Before the media descended in the Bengals locker room, kicker Mike Nugent's teammates gathered around him like loved ones at a wake as they all reeled from his missed 36-yard field goal at the overtime gun that would have given the Bengals a 40-37 victory instead of Sunday's 37-37 tie with Carolina at stunned Paul Brown Stadium.
Vontaze Burfict put an arm around him. Terence Newman did, too. Jermaine Gresham hugged him. Kevin Huber commiserated with him.
"A pathetic hit," Nugent said of his wide right. "It was probably the worst hit I ever had in a game in my career."
Nugent is having the worst season of his 10-year career. He had kicked the Bengals into overtime with 2:11 left in regulation from 38 yards and put them into the lead in overtime with 8:35 left from 42 yards before his sixth miss of the season. But like he said, "When you look back at this game ten years from now, you remember the one you missed and not the three you made."
Nugent said it came down to excitement.
"When my plant foot is really that far in front of the ball, I don't want to be that far in front to get that kind of toe hit to the right," Nugent said. "I had a little bit too much excitement. I was too quick. I wasn't under control."
Nugent has been golden in these moments during his five seasons in Cincinnati, where he has delivered four wins in the last two minutes of overtime or regulation. It was 364 days ago that Nugent hit a 43-yarder in overtime for a win in Buffalo.
"Sort of," said wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, when asked if it felt like a loss. "You've seen Mike hit that so many times. We have all the confidence in the world in Mike. He's had so many game winners for us. He's human."
Since he hit five straight field goals in Baltimore to open the season, Nugent is 6-for-12. In his four previous seasons with the Bengals, he never missed more than four. He says his mind is not shaken by the slump.
"I never get worried about my confidence," Nugent said. "I don't think I'd be playing for 10 years if I had an issue with confidence…The biggest mistake I could make is just not caring about the kick, not learning from it, not watching it…I have to better."
INJURY UPDATE: The injuries continue to pile up on the Bengals, who still managed to score 34 points in regulation without their starting wide receivers.
Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (hamstring) and SAM backer Emmanuel Lamur (shoulder) went down hard in the fourth quarter and as they coped with the serious injuries in the post-game it was hard seeing them being ready for next Sunday's game in Indianapolis.
It's believed that Lamur's injury isn't as serious as the shoulder injury that wiped out his 2013 season before it started, but he was in pain. He made the last tackle in regulation and if he hadn't got hurt; the Panthers would have been scrambling to get set up for the tying field goal because they had no timeouts left. The clock stopped at six by rule with less than two minutes left.
There is also the unknown about when wide receivers A.J. Green (toe) and Marvin Jones (ankle) are going to return. As in, there is no time frame for either of them and there is some talk that they may think about surgery for Jones.
JONES DOES IT AGAIN: With the Bengals down, 31-24, as the kickoff return team started to head on the field with 4:50 left in the game, cornerback Adam Jones went to special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons.
"Darrin, let me get back there," Jones said.
And when Simmons said, "All right. Just be smart with the ball," it ignited the longest run of Jones' storied career as one of the greatest kick returners in NFL history.
Blocks by special teams co-captains Vincent Rey and Cedric Peerman led Jones running at full speed up the middle and when he veered past poor kicker Graham Gano to get to the left sideline, it took safety Colin Jones to trip him up at the Panthers 3 for a 97-yard gash. One snap later, the Bengals were tied. One overtime later, they still were.
"I always tell them my 60-yard is very fast," Jones said. "After that, I don't know, but somebody might get me."
Jones, second on the NFL active list with five career punt returns for touchdowns, came into the game leading the NFL in punt return average with more than 23 yards. He needed two returns Sunday to stay among the league leaders. He didn't get any. But he got the longest return of his career by seven yards on his first kick return since 2012.
Just how dynamic has Jones been this season? He's touched the ball six times and had punt returns of 45 and 47 yards to go with Sunday's 97-yarder.
"I've been back there in practice," Jones said. "I hit it running. They opened it up for me. It's always good when you get a clean read and run up on the kicker."
D REELING: After Cam Newton got done with the Bengals defense for 431 yards, it's believed to be the first time in the 12 seasons of the Marvin Lewis Era the Bengals have allowed at least 80 points in back-to-back games.
And they were mad that they couldn't stop Newton's frighteningly effective simple zone read.
"Because guys weren't doing their jobs," Jones said. "There were a lot of mistakes. One guy's got the pitch, one guy's got the dive. It's a simple defense. If you've got the quarterback, get the quarterback."
Jones said he thought defensive coordinator Paul Guenther called the right defenses but his players didn't execute it and he said he's sure Guenther and head coach Marvin Lewis will address it Monday. And he plans to help.
"We need to be accountable and everybody needs to do their job," Jones said. "It's little simple stuff that we keep messing up on. Really simple."
Defensive tackle Domata Peko looked at the 13 penalties and shook his head. Four were on the defense (three on Burfict, one on Newman) and gave the Panthers automatic first downs.
"The way we played today, we had way too many penalties. It's probably the most penalties I've seen on our defensive side of the ball in years. That's something that's on us that we have to clean up as a unit and as men," Peko said. "Just being more disciplined. It starts with doing the little things right, and that goes from Monday to Saturday. If you work on the little things and try to get those things right, the big things will be a lot easier. We kind of killed ourselves today with so many penalties and mistakes. We've got to look in the mirror and see how we can fix this."