Kevin Huber, 23 punts from logging the most in Bengals' history, passes the most recognizable punter in Bengaldom Sunday when he works his 150th game against the Bucs (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19, click for tickets) at Paul Brown Stadium. That gives him one more than Pat McInally and just 20 games shy of passing Lee Johnson.
Before Huber went to the Pro Bowl in 2014, McInally was their only Pro Bowl punter when he helped them get to the Super Bowl in 1981.
It comes off of Huber's terrific back-to-back games. After drilling two 60-plus yarders against the Steelers he hemmed in the Chiefs' dangerous Tyreek Hill on the sidelines last Sunday on a night they negated former Bengals special teamer Josh Shaw.
"They came into the game netting 30 point something a punt, for their punt return," said special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons of the Chiefs. "Anytime you can net 13 yards above that, net 43, I think it's a hell of a game. I think we did a good job of pinning them into the boundary.
"I'd like to have seen a couple of punts a little bit wider and get them out of bounds so we don't have to deal with it at all. But on the flip side of that, you know, by having the punts wide like that it allowed our guys to get over the top of coverage and we were able to force two penalties. Two. Both on Josh. So that was big. That was important. There really should have been a third one. They missed a third one over on their sideline. We should have had three fouls or the numbers would have been a lot worse."
The tough thing is all the good work was overshadowed by the botched fake punt when the Bengals were down, 7-0. Long snapper Clark Harris didn't get the call from personal punt protector Clayton Fejedelem and when Fejedelem tried to pluck the snap to Huber, he fumbled at his 32 and three plays later it was 14-0.
"We've practiced that exact play multiple times. It's something that the play we intended to run, we've practiced several times," Simmons said. "We haven't done it a ton, but it's something that you practice and then you never know when that situation is going to come up. We didn't have the exact look we needed, so you know, that's something that's got to be crystal clear to the guys who are running it. It has to be 100 percent. I think we didn't see somebody and so it got jumbled up. It's obviously a bad play … That's the part that screwed it up. I don't think he saw that guy back deep. I don't think he saw that other guy back there."
Huber said he's made no changes with his mechanics. If anything, he's not trying to kill everything. He thinks his mates are doing the same thing. Even though injuries have decimated the team they've had at the beginning of the year, Huber says the new guys aren't trying to play beyond their means.
"People just don't realize how much special teams is impacted by injuries," Huber said. "The trickle down is crippling."
With linebackers Nick Vigil and Vontaze Burfict out, Jordan Evans played 77 percent of the defensive snaps and 81 percent of the teams snaps. With slot corner Darqueze Dennard out, Tony McRae, one of the gunners on punt cover, played 40 percent on both defense and teams. Tight end Mason Schreck tore his ACL playing 17 teams snaps and now rookie tight end Jordan Franks makes his NFL debut Sunday trying to replicate them. Tight end C.J. Uzomah, a core teams players, can't get in the kicking game now because he's the starting tight end.
"I've been dealing with it ever since we lost Cethan Carter," Simmons said of the injuries at tight end. "People forget about Cethan. Everybody just thinks, 'Oh, we've lost (Tyler) Eifert, we've lost (Tyler) Kroft, we've lost Mason.' What about Cethan? Cethan was one of my best players. That's four guys, so certainly it filters all the way down. Having to get Matt Lengel up to speed, having to get Jordan Franks back up to speed now. It's been a challenge each week.
"(Uzomah) was a key guy that we lost in addition to losing Cethan. They were No. 2 and No. 3. Now I don't have either one of them. That's the way it works. We've got to find the next guy. And they just have to step up and go make a play."