In a season where nothing seems to be going right for the Cincinnati Bengals, the struggles of long-time kicker Mike Nugent have found their way to the forefront of discussion. The Bengals are 0-2-1 in their last three games, which could be different if Nugent had converted even one of the field goal and three extra points that he missed in those games. In his defense, he has been more than willing to admit his shortcomings and place the blame squarely on himself. But, that doesn’t change how costly these misses have been.
“It just drives me crazy to have a poor performance that contributes to a loss,” Nugent said after the Bengals’ loss on Sunday. “That’s the second time that’s happened this year – that I’ve contributed enormously to a loss. If I did what I was brought here to do, we’d have two fewer losses in my opinion.”
It’s nice to see that Nugent’s attitude remains focused and humble in the face of mounting frustration. Although, my guess is that most Bengals players, coaches, and fans would rather their kicker be cocky and accurate than humble and unreliable.
“We should have been going for a field goal right there,” said Nugent. “The offense did a great job, the defense did a great job, and the coaches did an excellent job setting us up. I don’t know how long it would have been, but we were well within field goal range.”
Nugent has been the Bengals’ kicker since arriving as a free agent in 2010 after bouncing around with the Jets, Buccaneers, and Cardinals from 2005-2009. He competed with Dave Rayner to replace Shayne Graham, who went through similar peaks and valleys through his career with the Bengals before they decided to move on when his contract was up in 2010. 2016 marks the seventh year that Nugent has been with the Bengals, which is notably as long as Graham lasted before the Bengals decided to move on from him.
“I don’t worry – it’s just the nature of this game,” Nugent said of worrying about getting cut. “I’ve been cut before and hopefully it never happens again but that’s one of those things that’s not a decision of mine. I’m going to work as hard as I can to improve, but at the end of the day, with better kicking we would have two fewer losses.”
Nugent won’t have to worry about getting cut this season as head coach Marvin Lewis made it known on Monday that the team will stick with him.
Marvin says gave it a lot of thought and team is moving forward with Nugent. #Bengals— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) November 21, 2016
Marv on 11 PAT misses Sunday in NFL: 'we freeze them with TD replays— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) November 21, 2016
As expected, Lewis said he’d rather stick with a player he knows than sign an unknown commodity.
I'm way more comfortable in Mike working it out than making a change— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) November 21, 2016
But, Nugent’s contract is up at the end of the season and the team should decide to forego a contract extension and browse the market for a new kicker. But, with the free agent market for kickers looking pretty dry these days, guys like Randy Bullock, Josh Scobee and Blair Walsh don’t provide enough confidence for the Bengals to move on mid-season.
“It’s one of those things that if I’m lucky enough to be back, I have to be able to do my best and make sure to connect when the time comes,” said Nugent.
They could always look to draft a player next year like Daniel Carlson, Eddy Pineiro, or Jake Elliott. But, the Bengals have never drafted a kicker during Marvin Lewis’ tenure. In fact, the last time they drafted a kicker who turned out to be any good was Kentucky’s Doug Pelfrey in 1993. You could make the argument that the Bengals drafted a great kicker in 2000 with Illinois’ Neil Rackers, but he was notably horrible for the Bengals (making 65.7 percent of his field goal opportunities) and only managed to make a name for himself after leaving in 2003 to become a legend in Arizona.
As far as this year goes, the members of the Bengals’ organization are going to continue to support their struggling kicker for as long as he remains on the roster. Of all people, the coaches and players are the ones who are closest to the action, so they see the things that the rest of us don’t always see and might be missing when critiquing Nugent’s performance.
“Mike (Nugent) missed the PAT, the second one. The first one, the snap was high which threw everything off. Most of the time you make those, but today he didn’t,” Lewis said. “He did miss the second one. It’s too early for me to comment on that.”
That said, in Nugent’s defense, he isn’t pointing the finger of blame at anyone but himself. He understands that his job is to get the ball through the uprights no matter what happens before he runs up to kick the ball.
“He told me that afterwards, (too), but to be honest with you, it didn’t mess me up. That’s where Kevin (Huber) comes in (and) does a great job of getting the ball down. If the ball is down in the spot like it was, you still have to connect with that kick,” Nugent said. “So I can’t say that was a contribution to why I missed it.”
And if you want Nugent to make his kicks this year, Adam Jones has some advice for those attending games and booing the kicker.
Adam Jones on Nugent: "The f***in crowd is not helping when y'all out there f***in with him when he's warming up." #Bengals— Jeremy Rauch (@FOX19Jeremy) November 20, 2016
More Adam Jones on Nugent: "'Y'all can put that in the f***in paper too. Of course I'm consoling him. He's my teammate." #Bengals— Jeremy Rauch (@FOX19Jeremy) November 20, 2016
The boos were loud and clear after his two misses on Sunday.
Nugent is owning up to his mistakes rather than pouting in the locker room, like Graham was notorious for doing. But, it would be much nicer if he would just make the kicks that should be easy for a professional of his caliber. We’ll see what happens with him at the end of the season, but right now, it seems this season should be Nugent’s last in Cincinnati, and maybe in the NFL.