DETROIT — Mike Nugent shook hands with the ghost of Christmas Past on Sunday.
Naturally, after more than 700 yards blew through Ford Field, it came down to two field goals that changed Sunday's 27-24 victory for the Bengals.
The first one was a block of Lions kicker David Akers's 34-yard try in the second quarter and the second was Nugent's second straight last-play winner on a 54-yarder that tied Doug Pelfrey's longest game-winning kick for the franchise set on that Christmas Eve long, long ago.
Nugent, son of Bengals season ticket-holders back in the day, also became the first Cincinnati kicker to win games on the last play in back-to-back games since Pelfrey did it in that same 1994 season he earned the nickname "Coach Killer."
Pelfrey won a game in overtime in Seattle and then beat Houston at the gun the next week before ending a 3-13 season a month later beating Philadelphia at the gun from 54 yards directly after the Eagles fumbled a kickoff. Two of the coaches got fired the day after (Houston's Jack Pardee and Philadelphia's Rich Kotite) and Seattle waited to let Tom Flores go after the season.
Lions head coach Jim Schwartz isn't going anywhere, but he watched his former Baltimore coaching colleague get the best of him Sunday. Schwartz and Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, ground-floor assistants on that 1998 Ravens staff, chatted before the game.
The next time they talk they can wonder if Akers gets that one through with 2:17 left in the first half how the game goes. The Bengals probably don't go down to score with 41 seconds left because left end Carlos Dunlap's block wouldn't have set them up at the Lions 40 just before the two-minute warning. Instead of leading 14-10 at the half the Bengals probably trail, 13-7.
But enter the 6-6 Dunlap walking up the middle and blocking it with his chest. He said he was as unaccounted for, but Simmons saw a little more than that. Particularly how SAM linebacker James Harrison helped set up Dunlap with a move of his own.
"(Dunlap) has got one this year and he's been close to a couple of others," Simmons said. "Look at him. He's lean, he's athletic, but the thing about Carlos is that he works at it. He really wants to make that play. It can change games. I think we just did really well executing it. James Harrison really helped him make the play."
As for Nugent's winner, Simmons had seen this act just the week before in overtime. A Kevin Huber punt inside the 10. A defensive stand. A punt resulting in good field position, a couple of offensive snaps, and then Nugent. Except this week it was a poor punt by Lions rookie Sam Martin that gave the Bengals the ball at their own 49 instead of last week's Brandon Tate punt return that set up the Bengals for a 43-yarder.
"On the sidelines we were saying, 'Just like last week,' " Simmons said. "Everything had to work together. Kevin's punt started it and thank God we were able to make it work at the end."
Nugent, in his fourth season kicking for Simmons, covets his coach's demeanor.
"Whether it's that kick or a miss, Darrin is going to treat me the same way and I really appreciate that consistency," Nugent said after his seventh winner in overtime or the last two minutes.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis also likes consistency. Before the game he wrote on his sheet "36." That's the yard-line he wanted to get Nugent if he needed, well, a field goal at the gun. And that's where running back Giovani Bernard put the ball with four seconds left after he two-armed an eight-yard dump pass from Andy Dalton.
Simmons is probably so consistent because he has more superstitions than the Salem witch trials. He went on the field before the kick and told Nugent the same thing he told him last week.
"Keep your head down."
And just like last week, Nugent atoned for a miss (he hooked a 47-yarder in the first half) with the winner.
"I'd like to see the film of that," Nugent said of the miss. "It didn't feel like the result."
Nugent ending up kicking the winner off the blue Lions logo, which was just fine with him. Ever since the 2011 preseason opener in Ford, Nugent noticed the turf was firmer in that spot. So in Sunday's warmups he took his last two from there and the first one missed before he made the second.
"I did the same thing I did when I missed (in the game)," Nugent said.
But he didn't make any compensation for the length of the kick, one yard shorter than his career long of 55 set last season. In fact, he told Simmons after warmups he planned to hit every ball the same.
"In these conditions, on this field (indoors), the extra points would be good from 55 yards," Nugent said.