, and they did so by throwing a lot of short underneath routes to receivers. Slants and screens were key components in their comeback bid that brought the wide early deficit to within a two-point conversion of being a one-score game with nearly six minutes remaining in the game. The dink-and-dunk style of passing was ripped from the Steelers' playbook. That's precisely the way they moved the ball on a Bengals defense that simply wasn't getting pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and was back on its heels often in the play-action and short-route game. Roethlisberger was 20-for-25 for 191 yards overall. Half of his passes came on balls that traveled 10 yards or fewer in the air. He was 10-for-14 on such passes.

Miscues abound for defense: The Bengals believe one of the reasons Roethlisberger had that type of success was because they dealt with occasional bouts of miscommunication. Defensive end Michael Johnson said that was the case on a few plays, including the 12-yard touchdown pass Roethlisberger completed to Antonio Brown in the first quarter. On that play, only two Bengals rushed the passer and nine dropped in coverage. Johnson intimated that there should have been more rushers. Along with those communication issues, the Bengals also missed several tackles. They weren't happy with those, particularly after spending the week trying to correct more tackling issues that cropped up against the Colts last week.

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

December, 15, 2013

PITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 30-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

What it means: Much of the Bengals' focus this season had to do with proving themselves to the rest of the football universe. As a team that has spent much of its history in the lower tier of the AFC, the Bengals entered this season with the belief that many others doubt them, and they even carried that thought with them into this week when a third straight postseason berth was on the line. But in actuality, there were few who doubted the Bengals this past week. There was an overwhelming belief by pundits that they might actually be a force once the postseason began. When the New England Patriots lost to the Miami Dolphins earlier in the day, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Cincinnati would win and retain the No. 2 seeding the Patriots' loss was about to give them. All the Bengals had to do was win. But that didn't happen. They didn't even show up at Heinz Field, and now, like before, the Bengals still have to rely on help from others in order to script their postseason story. With a win, they would have fully controlled their fate.

Stock watch: Offensive line -- falling. Cincinnati's offensive line has been rather solid all season, consistently ranking among the best in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. The group didn't look quite as strong Sunday, as the Steelers were getting consistent pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton. Most of the pressure came in the first two quarters. It eased a bit in the second half as Pittsburgh was trying to protect the lead and wasn't rushing Dalton quite as regularly. What also helped Dalton was the fact he and his receivers became more committed to running quick-strike screen and slant routes that didn't give the pass rush much time to develop. The early pressure led to Dalton being sacked in the first half for the first time since Nov. 10 at Baltimore. It was the only sack the Bengals' line allowed.

Injuries pile up: Injuries have ravaged the Bengals all year, and they hit them even harder in this game. With Dre Kirkpatrick starting at cornerback in place of veteran Terence Newman, the Bengals already were down one of their top defenders. Late in the first half, though, they also lost linebacker James Harrison. The former Steeler was run from the game with a concussion in the same quarter that Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber left with a fractured jaw.

Green short of 100: Bengals receiver A.J. Green was seven yards short of 100. He hasn't gone beyond the 100-yard mark since that same Nov. 10 game when Dalton was previously sacked. He had a chance to do that on the Bengals' last drive, though, but he didn't catch up to a Dalton deep pass.

What's next? The Bengals will try to get back on track next weekend when they return home and host the Minnesota Vikings in the first of two regular-season games left at Paul Brown Stadium. Minnesota blew past Philadelphia on Sunday, 48-30.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 13

December, 2, 2013
SAN DIEGO -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 17-10 win over the Chargers:

Dalton's second half: Paced by a running game that rediscovered itself in the second half, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had his own resurgence of sorts in the final 30 minutes of Sunday's game. After stumbling to a 5-for-10, 41-yard, 21.2-passer rating performance through the first half, he bounced back in the second, completing nine of his final 13 passes and connecting with receivers for 149 yards. He also threw a key third-quarter touchdown and didn't turn the ball over, helping push his end-of-game passer rating to 83.6 -- his highest in five games. His 44.4 QBR also was his best since his career-high 98.9 that came in Cincinnati's 49-9 win over the New York Jets in Week 9. Part of what helped Dalton amass those final numbers was the Bengals' decision to recommit themselves to the run in the last two quarters. Cincinnati rushed for more than 150 yards (164) for the first time since its Week 7 win at Buffalo.

Huber's (healed) left leg: Wednesday, punter Kevin Huber sent a chill through the Bengals' fan base when he appeared on the injury report for the first time this season. He barely practiced the rest of the week after being limited for part of the week by an injury to his left ankle. He kicks with his left leg. Apparently it wasn't feeling too badly. Huber had four punts in the game and sent them an average of 55.5 yards from the line of scrimmage. The first two, 75- and 56-yard blasts, set the tone early. He routinely flipped field position in the game, even pushing the Chargers up against their own goal line with his first one. That subsequent series resulted in San Diego's own need to punt. With the ball in decent field position, the Bengals drove 67 yards for a touchdown on their following possession.

Quiet secondary: It was easy to praise Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict for his strong 13-tackle, play-through-an-injury performance, but he wasn't the only one on the back end of Cincinnati's defense who had a big day. Linebacker Rey Maualuga, who was returning from his own lengthy knee injury, finished with 10 tackles, including a sack. Although he was beaten a couple of times on passes across the middle, he was a run-stopper much of the day, helping plug his share of holes. Along with their linebacker play, the Bengals also had quietly good performances from defensive backs George Iloka and Reggie Nelson, who each forced fumbles. Iloka's ended up preceding the Bengals' final possession of the game -- a nearly five-minute drive that included four first downs and ended with back-to-back kneel-downs.

Winning without Gresham: For the first time this year, the Bengals won a game in which tight end Jermaine Gresham didn't catch a pass. The only other time they even had a game in which Gresham went reception-less, they lost to the Baltimore Ravens. It wasn't as if Cincinnati was trying to completely avoid Gresham, though. He was targeted twice. Since a clear emphasis was being placed on the running game, Gresham ended up factoring in that department instead, helping open holes along the edges for running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard to run right through.
CINCINNATI -- The NFL's leading tackler could be missing in action this weekend due to an injury he suffered in practice Friday afternoon.

Vontaze Burfict, the Cincinnati Bengals' fiery defensive playmaker, suffered an ankle injury during the team's final walkthrough of the week. As a result of the tweak, he was limited in the workout and was listed as questionable on the subsequent injury report the Bengals provided.

Burfict entered the week leading the league in tackles with 118. In Cincinnati's previous game two weeks ago, he was arguably the defensive MVP, coming away with a game-high 15 tackles and forcing a fumble and recovering it for a touchdown.

The second-year player out of Arizona State has been the Bengals' starting Will linebacker all season. It has been his responsibility much of the year to make most of the defensive line play calls and to help set the rest of the defense on individual plays. His value has been tremendous in what should be a Pro Bowl year.

If the Bengals had to pick a time when they would rather he miss a game, though, now would be it. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is returning this week from a knee injury suffered at the end of October, and backup Vincent Rey has been playing some of the best football on the team in the plast three weeks filling in for Maualuga. Rey likely would be moved into Burfict's spot if any changes have to be made to the lineup.

That being said, though, there still is a strong chance that no lineup changes will be necessary. Burfict has played through minor injuries all season, often remaining in ballgames after previously coming off the field due to rather hard shots that have been related to his comparatively reckless play.

Put it this way: it might take an executive order to keep Burfict from playing later this weekend.

Had it not been for the Friday injury, the Bengals would have been true to coach Marvin Lewis' prognostication earlier this week, and come into their important AFC game this weekend operating quite close to full strength. They would have, at worst, been one player shy of it.

Of course, "full strength" is a relative term for a team that has dealt with four key season-ending injuries throughout the year. Among the players the Bengals do currently have, this is the healthiest they have been in several weeks.

Only right offensive guard Kevin Zeitler missed Friday's late-morning walkthrough. He was listed as out with a foot injury on the Friday injury report. It means Mike Pollak will be making his second consecutive start Sunday afternoon. In Cincinnati's 41-20 win over the Cleveland Browns in the Bengals' previous game two weeks ago, Pollak started for the first time since 2011.

In addition to Burfict and Zeitler, six other players were listed as probable on the injury report. Two of them -- Maualuga and defensive tackle Devon Still -- are coming back from injuries that forced them to miss all of November and part of October. Punter Kevin Huber also was among the probables. Despite practicing in a limited capacity Friday, he is expected to play Sunday, as well.

Here is the complete Bengals injury report for Friday:

OG Kevin Zeitler (foot)

LB Vontaze Burfict (ankle)

LB Michael Boley (shoulder)
S Chris Crocker (hamstring)
P Kevin Huber (left ankle)
LB Rey Maualuga (knee)
DT Devon Still (elbow)
WR Brandon Tate (ankle; did not practice)