Notes: Point of no return; Reflective Rey

Cedric Peerman

Maybe Sunday's all-in regular-season finale at 4:15 p.m. against the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium is the day for it.

Maybe that's the day head coach Marvin Lewis eschews the regular starting lineup and has the Bengals kick cover team announced. After all, the Ravens are fifth in the league returning kicks and the Bengals are fourth covering them as well as leading the NFL in drive start following a kickoff at the 20.2-yard line.

Throw in the fact that running back Cedric Peerman is Cincinnati's special teams leading tackler and former Ravens draft pick (sixth round in 2009) and why not?

"For us, it's a total team effort," Peerman said Monday. "Dan Skuta, Jeromy Miles, all the special teams guys have been playing with their hair on fire. It's a testament to perseverance throughout the year."

If the Bengals announced the kick cover team the corps would look something like this: Peerman, linebacker Skuta, safety Miles, wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, safety Taylor Mays, linebackers Vincent Rey and Brandon Johnson, cornerback Brandon Ghee, safeties Gibril Wilson and Reggie Nelson. Nelson, a starter, has also found time for a career-high four interceptions.

On Saturday in the 23-16 win over the Cardinals, special teams coach Darrin Simmons had to dig deep when he lost Mays with an unknown ailment early in the game. Mays, who is playing on all four kick units and is one of seven players with at least eight special teams tackles, was replaced by starting outside linebacker Manny Lawson on kick cover and rookie receiver Ryan Whalen on other phases as the Bengals stoned the productive Arizona return teams.

After Mike Nugent kicked off Saturday, the Cards got the ball at their 12, 17, 20 (on a touchback), 26, 20 and 14-yard lines. It's a season-long trend that peaked three games ago and eagle-eyed Pete Schramm of the Bengals public relations department uncovered the numbers since the Dec. 11 Houston game:

Out of 16 kickoffs, the farthest return has been to the 29-yard line and none have been returned past the 20 in the last 10 kickoffs. Nugent has three touchbacks and the average drive start of the other 13 has been the 17.5-yard line. Brandon Johnson also forced a fumble in St. Louis that was recovered by the Rams.

Certainly the new kickoff from the 35 instead of the 30 has helped, but not that much.

"When the rule change occurred, I thought there would be some advantage for us, but I think our guys have done a nice job of turning it into a real advantage thus far," Lewis said. "But we have to keep it up. They take great ownership in it, great pride in it. It's a bunch of different players. There's a lot of confidence, and they have fun. They know how important it is. Some of the guys start and play in certain phases full time, some don't. But I think they've earned the respect of everyone on the football team for what a great job they do."

Simmons has some standbys from past years, such as Johnson, Peerman, Skuta, Miles, Rey and Nelson. But he's also had to work in Mays, Hawkins and Wilson.

"Having guys with the year of experience, having some 'pros' (helps). We've got some pros sprinkled into that group," Lewis said. "Manny Lawson comes in and does a great job filling in this last week in a couple of phases. Gibril Wilson is a guy who has been a starter in this league and has done a great job for us all year. And there's the guys who have been the core of the unit throughout: Jeromy, Skuta, Peerman, Vinnie Rey. Those guys do a yeoman job week in and week out. We keep having guys step up and come to the forefront."

The Bengals knew about Peerman early because they coached him at the 2009 Senior Bowl and they had him on their list. A fast, willing guy during practices and they were also aware of his extremely high character and commitment. When the Ravens released Peerman into the world of NFL transactions after that first training camp, the Bengals would make sure they got him.

On Monday, Peerman, a licensed minister, was talking about Miles's big tackle on Arizona's punt return in the final minute and how huge it was dumping Andre Roberts at his own 40 for a one-yard loss.

"He had room to run; and Hawkins was right there, too," Peerman said. "Coach Simmons had been talking all week about tightening up the ship and I thought we were solid in coverage."

Although the Ravens won't have David Reed, last year's NFL kick return leader who suffered a torn ACL last week, their head coach is a former special teams coach and the Ravens are always high in the rankings.

"It never stops, does it?" Peerman asked.

Neither, it seems, do his fellow cover men.

OH BABY: Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga had an extra special Christmas when his baby girl arrived Thursday, two days before the Cardinals win and three days before Christmas.

"To bring a new life into this world, it changes everything," Maualuga reflected Monday. "My mindset is different now. I have something to actually wake up to and look at and to play for. So now I can't be the Rey that I used to be: knucklehead. ... I'm happy, I'm excited. That was the best gift I ever got."

Somehow, Abayah figures to get another present. Dad has the ball from Saturday's first interception of the season.

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