INDIANAPOLIS - The Bengals kept saying they needed someone to make a play in Sunday's AFC Wild Card Game
Kicker Mike Nugent did.
And when he slid his 57-yard field goal off the left upright with 15 seconds left in the first half to cut the Colts' lead to 13-10, the Bengals sideline exploded and you could have sworn the karma of the playoff drought was ebbing away.
It was even set up by a former Bengal when Colts running back Daniel Herron fumbled at the Bengals 41 with 1:49 left in the half on a play forced by rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard and recovered by safety Reggie Nelson.
"It was like we stole three points. Especially with the turnover," Nugent said. "I've been around these guys for a long time. It was good to see the guys coming on to the field after a situation like that."
Nugent called it the biggest kick of his 10 NFL seasons, with the 54-yarder at the gun in Detroit last season pretty close. It was certainly the biggest field goal of his five Bengals seasons, a franchise record that won't be a record because he did it in the postseason. He already shares the record of 55 with Chris Bahr. He also ran his streak to 16 of 17 since his miss from 36 at the overtime gun in the 37-37 tie with Carolina, and lifting up his teammates. It's been such a tough season for Nugent, who lost his father suddenly on Dec. 9.
"I'm so proud of him. Just the character he's shown to this football team," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "The character on this team is tremendous."
Nugent tried to send Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis a message with body language. Confident he could make the kick indoors, he walked on to the field even before Lewis waved him in. But Nugent does that all the time because he hates to be rushed and wants to have plenty of time before he kicks.
"I was really hitting the ball in warmups well," Nugent said. "It was going nice through the air…No matter the call, even if it's a 60-yarder; at least I'm walking out there ready to go."
Nugent and his holder, punter Kevin Huber, both used body language to get the kick through.
"Kevin was talking to it a little bit. I was talking to it a little bit," Nugent said. "Just hang on because it had a little bit of a draw to it. It started center and it just had that draw on it. I saw it hit the upright. It seemed like it still went forward, but I was looking at the refs to make sure."
WES REX: Running back Rex Burkhead wasn't surprised that Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson assigned him to the receiver room and receiver group in practice this week and gave him some plays. They've been leaning that way the last couple of weeks and were really impressed with how he played the role of Broncos slot receiver Wes Welker on the scout team during Denver week.
"I've kind of gotten the feel the last couple of weeks because I've done some stuff as well," Burkhead said. "With A.J. down, Dane (Sanzenbacher) going down, I knew someone had to fill that role. I've been working scout team receiver every now and then, so some of the routes I know. I was excited."
The 5-10, 215-pound Burkhead looked like he belonged. On the first snap of the game he ran a reverse for 23 yards. On the second series he made a leaping catch on third-and-four for a 26-yard pass that put the ball on the Colts 5 and set up the Bengals' only touchdown. Those were their two biggest plays of the day.
But then the Bengals got out of it. That was Burkhead's only carry and he was the third leading receiver with three catches for 34 yards.
"When you don't make any first downs in the second half," Lewis said, "it makes a big difference in the football game as far as your possessions."
Burkhead says he's comfortable because he knows a lot of the routes from playing plenty of 7-on-7 ball while growing up in Texas. He still calls himself a running back.
"That's where I've always played," Burkhead said. "I'll talk to the coaches and see what they have in mind. Whatever way keeps you in the league, keeps you playing. I'd be more than happy to switch over."