It appears as though Margus Hunt might finally be figuring out how to make an impact at the NFL level. The former Bengals’ second round pick’s struggles adjusting to the NFL have been well documented. Seven tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a pass deflection through his first three years in the league did little to justify his spot on the roster.
An awful preseason debut against the Vikings reinforced those sentiments. Although, a steady improvement during the rest of the preseason earned him a spot on the Bengals’ roster and a chance to at least play out his contract. The Bengals may finally be rewarded by their investment as an impressive performance on Sunday against the Jets suggested Hunt could be ready to take the next step as an NFL player.
Let’s start with the part of his game that everyone will remember: the blocked kick. The Bengals ended up only squeaking by the Jets by a total of one point, so the fact that Hunt blocked Nick Folk’s 22-yard field goal near the end of the first-half was enough to make a difference in the Bengals winning or losing the game.
Interestingly enough, that wasn’t the only kick that Hunt interfered with. Later in the game, in the second quarter, Hunt got enough elevation again to make Folk over-correct and miss a critical PAT. Sure, it was only an extra point. But, had it been converted, that 23-22 win could have turned into a 23-23 game, forced into overtime.
In addition to the pair of disrupted kicks, Hunt also showed improved awareness by batting down a pair of passes thrown by Ryan Fitzpatrick. The first of these batted passes forced a punt from the Jets early in the second quarter.
With a little bit more of a heads-up reaction, this batted pass could have easily turned into an interception for Hunt. But, we’ll take what we can get from a guy who has had so few of these kind of plays in his NFL career. In addition to this batted pass, he got his hands on another one in the third quarter that helped lead to a drive in which the Jets were forced to punt.
Although the blocked kicks and passes will be what people remember on Hunt’s day, it was his consistent ability to disrupt the Jets that is the most exciting aspect. In fact, on his very next play after blocking Folk’s field goal, he absolutely stuffed Matt Forte on a drive that eventually lead to a punt.
Marvin Lewis has said in the past that Hunt is one of the hardest workers on the team and he was pleasantly surprised with Hunt in the season opener.
“We want Margus in the worst way to continue to press forward and continue to break out and have a tremendous season. We’re counting on him to,” Lewis said on Monday in his press conference. “He’s such a stone-face when you ask him a question about what he did. But nobody’s worked harder at it, and nobody’s spent more time at it. It just continues to come, and that’s good. This was a good start for Game No. 1 for him.”
It was a pretty good day for the embattled defensive end after a generally lackluster preseason. His contract will be up at the end of the season, so he will need to keep up or even improve upon this level of play if he wants to continue this career with the Cincinnati Bengals. But, this was a fantastic start for him to achieve that goal and as Bengals fans, we could wish for nothing more than a standout season from the fourth year, 29-year-old Estonian.