NFL Nation: Mike Nugent

CLEVELAND -- Mike Nugent just had to get a few kicks off his toe.

Last Wednesday, while his teammates went home after a long day of practice, meetings and treatment, the Cincinnati Bengals kicker was on the field inside Paul Brown Stadium, joined by his wife, his brother and his sister-in-law.

With the sun down, team president Mike Brown had requested the lights to the stadium be turned on at Nugent's behest.

For the first time since dealing with the unexpected death of his father, the kicker simply had to do what he does best: blasting footballs into the sky.

Daniel Nugent was 66.

"Most of it was just me thinking, 'I need to hit 20 to 30 balls, just to get some in,'" Mike Nugent, a Centerville, Ohio, native said Sunday afternoon following the Bengals' 30-0 road win over the Cleveland Browns. "At the end of the day, the kicker's the closer. We need to get points if we don't get the ball in the end zone. I didn't want to kick [last] Sunday vs. Pittsburgh and not again until [this Sunday].

"It's a lot for me to get out there and kick some balls, but I also wanted my coaches to know, 'Hey, I'm still playing. Everything's going to be fine.'"

Everything was.

In addition to the Bengals' physical play on defense and their trouncing on offense, Mike Nugent was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts. Since his 36-yard miss at the end of overtime 10 games ago, he hasn't missed. He's now 11-for-11 since his wide-right kick ended the Panthers game in a 37-all tie.

Of everything Mike Nugent heard following the miss, nothing had as much impact as the 14 words he heard from his father.

"Hey, you have been down before," Daniel Nugent told his son. "The next kick is the one that matters."

Daniel Nugent played college ball at Wisconsin and Dayton. His son played at Ohio State before embarking on a 10-year professional career that has taken him to four NFL cities, including the one closest to home. A Bengal since 2010, Mike Nugent has been playing less than an hour from where he grew up. He spent Monday and Tuesday with his family before his late-night kicking session Wednesday.

Mike Nugent didn't practice with the Bengals all week, returning home for a five-and-a-half-hour visitation ceremony for his father Thursday. The funeral was Friday.

"People are incredible and my coach has been, too," Nugent said. "The Cincinnati organization has been unbelievable this week in letting me be with my family."

Special-teams coordinator Darrin Simmons waited until the end of the game, after Nugent's final kickoff with about 20 seconds remaining, to show him a picture of Daniel Nugent that he had alongside his play-calling sheets.

There was more heartache for the Bengals early in the week. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's father also died.

"We haven't ever done much as far as giving out a game ball, but Mike Nugent got one," head coach Marvin Lewis said. "We all had to put our arms around each other and come out here. We knew how important it was and how much our loved ones that we lost would want this game to be for them. That meant the most to everybody."
CLEVELAND -- This one was for the nationally televised embarrassment at Paul Brown Stadium last month.

It was for all the reporters and talking heads who spent more time this week talking about Johnny Manziel and a host of comments involving him -- both controversial and not -- than the men charged to defend him.

It was for the Nugent family, and the Jackson one, too.

It was for the playoffs.

While the rest of the NFL spent the past seven days discussing the various ways the Cleveland Browns might be motivated to beat their bitter rivals to the south, very little was said about what might be driving the Cincinnati Bengals as they sought a key late-season AFC North victory.

Turns out, they had a lot more boiling underneath the surface than was initially apparent.

Playing loose, yet aggressive and with the exact physicality that long has been a hallmark of play in the AFC North, the Bengals exacted revenge, silenced critics and maintained a slim division lead. In their most complete win of the season, a 30-0 road blowout, it was evident how downright dominant they can be.

Credit a meeting in Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's office for making it possible.

A day after they had been informed Jackson's father died, running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill were called into the coach's office Wednesday. He told them he was changing up the running back rotation. Bernard was no longer the starter. The second-year rusher was being replaced by the bigger, slightly more physical Hill.

The rookie didn't disappoint.

"Once Hue let me know what my role was going to be and how much the team was going to depend on me this week, I really took it on myself to really embellish that and really take that in and really just take advantage of it," Hill said. "I knew we were going to have to run the football to be successful."

The Bengals ran 45 times for 244 yards in a performance that mimicked the Brown's 52-carry performance in a 24-3 win against the Bengals on a Thursday night in Cincinnati last month. Hill was the bell cow Sunday, gaining 148 yards on 25 carries. The game's first drive was marked by his six carries, including a 2-yard touchdown run.

"The defense fed off that," offensive guard Kevin Zeitler said.

Cincinnati forced a three-and-out on the Browns' ensuing possession. The one after that, Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry got quickly in the backfield and brought down Manziel for the first of many stops on the rookie quarterback behind the line of scrimmage. In his first career start, Manziel had trouble avoiding striped helmets.

"This ain't college. This is the NFL," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "You don't have college kids chasing you. You've got some grown men that have kids and who are out here trying to feed their families. It's a lot faster than college."

Along with their solid offensive and defensive performance, the Bengals also got a perfect 3-for-3 day from kicker Mike Nugent, who was given the game ball. The 10-year veteran played for the first time since the sudden death of his father, Daniel, last Monday.

As the Bengals prepare for a Monday night matchup with Denver, it's important they hold on to their identity as a truly physical football team. It simply is who they must be.
Way back in 1996, when Adam Vinatieri entered the NFL, a practice session for kickers was a relative breeze. It included an attempt or two in the 20-yard range, a few in the 30's and 40's and -- if the coach was feeling frisky -- a moonshot from beyond 50 yards.

This summer, on a day I visited with Vinatieri at the Indianapolis Colts' training camp, things were a bit different.

"If I were to go back and look at all of my camp distances," Vinatieri said, "I bet I'd find only a couple that were in the 30's. Right away, we jump back to 40-plus and work back. If I have seven kicks, three of them will be from beyond 50. We'll have one from 50, one from 55 and yesterday I hit one from 60. It was 50, 55 and 60 versus the days of hitting 30-yarders. You have to be able to hit that long ball to play in this league now."

Football has transformed during Vinatieri's 18-year career, and not just in the explosive rise of passing offense. There has also been a dramatic rise in kicking accuracy, especially from long distances. As recently as five years ago, 50-plus yard attempts were a 50-50 proposition. In 2013, NFL place-kickers converted 67.1 percent of them, and the rate has risen to nearly 72 percent during the first quarter of 2014.

In other words, place-kickers are converting 50-yard attempts at a higher rate than quarterbacks are completing passes.

"Even 10 years ago, a 50-yarder was a very big deal," Cincinnati Bengals place-kicker Mike Nugent said. "A guy would hit a 50-yarder and it was like, 'Oh my gosh, that's a big thing.' ... But now, you just expect it. The 50-yarder isn't, 'I hope it goes in.' It's more expected now."

Go back to 1996, when Vinatieri was beginning his career with the New England Patriots. That season, the 30-team NFL attempted a combined 58 field goals from 50 yards or beyond. This season, the league's 32 teams have set a pace to nearly triple that figure; through four weeks, they have already attempted 32 from at least 50 yards.

OK, so we know the situation. Place-kickers are far more accurate, and coaches much more confident, from distances once considered bleak. Now, let's start the process of understanding why.

As part of my summer camp tour, I quizzed kickers about how their profession got so good so fast. Why is the NFL scrambling for ways to make it more difficult, via longer extra points? And why did a Super Bowl-winning coach get rewarded for playing for a 61-yard game-winning field goal last season? (See Harbaugh, John, Week 15 of the Baltimore Ravens' 2013 season.)

Theories revolved around three areas: Youth emphasis, honed techniques and physical growth. We're not going to author the definitive study on this evolution today, but let's at least take a quick sample of each idea:
  • Colts punter/kicker Pat McAfee: "A big thing now is that you get a chance to go to the kicking camps that happen across the globe. Parents are sending their kids to them because there's less danger [kicking rather than playing another position] and there's a chance of getting a scholarship. So you have people trying to get into these positions. Whenever you have kids starting earlier, working harder, younger, you're going to get better."
  • Crosby
    Green Bay Packers place-kicker Mason Crosby: "It comes down to specialized training. When I first started kicking, it was just kind of line up, get in a spot you feel comfortable in, maybe watch what some of the guys did in the NFL or college. But now it's like golf. Everyone is a little bit different and you have to kind of own that, but guys are realizing that they need to repeat the same thing every time. Take your steps back, your steps over and be in a position that is repeatable every time. Every time you get in your set up, you must feel comfortable that you're going to execute my kick."
  • Nugent: "It's funny. I could attribute it to the same thing we talk about with other positions. What's a nose tackle today compared to a nose tackle in, say, the '80s? He's bigger and stronger. That's across the board."

Where will this take the game? Can the 60-plus-yard kick, attempted four times last season and eight in 2012, become the new 50? Rules returning the ball to opponents at the spot of a kick following a miss might discourage coaches, but accuracy over time could shift convention.

"Everything is moving back," McAfee said. "It used to be that a 40-yarder was a long one. Now, if you're missing 40-yarders, you're not even in the Arena League. So with more practice and more technique perfection, it could happen."

At this rate, of course, we'll be asking in a few years if 70 could be the new 60.

Undefeated Bengals notice empty seats

September, 23, 2014
CINCINNATI -- When ESPN's NFL Power Rankings come out later Tuesday afternoon, there's a strong chance the Cincinnati Bengals will be among the top two teams.

They opened Week 3 of the 2006 season at No. 2, but that's as high as they have ever been ranked. And even if the Bengals fail to claim the top spot, there is no disputing the fact they are among the strongest teams in the NFL right now.

[+] EnlargeReggie Nelson
Aaron Doster/USA TODAY SportsNumerous open seats can be spotted during the Bengals' Week 3 home game against the Titans at Paul Brown Stadium.
But as good as the Bengals have been so far, on the surface, they don't seem to be getting the respect locally that they're starting to receive nationally. Empty seats have filled the upper reaches of Paul Brown Stadium the past two weeks, leaving the Bengals some 10,000 patrons shy of having sold out each of those games. The 65,500-seat stadium has had attendance figures of 58,574 and 56,743.

For a team that has gotten off to the start the Bengals have, the sight has been disheartening.

"We definitely notice it," receiver Marvin Jones said. "We're doing stuff right now to change that. That's on them. We're doing our job on our end."

Not only are the Bengals winning games, but they are doing so in convincing fashion. Cincinnati is scoring 26.7 points per game this season while its opponents are averaging just 11.0. The Falcons and Ravens, the first two teams the Bengals beat, have collected rather impressive wins in the wake of their respective losses to the Bengals. Atlanta last Thursday pounded Tampa Bay, 56-14.

The Bengals beat the Falcons 24-10, and could have had a more lopsided victory had kicker Mike Nugent's made his three missed field goals.

Optimism nationwide is high for the Bengals. In an poll after Sunday's 33-7 win against Tennessee, nearly 150,000 weighed in with their opinions about whether the Bengals are a legit Super Bowl contender. While just 48 percent said "yes," that's a higher number than most would anticipate. Remember, this also is a franchise that has come off three straight seasons of teasing its fans with a first-round playoff exit.

Closer examination of the poll showed -- perhaps unsurprisingly -- that the most optimism comes from Ohio and the states that border it. West Virginians and Kentuckians share the opinions of Buckeye Staters. Indianans are split 50-50, and football fans in Georgia apparently thought the Week 2 win against Atlanta showed how good the Bengals are. They, too, see the Bengals as a legit Super Bowl team.

So why doesn't it seem the local online optimism is manifesting itself in the stands on game day?

"You hear so much in the media about how the owners and the stadiums are really having to compete with DirecTV and everybody sitting at home watching TV," Bengals kicker Mike Nugent said. "It's easier to go to the restroom, it's easier to get a drink out of the fridge [at home]."

Those have been among the chief concerns Bengals fans have had in recent seasons. To address them, the club this offseason came up with a fan-experience strategy that was headlined by improvements to in-stadium wireless. The hope is to allow fans better bandwith to stream video and chat on social media, so they can have a home experience at the game.

Ticket prices also are concerning for fans. But Bengals tickets remain among the cheapest in the league.

According to secondary ticket site SeatGeek, the Bengals have the seventh-cheapest ticket, averaging $83 this season. That's $40 lower than the league average.

ESPN The Magazine also recently ranked the franchise as having the 15th-best bang for fans' buck in all of professional sports. The team was ranked fifth in that same survey among NFL franchises. The "bang for the buck" metric weighed wins during the past three seasons per revenue generated from fans.

While Bengals players have noticed the empty seats, they're growing weary of discussing the issue.

"Honestly, any other year I'd probably sit here and complain about it or whine about it, but this football team is so focused on winning," veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said last week, amid threats of a blackout. "We set out at the beginning of the year with the goal of trying to win the Super Bowl, and that's the only thing we really care about. I can honestly say that about this team. We don't care. We want to play and we want the people that want to be here to watch us play."
CINCINNATI -- It was an uncharacteristic day for Cincinnati Bengals kicker Mike Nugent.


He had never missed three field goals in a game before Sunday's sudden case of the shanks and hooks. Not in the 109 previous NFL games he played had he been that inaccurate. Not in the four years he spent at Ohio State, either.

Plain and simple, Nugent's misses don't come in the bunches that they came in during the Bengals' 24-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. His coach, Marvin Lewis, knows that and made it known that he still believes in his veteran kicker.

"I know he'll be better next time out," Lewis said. "That's the one good thing about Mike. He's such a pro."

Despite the missed kicks, the Bengals still beat the Falcons convincingly.

Lewis was asked if he knew what contributed to Nugent's poor performance. The coach said he didn't know. Nugent, who normally speaks with reporters after every game, good, bad or otherwise, wasn't in the locker room when the media was allowed in Sunday.

Wind didn't appear to be a factor. For most of the day winds never reached double-digit miles per hour.

Perhaps, it was just simply one of those days that players can sometimes go through; days when it seems like nothing goes the way it's supposed to.

In addition to missing on the three field goals, Nugent also seemed to struggle on kickoffs. The plan, naturally, was to prevent electric Falcons return man Devin Hester from even touching the football. That wasn't the way the day worked out for Nugent and Cincinnati's coverage team.

Hester was able to field each of Nugent's four kickoffs, catching them in the end zone, not far from the goal line. Hester returned each of them, making at least one coverage-teams player miss on every return. Hester, who exchanged words via reporters earlier in the week with Bengals cornerback and punt returner Adam Jones about which of them was the better returner, averaged 29.5 yards on the four returns. His longest was for 36 yards.

With respect to the missed kicks, Nugent missed from 38, 49 and 55 yards. The second miss took a bizarre sharp angle left of the goal posts after first appearing to go straight through off Nugent's right foot. The third field goal try fell just short and to the left of the uprights.

Nugent's only make was a 31-yard attempt; his first of the game.

While the kicker had never missed three in one game in his career, he has missed two kicks in a game six times. He also missed two kicks in two games in college.

Last week, Nugent was remarkably better, nailing five of the six field goal attempts. The one miss was a blocked kick. Blocks aside, Lewis is confident the Week 1 Nugent will emerge when Cincinnati hosts Tennessee next Sunday.

"We lived a bad day," Lewis said, "and next time out I can count on him like we did a week ago."

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

September, 14, 2014
CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 24-10 win against the Atlanta Falcons at Paul Brown Stadium:

What it means: Sunday's win should have sent a strong message to the rest of the league. That message? That even after having to replace both their coordinators, the Bengals still have a smooth and fluid offense and the same intimidating defense that ended last season ranked third in the NFL. After placing fifth in ESPN's Power Rankings last week, the Bengals certainly proved in this win that they deserve to be considered a top-five team at this early stage of the season. The only problem with Sunday's 14-point victory was that it may have come at a price. The Bengals were attacked by a vicious injury bug during the game as five players, including Pro Bowlers A.J. Green and Vontaze Burfict, were lost with varying ailments. It was the second straight game Burfict left early.

Stock watch: One week after going 5-for-6 on field goals (one was blocked), Bengals kicker Mike Nugent trended in the opposite direction against the Falcons when he made just one of the four field goal attempts he had. Like his first five at Baltimore, all four of Nugent's attempts Sunday came in the first half. The second miss, a 49-yard try, looked the worst. After appearing to be good off Nugent's foot, the ball knuckled at the last second and glided left of the goalposts. His next attempt, a 55-yarder in the final second of the second quarter, fell just short. Nugent's kickoffs weren't any better. All four were just short enough in the end zone that Atlanta's electric return man Devin Hester was able to bring them out. Hester, who had been in a war of words with Bengals punt returner Adam Jones over their return skills earlier in the week, averaged 29.5 yards on the four kick returns he had. His longest was 36 yards.

Run-game revival: After being held to just 79 yards rushing last week, the Bengals performed better on the ground in Week 2. Combined, they rushed for 170 yards, with second-year back Giovani Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill leading the way. The pair combined for 67 yards on 18 carries against the Ravens in the opener. This week, they had all but six of the Bengals' yards. Quarterback Andy Dalton, who didn't run any read-option this week, had those other six.

Game ball: Receiver Mohamed Sanu gets this week's game ball after factoring in both the Bengals' passing and receiving game. He caught three passes for 84 yards, including a touchdown and completed a 50-yard pass to receiver Brandon Tate. The pass came on the first play of the Bengals' second drive and set a tone about how well the offense could operate. The Bengals came up dry on the drive, though, as Nugent missed his first field goal at its conclusion.

What's next? Cincinnati will be back in action next week when it hosts Tennessee in an important pre-bye week contest. One week after the Titans come to Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals are off. This will be the Bengals' first meeting with an AFC South team this season, the division that had the lowest combined winning percentage in the league last year. The timing of the bye might be good for the Bengals considering all the injuries they picked up against the Falcons.
An examination of what the Cincinnati Bengals must do after their win against the Baltimore Ravens:

There are any number of avenues I could take when outlining what the Bengals need to improve upon this week as they get ready for the Atlanta Falcons. Even though they looked good in Sunday's impressive and gutty come-from-behind 23-16 win, there still were a few areas where the Bengals struggled in the season opener. Let's name a few.

As some players mentioned after the game, there is a slight conditioning issue -- one that they really can't get around right now. It's still warm all over the country as "football weather" hasn't quite arrived. Not to mention, Week 1 is always sluggish for starters who might have been lucky to play a half of football during any one of the preseason games. Suddenly, playing a full 60 minutes can be taxing.

Aside from the conditioning issue, we also saw the Bengals miss a few tackles, miss key blocks in the running game, fail to produce an adequate running game, give up eight third-down conversions on defense, and of course, fail to finish the many promising drives that stalled inside the Ravens' 30, resulting in five field goals for Mike Nugent.

Each of those fixes needs to be made when the Falcons come to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, but so does this one: The Bengals need to work on the pass rush from their defensive line and bring it to life.

Statistics aside, it was evident that apart from the final drive of the game, the Bengals weren't getting very good pressure from their defensive line. Most of the times they harassed Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, they did so by sending safeties and linebackers on blitzes. Even the game-sealing sack on Baltimore's last-minute fourth down was sparked by a defensive back's rush. Defensive end Wallace Gilberry might have been credited with half the stop, but when safety Reggie Nelson came through, too, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had nowhere to run and no time to pass.

Consider this: Flacco passed for 345 yards and one touchdown on his 62 passing attempts Sunday. According to ESPN Stats & Information, when he was blitzed -- which occurred on 19 dropbacks -- Flacco was 9-for-17 passing for just 77 yards and an interception. Clearly, the blitzing paid off.

When the Bengals didn't send pressure from the second and third levels and relied on their up-front pass rush, they allowed Flacco to connect with receivers for 268 yards, including the 80-yard touchdown pass that gave them a brief lead late. Flacco's passer rating was more than 40 points higher (82.5) when just the standard rush was sent compared to when the Bengals blitzed (40.6).

One final reason why defensive-line pressure will be important this week when the Falcons come to town? Because Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was stellar Sunday, too, when he didn't get blitzed. He was 24-for-30 with 362 yards and two touchdowns when the Saints sent a standard rush in the Falcons' overtime win. On the 13 dropbacks in which he was blitzed, Ryan still was good (7-for-12, 86 yards), but he wasn't quite as effective.

Franchise/transition tags: Bengals

February, 17, 2014
CINCINNATI -- Franchise tags played key roles in structuring the Cincinnati Bengals' roster the past two offseasons, but it's doubtful they will factor at all during this one.

For the first time since 2012, expect the Bengals to be inactive in the franchise/transition tag process that begins across the NFL on Monday. Teams are now able to begin labeling upcoming unrestricted free agents with the tags in an effort to keep them around while working on signing them to longer term contracts. If they wish, each team is allowed one franchise-tagged player per season and a transition-tagged player.

Franchise-tag contracts are designed to keep a player out of free agency on a season-by-season basis. Since the rate of compensation increases 120 percent each year the player is tagged, it's rare for teams to stretch the franchise-tag status across multiple seasons. The Cowboys and Browns were the last teams to have players with a second-year franchise status, signing players to franchise-tag deals in 2011 and 2012.

If the Bengals wanted to, they could do the same this offseason with 2013 franchise player Michael Johnson. But since the defensive end stands to make more than $13 million as a second-year franchise-tagged player in 2014, it's unlikely they would choose that path. The $13.4 million he would be owed next season would dramatically shrink the money pool the Bengals would have to sign other free agents before hitting the cap limit. According to ESPN's Roster Management System, the Bengals are currently sitting about $15 million shy of the cap limit for 2014.

So it's unlikely Johnson gets re-tagged. If he comes back next season, it would most likely be through a longer-term contract that still could end up paying him an annual salary comparable to what it would be if he were franchise-tagged. With that in mind, as much as the Bengals would like to retain the star lineman they drafted in 2009, it's clear he may be on his way out of Cincinnati.

The Bengals could extend franchise-tag status for the first time to offensive tackle Anthony Collins, but that's another unlikely scenario. Instead of paying the longtime backup nearly $10 million next season, they would be better served negotiating a longer-term deal, or also letting him walk to free cap space. Without Johnson and Collins on the books, the Bengals would be able to better negotiate other deals this year and start getting cash cleared in advance of signing 2015's crop of pricey free agents.

Next year's possible franchise-tag candidates include quarterback Andy Dalton, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, defensive tackle Domata Peko, linebackers James Harrison and Rey Maualuga and kicker Mike Nugent -- Cincinnati's 2012 franchise-tagged player -- among others.
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.

W2W4: Colts at Bengals

December, 7, 2013
CINCINNATI -- If you plan on watching Sunday's game between the Cincinnati Bengals andIndianapolis Colts game, prepare to be glued to your television set.

It should certainly be a riveting and entertaining afternoon.

Both teams are hungry not only for playoff spots but also desire elite playoff seedings. If the season were to end today, the Colts would waltz into the postseason with the No. 3 seed, hosting Baltimore. The Bengals would have the No. 4 seed and would welcome the Kansas City Chiefs to Cincinnati.

Since 3 is considered better than 4 with these types of things, I think you know which seed the teams want the most. A win and Cincinnati can snatch No. 3 from the Colts and retain a tiebreak in the event one is needed later on this season.

The postseason push alone is good enough reason to park yourself in front of this game. But add to the fact these teams are following similar paths with a pair of young quarterbacks and are equally desperate for Super Bowl bids, and you should get a tightly contested battle. Since the cities are so close -- Indianapolis is only about an hour and a half away from Cincinnati -- both teams' fan bases ought to be well represented in sold-out Paul Brown Stadium.

Are you pumped up? Are you ready for the game yet? As you keep psyching yourself up, take a look at these items to watch for Sunday:

Weather factor: Although the drive is a short one, the idea of traveling in a soggy, slushy wintry mix might not appeal to some Colts fans who leave home the morning of the game. All week, meteorologists have predicted harrowing conditions for the weekend that include anything from ice, freezing rain, sleet and snow. Any and all of it is scheduled to hit downtown Cincinnati around noon, one hour before kickoff. Fortunately for players on both teams, the Bengals play on forgiving field turf and shouldn't have the difficulty with footing as if they were playing on grass. Still, with a potentially slick, tough-to-throw ball, the elements won't be favorable and could cause both teams to reject the pass in an effort to move the ball on the ground.

Ground-and-pound? What a segue. Mother Nature may not be the only reason why the Bengals, at least, will be sticking with their running game. After putting up 164 yards rushing against San Diego last week in sunny, 70-degree weather, the Bengals learned that they do indeed have what it takes to run the ball and to execute a more balanced offensive scheme. Veteran rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis headed the attack, picking up 92 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Rookie Giovani Bernard contributed another 57 yards on 14 carries. It marked just the third time all year that Cincinnati had amassed more than 150 yards in a game. Since Andy Dalton became the starting quarterback three seasons ago, the Bengals are 8-1 in games in which they rush for more than 150 yards. As they go against the NFL's 29th-best rushing defense, expect the Bengals to pick up where they left off a week ago.

Fleeing Luck: Another strong segue. In addition to the running the Bengals' backs should be doing, look for Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to do his own share of tucking and going. Much like Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, Luck has a penchant for running for first downs when the pocket around him breaks down or his receivers aren't able to break away from the defenders covering them quickly enough. Among quarterbacks, he ranks seventh in the league with 304 yards rushing on his 48 carries. He's not merely an elusive quarterback trying to avoid getting hit, either. Of quarterbacks with more than 30 rushes this season, Luck ranks second in the league in yards after contact. No, it's not much, but he averages 1.56 yards after contact per run. Only Minnesota's Christian Ponder -- who comes to Cincinnati in two weeks -- has a higher average at 1.88 yards after contact per run. So in addition to respecting Luck's big arm, the Bengals have to acknowledge his feet, too.

Special teams key: Might as well close with one more solid segue. Speaking of feet, Bengals punter Kevin Huber has been among the most valuable players on the team this season. His net punting average of 41.56 yards per kick ranks fifth in the league and only one player has a longer punt than he does this season. Huber's 75-yarder in the first half of last week's game helped set the tone for a game that saw the Bengals enjoy great offensive and defensive field position. This week, Huber, Bengals kicker Mike Nugent and Indianapolis specialists Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee could also be victims of the treacherous weather. Colder temperatures mean harder balls. The harder they are, the tougher it is to get good distance on kicks. Getting good hangtime and proper angles will be of utmost importance to Huber and McAfee.

Midseason Report: Cincinnati Bengals

November, 6, 2013
The first half of the Cincinnati Bengals' season went about as well as anyone around the club could have imagined. The team has a 6-3 record with wins over the Packers, Patriots and Lions. They clearly were one of the NFL's top teams.

But now that the second half has officially begun for the Bengals (Thursday's 22-20 overtime loss at Miami was game No. 9), will they be able to return to the winning ways that defined the season's first two months? Or will they revert to their old losing ways?

Before the Bengals take on the Baltimore Ravens this weekend, we take a look at how they have fared so far in this position-by-position evaluation:


Locker Room Buzz: Cincinnati Bengals

November, 1, 2013
MIAMI -- Observed in the locker room after the Cincinnati Bengals' 22-20 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins:

Coach's call: Bengals kicker Mike Nugent said he wasn't disappointed with coach Marvin Lewis' decision to punt during the overtime period instead of going for a potential 57-yard game-winning field goal. Nugent had hit a 54-yarder with relative ease earlier in the game. "He's got to be thinking, 'If he misses the field goal, they get the ball at what? The [39]-yard line? ... As much as I wanted to be out there, at the end of the day, it's probably the right decision."

Newman's heady play: On the first play of their final drive of the overtime period, the Dolphins went long on a go-route that pitted receiver Mike Wallace versus Bengals corner Terence Newman. Wallace had Newman beaten, but the veteran defender dove at the last second, tripping Wallace to draw a pass-interference penalty. "We couldn't have the game end that way," Newman said. "I figured, as long as we get another chance to make some plays." The Bengals' defense held and kept Miami out of field-goal range.

Disappointment: As expected, there weren't many smiles in the Bengals' locker room. Several players, slow to change, conversed among themselves about how much the loss hurt. "It was a hell of a game," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. "It was a hard-fought game by both teams."
The New York Jets have been riding the mediocrity train for almost two years, having won back-to-back games only once in a 26-game span. Their record following a victory is 1-9, with an eye-opening average margin of defeat -- 17 points. Can't handle prosperity? That's an understatement. They're allergic to it.

They can change the perception Sunday in Cincinnati, where they meet the red-hot Bengals (5-2), who have won three straight. As Rex Ryan continues to tell his team, there's no league rule that prohibits winning two in a row. Pushing while trying to block a field goal? Yes. A winning streak? No.

Kickoff is 4:05 p.m. ET at Paul Brown Stadium. What to watch for:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith has yet to string together back-to-back wins this season.
1. Call him Geno (The Elevator) Smith: The Jets are up and down because their rookie quarterback is up and down. Geno Smith is 0-3 after wins, having played poorly in each game -- a total of one touchdown and seven interceptions in those contests. He was horrible in his two previous games against top-10 defenses (Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans), and the Bengals are ranked No. 9 in total defense. The Bengals had gone 20 straight games without allowing a 300-yard passer, the longest streak in the league, but they surrendered 357 last week to the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford. They won't have their top defensive back, cornerback Leon Hall (torn Achilles' tendon), who covered the slot on third down. That could mean another big day for Smith and wide reciever Jeremy Kerley, who was deadly last week in the slot.

Oh, by the way: Since 2008, under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, the Bengals are only 7-8 against rookie quarterbacks.

2. Battle for defensive-line bragging rights: This game features two of the better lines in the league. The Bengals' four-man front has combined for 12 sacks; the Jets' front (counting rush linebacker Quinton Coples) has 10.5. Bengals defensive tackleGeno Atkins is the most accomplished lineman among both teams. Since 2010, he has more sacks (24.5) than any interior lineman in the league. He'll be a huge challenge for the Jets' guards, Willie Colon and rookie Brian Winters. Truth be told, the Bengals pose problems across the board. Their ends, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, are tough assignments for Austin Howard and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, respectively. Ferguson is coming off a shaky performance.

At the same time, the Bengals won't have it easy with Muhammad Wilkerson & Co., but they got a preview two weeks ago when they beat the Buffalo Bills, who run almost the identical scheme as the Jets. Center Kyle Cook did such a good job of reading the Bills' fronts that he received a game ball. The Bengals refer to the Jets' defense as "Buffalo on steroids." That's a compliment, by the way.

3. A pair of two-headed monsters: The two teams share a similar philosophy in the backfield, each running the ground game through two players. Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory form a workmanlike tandem, steady if not spectacular (no runs longer than 27 yards). The Jets rode Ivory last week, but look for Powell to return to a prominent role. They need his cutback ability against the Bengals' aggressive front. The Jets are aware of a quote from Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who said: “They’re going to figure out probably in the first 15, 20 snaps that running’s going to be pretty hard against our front seven.”

The Bengals split the carries between BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard, a Darren Sproles type. The Bengals are a better offense when Bernard is on the field. They average 5.8 yards per play when he's in, 5.3 when he's out, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They've also been throwing to him more the last two weeks out of the backfield. He'll be a tough cover for the Jets.

4. Green vs. Green: The Jets have a lot of respect for Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Asked what advice he'd give cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who most likely will cover Green, coordinator Dennis Thurman said, "Get your hands on him and pray." This is an enormous game for Cromartie. If he can't contain Green, who has been targeted a league-high 77 times, the Jets have no shot. One out of every four throws to Green is a deep shot, so Cromartie had better stay awake. Green is third in receiving yards (619) and he has a hot quarterback, Andy Dalton, looking for this third straight 300-yard passing day.

Dalton has five players with at least 20 catches apiece, the kind of balance that will present issues for the Jets. Saferty Antonio Allen did a nice job last week on Rob Gronkowski, but this is Gronkowski times two. The Bengals use a lot of two-tight end packages with Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert, who sometimes lines up as a receiver in an isolation play. That could be a mismatch for a cornerback.

5. Special teams will be huge: Write it down. Both teams have a tendency to play close games, so field position and field-goal kicking will be vital. Who's hotter than Nick Folk? He's 16-for-16 in field goals, including three game winners. Former Jets place kicker Mike Nugent kicked the game winner last week in Detroit, so he has to be feeling good about himself. One thing about Nugent: He had no touchbacks in his last home game. His short leg on kickoffs could create some opportunities for new kick returner Josh Cribbs, who is familiar with the surroundings from his years with the Cleveland Browns. Oddly, Cribbs hasn't scored a touchdown of any kind in 18 career games against the Bengals.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 7

October, 21, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-24 win over the Detroit Lions:

[+] EnlargeA.J. Green
AP Photo/Paul SancyaA.J. Green caught six passes for 155 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's win over Detroit.
Green's day: As the Bengals' offense has become more diverse, forcing defenses to respect their bevy of playmaking threats, receiver A.J. Green has begun to benefit, too. For the second straight game, Green went for more than 100 yards receiving, catching six passes for 155 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's victory. His very first catch of the game was his lone touchdown reception, and it came on the Bengals' first drive as he put a double-move in single coverage on cornerback Chris Houston and ran by him. Wide open, he ended up sprinting under a pass and going 82 yards for the score. The catch was the 200th of his career, and later in the game he went over the 3,000-yard career mark.

Suh who? Statistically speaking, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh wasn't as big a factor as had been anticipated. One week after hounding Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden (including one hit that resulted in a fine), he was mostly kept away from Dalton. Suh recorded one fourth-quarter sack on the Bengals quarterback, and arguably, it was the Lions' biggest defensive play. On third down, the pocket collapsed as Suh and the rest of the Lions' defensive line went hard toward Dalton and got better penetration than they had the whole game. It resulted in Suh grabbing Dalton as he went by him, and bringing him down for the game's only sack for either team. The sack resulted in a Kevin Huber punt, which was downed with 1:43 remaining at the Lions' 6. Suh and Dalton entered the game with a bit of a history after Suh had body slammed the then-helmetless quarterback on a post-play hit during a preseason game in Cincinnati's last trip to Ford Field.

Third-down woes: Cincinnati's defense allowed the Lions to convert on 13 of 19 third downs. Ahead of Monday night's game between the Vikings and Giants, that was the league's worst conversion rate of the weekend. The Bengals also had one of the highest third-down play totals among defenses in the league to this point in the weekend. Only New England's defense faced more third-down plays (21). Miami also had 19. Players and coaches alike were adamant after the game about cleaning up the third-down issues, even though, with the game on the line on Detroit's last drive, the Bengals got a big stop when safety Reggie Nelson forced Matthew Stafford to throw an incomplete pass that led to a punt, which set up the game-winning field goal.

'Special' teams: Carlos Dunlap was set on getting his hands on the football during David Akers' late second-quarter field goal attempt. At another point this season, he had come close to a block but didn't get it. This time around, Dunlap got the big block for the Bengals, sparking a special-teams uprising. In addition to his block, the Bengals had key punts from Huber, and Mike Nugent's second straight game-winning field goal.

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

October, 20, 2013

DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-24 win over the Detroit Lions:

What it means: The Bengals' win showed what we discovered last week: This team knows how to win at the buzzer and in the clutch. With the game on the line, kicker Mike Nugent buried his second game-winning field goal in as many weeks, slamming through a 54-yard field goal as time expired. He hit a 43-yard field goal to end the Bengals' overtime win over the Bills last week. He also missed a field goal earlier in Sunday's game. Now 5-2, Cincinnati appears to be gaining some momentum.

Stock watch: Training room -- Falling. Just when it seemed the Bengals were becoming the envy of the NFL by returning to the closest thing there is in the league to a fully healthy team, they suffered a series of injuries Sunday. In all, six Bengals required some level of visible evaluation. First, it was cornerback Leon Hall, who left the game and didn't return after hurting his right Achilles late in the first quarter. Not long after, defensive tackle Devon Still was carted off with a game-ending elbow injury. In the fourth quarter, linebacker Rey Maualuga left with injury. Receiver Marvin Jones and defensive ends Michael Johnson and Wallace Gilberry also were checked out on the field for injuries but continued to play. While it might seem laughable to call the training room a stock-worthy group, just ask coach Marvin Lewis if the injuries have given him anything to smile about.

Streak stopped: With Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford's game-tying 50-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson early in the fourth quarter, the Bengals had a streak spanning parts of two seasons snapped. They entered the ballgame having held opposing quarterbacks to fewer than 300 yards passing in 20 straight games. It had been the longest active streak in the league. Stafford reached 319 yards on the touchdown pass before finishing with 357 for the day. During the Bengals' streak, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady were among those who didn't cross the 300-yard plateau.

What's next? The Bengals head home next Sunday, where they will host the New York Jets. The game will be Cincinnati's first at Paul Brown Stadium in three weeks and interrupts a five-week stretch that includes four road games. The Bengals are undefeated at home this season, beating Pittsburgh, Green Bay and New England.