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Nugent uses homefield advantage

Mike Nugent was a perfect 5-for-5 on field goals in his first regular season Paul Brown Stadium appearance. (Bengals photo)

Mike Nugent, who took his first kicks in a stadium on the river while in his mother's womb, gave birth to the first win of the 2010 season when he scored all of his team's points on five field goals in his Paul Brown Stadium debut as a Bengal.

But it was far from his first Cincinnati appearance. Nugent helped lift Ohio State to that surprisingly tight win over the University of Cincinnati at PBS in 2002, and before that he often made the trip from Centerville, Ohio, to Riverfront Stadium to use his family's season tickets.

And before that, 51 days before he was born, Carolyn Nugent went to the AFC championship game on Jan. 10, 1982 to watch the Bengals thaw the Freezer Bowl for a Super Bowl trip.

A total of 28 years and four NFL stints later, Carolyn stood with family and friends talking to Mike after his second game as a Bengal.

"Oh, yes," she said, when asked if this was now her favorite Bengals moment. "By far."

Has a Bengals kicker ever had a better first two games than the old Centerville High quarterback? Not even the Bengals all-time scorer, Jim Breech, ever hit a 54-yarder. Which is what Nugent did last week for the second longest kick in club history. And on Sunday he joined Breech in adding the club's sixth five-field goal game in history.

Nugent actually played in a soccer league with one of Breech's sons and after a couple of weeks Carolyn couldn't stand it any longer and had to introduce herself to Breech, that Super Bowl kicker.

Now everyone is going to want to meet her son and Nugent says he loves getting the extra tickets for the home folks because the support just flows Buckeyes scarlet and Bengals orange. But what special teams coach Darrin Simmons likes about him is that he's as unassuming as the kick is long.

"He'll just show up Monday, not say anything, and keep going," Simmons said.

If Nugent sounds like the typical Ohio kid next door, special teams captain Brandon Johnson says, "I'm not sure what that is." All he knows is that Nugent "is a good guy. Humble. Quiet. Works hard. How do you not like a guy like that?"

And then there is your typical NFL irony. Nugent did it against the Baltimore team that signed Shayne Graham in free agency, luring away the Bengals franchise's most accurate kicker. Well, Billy Cundiff beat out Graham in training camp and Nugent has hit the first six field-goal attempts of the post-Graham era.

Nugent has bounced around since a muscle injury shortcircuited his run with the Jets in 2008, and he couldn't get anything going in Tampa at the beginning of last year before ending up being a stopgap for another former Bengals kicker (Neil Rackers) in Arizona.   

"As long as you can swing the same on each kick," Nugent said. "Mentally, you tend to think that the farther the kick is, the harder you have to kick it. But you want to get to a point where you hit the ball the exact same."

Everybody talks about defense ruling the AFC North, but look at how important special teams were in the road games in last year's division sweep. Running back Bernard Scott returned a kick for a touchdown for the only touchdown of the game in Pittsburgh. The Bengals won by a Graham field goal in Baltimore. Graham kicked the winning points on the next-to-last snap in overtime in Cleveland.

Scott almost did it again when the Bengals fell behind 10-9 with 5:46 left on Cundiff's 38-yarder. On "Return Right," he bolted that way through a crease, got into the clear with a cut but got run down by cornerback Josh Wilson.

"I thought I was gone until I cut back and saw the defender coming from an angle; I tried to outrun him," Scott said. "We needed a big return. I was just trying to get into the end zone or  get good field position."

Now Nugent, who began his NFL career with three solid seasons with the Jets, knows the AFC North.

"It wasn't the prettiest game — it wasn't 42-40 — so it wasn't the highest scoring game," he said. "But I keep saying I'll take three (points) on every series as long as we have one more than they do."

Simmons hears him.

"You know points are at a premium and a lot of it boils down to field position," Simmons said. "It was good for him to get acclimated to that kind of game like that. Five field goals and three touchbacks. That's a pretty good day at the office. I'll take that for 16 weeks."

Nugent ended up talking just as much about his touchbacks. Two of them were huge, coming after each of his fourth-quarter field goals. The last one, with 2:48 left and the Bengals holding the five-point lead, was seven yards deep.

Rewind to last week when his poor second half kickoff contributed to Pats rookie Brandon Tate's 97-yard touchdown.

"I always think about kickoffs," Nugent said. "Even if it's not a great kick distance-wise, I always ask if I gave the guys a fair opportunity to get down the field."

He wasn't happy with the first two of the day, which were three and four yards deep, but they were low and resulted in returns of 34 and 39 yards.

"I knew I had to get a little more into it," Nugent said.

But while the touchbacks are nice, the Bengals are paying him to make field goals. The Graham critics will point to how rarely he hit a big kick. Well, three of Nugent's kicks on Sunday gave the Bengals leads (3-0, 9-7, 12-10) and two were in the final 4:34.

"It's not like a pitcher pitching a no-hitter; I like to keep it casual on the sidelines," Nugent said. "Guys were coming up to me saying, 'Kick another one, kick another one. Keep kicking it downfield.'

"It helps not just not my confidence, but everyone's, when you know you've got a good chance of getting three out of it if you reach a certain area of the field."

He's got one big guy in his corner and he's the guy who just happens to be pulling the trigger. Right now, quarterback Carson Palmer doesn't mind taking a checkdown in an AFC North game where a turnover can be deadly and a field goal can be as good as a touchdown.

"He had a couple of huge kickoffs where he kicked the ball out of the back of the end zone and didn't give them a chance to return it," Palmer said. "He's been a great kicker since he's been in the league. He's just had some issues with injuries, and now we've got him here and he's healthy.

"He hit five today. Five for five. That's big-time. We expect that of him. We gave him some chances where they were makeable. We didn't stick him out there with a 55-yarder and then give their team field position. We gave him chances once we got close to the red zone and inside the red zone. He just did a great job of putting them in."

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