Category: Uncategorized

A Leg Up On The Competition

The Bengals lost by a foot on Sunday.

The one attached to the right leg of Justin Tucker.

justin-tucker

Baltimore’s kicker drilled four field goals, including blasts from 52, 54, and 57 yards in the Ravens’ 19-14 win

“He’s money every time,” said Dre Kirkpatrick. “How the heck do you stop that? How do you even prepare for that?”

Tucker’s performance underscored the value of having an elite kicker.

While Mike Nugent’s recent woes continued on Sunday with another missed extra point – his third in a row over the past two weeks – Tucker has not missed a kick all season. He’s 27-for-27 on field goal attempts and 15-for-15 on extra points.

“He’s as much better than other kickers in the league as Tiger Woods was in comparison to other golfers when he was in his prime,” said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham. “Nobody can touch the guy.”

Tucker has made seven field goals of at least 50 yards this season and his ability to hit from long range was a major factor on Sunday. The Ravens managed to score nine points on drives that ended at the Cincinnati 34, 36, and 39 yard lines.

“I’ve never seen something like that,” said Carlos Dunlap. “We hold them to the 40 (yard line) and they’re in field goal range?

“If it was any other kicker it probably would have been a different ballgame.”

“You get the ball at the 25 (after a touchback), so if they get a couple of first downs they’re just about in field goal range,” said Adam Jones.

In contrast, when the Bengals drove to the Baltimore 38 yard line on their opening drive of the second half, they elected to punt.

“He changes the game,” said Lapham. “When you’re in the two minute drill at the end of the half or the game, you can approach it so much differently.”

Recent struggles aside, Mike Nugent has been a good NFL kicker for 12 years. He’s made 81% of his career field goal attempts to rank as the 36th most-accurate kicker in history. But Nugent has never made more than four field goals from 50-plus yards in a season. Tucker made three in the first half on Sunday. His range essentially means that the Ravens need one fewer first down on each of their drives to be in field goal range in comparison to most NFL teams.

“That’s what he’s paid to do and he does an unbelievable job,” said Rex Burkhead. “He’s a big weapon for them.”

“We have the best kicker in the world, hands down,” said Ravens cornerback Tavon Young. “We have so much confidence in him when he takes the field no matter where it’s from. Nothing more to be said about him, he’s the best.”

“They’ve got a blessing over there,” said Kirkpatrick. “He’s very special.”

How special?

Following the game, a reporter asked Tucker what he thought his range was under Sunday’s field conditions.

“About 70-75 yards,” he said.

He wasn’t joking.

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Nugent Kicking Himself For Missed PAT

The bloke choked.

dustin-hopkins-dejected

I wish I could take credit for that English-accented line, but @BruceCahill tweeted it after Dustin Hopkins’ 34-yard overtime shank allowed the Bengals to fly home from London with a 27-all tie against the Washington Redskins.

“It’s a weird feeling,” said Domata Peko. “I’m happy we didn’t lose, but we traveled all this way to get a ‘W’ and we didn’t get it.”

“It’s not a win or a loss, but it feels more like a loss to me,” said Margus Hunt.

It briefly appeared that it was a loss when Hopkins’ first game-winning attempt split the uprights. But Marvin Lewis called a time out to ‘ice’ the kicker moments before he struck the ball and his second attempt veered wide left.

“I’m glad Marvin called time out because I wasn’t watching the first one,” said Jeremy Hill. “The agony was killing me.”

“It was perfect,” said Adam Jones of the time out. “That’s why he’s the head coach.”

Unfortunately, the Bengals might have won if not for a costly missed kick of their own.

Since the NFL moved the distance of PATs back by 12 yards last season, Mike Nugent had been nearly perfect, making 63 of 64 though the first half of Sunday’s game in London.  But he hooked one after Tyler Eifert’s third quarter touchdown catch, giving the Redskins the opportunity to force overtime with a late field goal.

“I think today is on the kicker,” Nugent told me. “You’ve got to be able to make a 33-yard extra point. Yeah, it was at an earlier point in the game, but it counts in the end.”

nugent-fg-beats-jets

Nugent started the year with a 47-yard game-winning field goal with 54 seconds remaining in the season opener and hit 13 of 15 field goal attempts in the first six weeks. But last week against Cleveland he missed 40 and 45 yard attempts, and Mike missed a 51-yard field goal try in addition to the extra point against Washington.

“Every kick that I’ve missed in the last few weeks felt very good coming off my foot,” said Nugent. “So it’s one of those things where I really have to study and try to get better. You have to learn from misses. Obviously you want to forget about them, but you have to learn from them and strive to be better.”

“Nobody hates it as much as Mike does,” said special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons earlier this week. “He’s had stuff like this happen to him in the past and he’ll be back. I have full confidence that Mike will be fine.”

Nugent took little solace from the fact that Hopkins’ OT miss allowed the Bengals to avoid a loss.

“I know exactly how he feels,” said Nugent. “I did the exact same thing against Carolina in 2014. It’s not a good feeling. But I just have to worry about how I’m hitting the ball and I have to be able to finish for my team. The last two weeks I’m just not finishing.

“I’ve got to be able to come through for my team because the offense works so hard to get down the field and the defense works so hard to get us field position. It’s not a good feeling when you don’t come through.”

Especially when your team travels thousands of miles and plays 15 extra minutes only to come away with a tie.

“It was a war,” said Andrew Whitworth. “I thought both teams played well and both teams made some mistakes. That was a heck of a football game. It’s unfortunate not to win it.”

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Run Through The Jungle

On Thursday, Jeremy Hill celebrated his 24th birthday. On Sunday, he celebrated his first 100-yard rushing performance in 665 days.

The third year running back finished with a career-high 168 yards on only 9 carries in Cincinnati’s 31-17 win over Cleveland.

“It was great to see him get his mojo back,” said linebacker Vinny Rey.

hill-breaking-away-vs-browns

Hill’s big day included a 40-yard run in the first quarter and a 74-yard touchdown sprint in the third quarter.

“Those are always great,” said center Russell Bodine. “As an O-lineman, you don’t always know where the ball is because you’ve got your head on your block and then all of the sudden you can hear the fans. On the first big one that he broke that’s exactly what happened. I was blocking and all of the sudden you hear the fans roar and you think, ‘Something good must be happening.’”

The “something good” went beyond Jeremy Hill’s performance. Giovani Bernard added 80 yards on 17 attempts as the Bengals finished with 271 rushing yards. That’s five yards shy of the fifth-best single game rushing performance in team history.

“I got to sit back and watch everything open up and then our guys break through those holes,” said quarterback Andy Dalton. “I think the offensive line did a really good job and that we definitely controlled the line of scrimmage today.”

bernard-run-vs-browns

“My hat goes off to the offensive line,” said Bernard. “We’ve been working on this for a while now and it’s something we’ve really wanted – to run the ball this well. It was really those guys up front. They dominated every aspect of the run game and the pass game.”

“That’s what we’ve been looking for all year,” said Bodine. “We’ve been missing one little thing here and one little thing there and we’ve been saying that we need to put it together and have a day like we’ve had in the past. Obviously we were able to have a good one today. Now we need to build on that and keep going in the right direction.”

It’s actually the second week in a row that the Bengals have had a productive ground game. After averaging 84 rushing yards and 3.4 yards per carry in their first five games, the Bengals have rushed for 120 and 271 yards in their last two games while averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

“We’ve added a little more intensity at practice and that makes this a little bit easier,” said Bernard.

“We’ve been grinding and trying to put in a little extra work trying to make things click,” said Bodine.

They clicked to the tune of 559 total yards against Cleveland and an average of 9.2 yards per offensive play.

“It’s not easy to put up nearly 600 yards on an NFL team, so the fact that we were able to do it is a good thing,” said Bernard. “We just have to continue to keep rolling.”

hill-run-vs-browns

There’s always room for improvement. After the game, Hill was still kicking himself for getting caught from behind and tackled at the 5-yard line on his 40 yard run in the first quarter.

“The one I had on that first drive I wish I could have back,” said Hill. “Gio gave me crap for it.”

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The Bengals Need To Follow Pats’ Lead

Last week after losing at Dallas, Marvin Lewis told his players to look in the mirror and figure out what they need to do better.

This week after losing at New England, they need only to look at the Patriots.

“I’m going to give the Patriots all the credit in the world,” said right guard Kevin Zeitler. “They’re a very good team and they showed why they are always in contention.”

Brandon LaFell spent the last two seasons playing for Bill Belichick. After the game, I asked him if the Patriots ever beat themselves.

“Hardly ever,” he told me. “I would say in the two years I was here, we probably beat ourselves like once out of the 32 games in the regular season.”

gronk

For 2 ½ quarters, the Bengals outplayed New England and led 14-10. But the lead should have been bigger.

“We had the opportunity to control the football game and let the damn thing get away from us,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.

The difference between the two teams is that the Bengals made crucial mistakes and the Patriots didn’t.

“We can’t keep shooting ourselves in the leg,” said right tackle Eric Winston.

Case in point, an illegal contact penalty on Dre Kirkpatrick that extended a New England drive when it was third-and-18 late in the first half. Five Tom Brady passes later; the Patriots were in the end zone.

“I felt like it was a bad call, but you’ve got to play through bad calls sometime,” said Kirkpatrick.

Dont'a Hightower, Andy Dalton

Despite that costly mistake, the Bengals had the ball and a four point lead midway through the third quarter. But a 15 yard pass to A.J. Green was wiped out by a holding penalty on Cedric Ogbuehi. On the next play, Dont’a Hightower came in unblocked on a delayed blitz and tackled Andy Dalton for a safety. That ignited a Patriots run of 15 points in a 4:07 span.

“We had the ball up by four and we’ve got to go up by two scores,” said Winston. “When you’re playing a good team, you’ve got to provide your defense that cushion.”

“We made some mistakes today that cost us the game,” said linebacker Karlos Dansby. “We can’t do that. We’re slapping ourselves about that.”

They were still in the game in the fourth quarter when they drove to the New England 7-yard line trailing 25-14. But as has been the case far too frequently this season, the Bengals settled for a field goal. Through six games, the Bengals have scored 8 touchdowns in 17 red zone trips (47%). The Patriots have 12 touchdowns in 18 red zone trips (67%).

“That’s been our Achilles heel all year,” said Green. “Putting the ball in the end zone in the red zone.

“When you’ve got Tom Brady across from you, you need all the points you can get.”

“When you get opportunities against this team you’ve got to punch the clock and take advantage,” said LaFell. “If you don’t, things like this happen.”

There were some encouraging signs in Sunday’s loss and if the Bengals play like they did for the first 38 minutes, they can beat anybody left on their schedule. But they’re going to have be far more Patriot-like than they’ve been so far.

“I think there was some growing today,” said Zeitler. “I think that anyone that watched could see some good things on both sides of the ball. Now it’s time to get back to work and figure out the next step.”

“This league is about 60 minutes,” said Winston. “A lot of decent teams can go out there and keep it close for thirty. We have to put two halves together and finish the deal. Frankly, right now we’re not doing that.”

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Halftime Hurry-Up Helps Nugent Beat Jets

Mike Nugent’s 47-yard field goal that beat the Jets with :54 seconds remaining never happens if the Bengals weren’t the masters of “Toro Toro.”

That’s the name that special teams coach Darrin Simmons uses for what other teams call a “fire drill” and the Bengals ran it to perfection for three crucial points in Sunday’s 23-22 win at MetLife Stadium.

nugent-vs-jets-at-half

Trailing 16-10 with :18 left in the first half, Andy Dalton hit Tyler Boyd for a 14-yard gain to the Jets’ 3 yard line with :13 on the clock. The Bengals were out of time outs and couldn’t spike the ball because it was fourth down, so Simmons and company yelled “Toro Toro” while holder Kevin Huber waved a white towel to signal everybody to hurry. The field goal unit managed to sprint on to the field and get lined up properly allowing Nugent to boot a 21-yard field goal as the half came to an end.

“The lineman can see Kevin waving the towel so our communication is incredible,” said Nugent. “I looked at Darrin and knew that we just took a time out and had zero left so we had to be ready for that situation. It was third and goal so we knew that if we don’t score a touchdown we’re kicking it. Hats off to the guys for getting down the field and even the refs for getting the ball down and giving us the opportunity to get it off.”

It’s the second straight year that the Bengals have pulled that off. Last season in week five, the Bengals forced overtime against Seattle when Dalton was tackled on a third down scramble with :17 remaining and Nugent was able to kick a 31-yard field goal as time expired. He later booted a 42-yard kick to beat the Seahawks in OT.

“When I saw Boyd go down, I was like, ‘We just did this less than a year ago so we should be able to do it again,’” said Nugent. “It was a great job by the guys and I have to give Coach Lewis and Darrin credit because that’s not something that we overlook. We actually practiced it this week.”

“It’s not something that we practice all the time,” said Simmons after the Seattle game last year. “We practice it a few times in training camp and we practice it a few times during the regular season.”

The Bengals were only down by three points at halftime because Jets kicker Nick Folk missed a pair of chip shots: A 22-yard field goal that was blocked by Margus Hunt, and an extra point following New York’s second touchdown. It was the first missed PAT of Folk’s NFL career in 313 attempts.

“The first thing I said to Nick after this game was, ‘I give you a lot of credit,’” said Nugent. “I had some trouble today in warmups. The wind is tough here. It feels like it’s in the kicker’s face in both directions.”

The blocked kick was Hunt’s first in the NFL after 17 at SMU.

“Me and Carlos (Dunlap) got a really good push up the middle and we were able to push (Ryan) Clady back,” said Hunt. “I was able to get my hand up and thankfully the kick was low as well. Right place, right time.”

Folk rebounded to make his next three field goal attempts and it looked like a Nugent miss might cost Cincinnati the game when his 52-yard attempt slid wide right with 9:02 remaining and the Bengals clinging to a one point lead.

“The one that I pushed to the right actually felt better than the next one I made,” said Nugent. “When I push a ball like that it’s usually an alignment thing. I need to go back and look and learn because my alignment was probably a little bit off. If you can do what I did today and correct it on the next one, that’s all that really matters.”

Nugent’s miss gave the Jets good field position and a nine play drive ended with a 23-yard field by Folk that gave the Jets a 22-20 lead, but left 3:23 on the clock.

“Once they hit that field goal, all I was thinking was that our offense was doing a great job of getting the ball down the field,” said Nugent. “At that point, you’re thinking, ‘What do I have to be ready for?’”

nugent-fg-beats-jets

Dalton marched the Bengals 55 yards on nine plays to set up Nugent’s game-winning 47-yard kick with :54 remaining.

“I’m just really thankful that my team got me out there,” said Nugent. “I hit that 52-yarder great but just pushed it a little bit. It was one of those kicks I want back, but I’m just really grateful that I had the opportunity to go back out there and hit one.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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Bearcats Unveil “Zac Attack” On Thursday

Zac Taylor arrived at Cincinnati with instant credibility when Tommy Tuberville hired him as the Bearcats’ new offensive coordinator in January.

“We had immediate respect for him when he came in,” said quarterback Hayden Moore. “He has the swagger where everybody is going to follow him and nobody questions him.”

At the age of 33, Taylor is not far removed from an outstanding playing career. Ten years ago he broke most of Nebraska’s passing records and was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.

Zac Taylor at Nebraska

“Zac and I go back to his time at Nebraska,” said UCF head coach Scott Frost. “I was training there in the offseason when Zac was the quarterback and I always thought that he was a really smart player, a great player, and a great person.”

Taylor began his coaching career with four seasons at Texas A & M, before spending the last four years in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins. Zac says returning to the college level after being in the pros is a significant change.

“The kids have to go to class – that’s a huge difference,” he told me. “But overall, they’re just so eager to learn. Some aspects of football are very new to some of these guys. You really get to teach and that’s fun for me. Just to see a guy learn something new and be able to take it to the field and act on it is what I really like about coaching college.”

“The thing I like about Zac is that he has patience,” said Coach Tuberville. “He relates well to the players and knows when to raise his voice and when not to raise his voice. He’s going to be a good coach.”

“His coaching methods are probably my favorite of any coach that I’ve ever had,” said Moore. “He lets us practice and then afterwards we watch film and go over everything. He’s not one to yell, but he tells us what we need to hear.”

Zac Taylor at UC

Taylor spent most of his time in Miami as the quarterbacks coach, but served as the offensive coordinator for the final five games last season after the Dolphins fired Bill Lazor.

“You learn how to be very detailed (in the NFL),” said Taylor. “You have a lot of meeting time and you’re playing the best of the best in the world so you have to be very detailed, very thorough, and very creative in what you do.”

Taylor’s offense will look slightly different from what Cincinnati ran over the past three years under former coordinator Eddie Gran. UC is likely to have a tight end on the field more frequently and is expected to emphasize the run more – especially with an inexperienced group of wide receivers. But it will still be a no-huddle attack operating largely out of the shotgun.

“We’ll be up-tempo, we’re going to spread the field and make the defense cover the whole field, and we’re going to be in attack mode the whole way through,” said Taylor.

Bearcats fans will get their first look at the “Zac Attack” when Cincinnati opens the season on Thursday night at Nippert Stadium against UT Martin.

“I think we’ve come leaps and bounds since the spring,” said Taylor. “We still have a ways to go, but I think each and every week this unit has gotten better. We compete against a great defense and that makes us better every day.”

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Cole Expected To Catch And Coach

Beneath wide receiver Nate Cole’s number 84 jersey and shoulder pads, you’ll find a Batman t-shirt.

Nate Cole run

“I always grew up watching Batman and that’s my favorite cartoon character,” said Cole. “So it’s like a good luck shirt. I’m going to wear it under my jersey in every game and every practice.”

That’s appropriate because just as his favorite superhero had a duel identity as Bruce Wayne and the Caped Crusader, Cole will have two roles on the UC football team this season.

“Nate is huge – not just as a player but as a coach,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “He’s going to be instrumental in being a leader in that room with all the young receivers.”

Cole is the only senior among the 14 wide receivers on the Bearcats’ roster, as well as the only one with more than four career catches at the Division I level.

“I feel like an assistant coach out there,” Nate told me. “Being the oldest guy and having the most experience in the receiver room, I’m teaching as we go along. I’m still learning myself, but I’m also trying to teach the younger guys because they have to step up soon.”

“His experience means a lot,” said receivers coach Blake Rolen. “Mostly off the field – in the classroom, in the meeting rooms – that’s where he can help us.

“After a practice where we’ve had too many missed assignments he can’t be goofing around. He’s got to be that extra voice in our room. He’s earned that and the kids will listen to him because he has the most reps of anybody coming back.”

Cincinnati lost six senior receivers from 2015 including the school’s all-time leader in receptions in Shaq Washington and its all-time leader in TD catches in Chris Moore. Cole enters his final season with 38 career catches for 446 yards (11.7 ypc) and looks forward to being a more frequent target in the passing game.

“Of course – what receiver doesn’t?” said Cole. “It should be fun this year, but I want to see other people shine too.”

“We’re counting on him to have a good year,” said Tuberville. “He’s got the experience and he’s made a lot of big plays since I’ve been here. He’s one of the few guys that we have that has caught passes in a game.”

Nate Cole, Obi Melifonwu

“It’s crazy being the only guy that’s left,” said Cole. “I had a real brotherhood with those guys and it’s kind of different not having them around here but I have a new group of brothers now.”

The turnover at the wide receiver position is one of the biggest question marks on this year’s roster heading into the September 1st opener against UT-Martin.

“Everybody is saying that all of the receivers are gone and with all these new receivers we’re not going to be as good,” said quarterback Hayden Moore. “That’s really just fuel for them. They know what’s expected and they’re ready to go.”

“We have a lot of talent in the receiver room,” said Cole. “We’re going to surprise a lot of people this year.

And just as Batman frequently needed assistance from his butler Alfred and sidekick Robin, Cole is counting on help from his younger teammates.

“I can’t do it by myself,” Nate told me. “I need these guys to step up and help me out and we’re going to have to get each other open. If they don’t know what they’re doing, I can’t get open and if I don’t know what I’m doing, they can’t get open. We need each other.”

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