INDIANAPOLIS - The last thing Mike Nugent did before he suffered what is believed to be a severe knee injury to his kicking leg was perfect.
He executed a perfect onside kick with 2:35 left and the Bengals trailing the Colts, 23-17, Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. But the result was tragic. As the Bengals celebrated the recovery after linebacker Dan Skuta knocked a Colt off the ball, Nugent was carried to the sideline by two teammates. The stat sheet said wide receiver Chad Ochocinco recovered the fumble, but he wasn't on the field and one of the guys in the play said safety Tom Nelson got it.
Nugent lined up between two sets of players split wide to either side and he ran up to the ball aimed to the left before changing direction and hitting it right.
"The ball was on its way and I kind of cut back to take a guy and that's when it happened," said Nugent, who said he felt the knee go before he made any contact in the scrum.
After the game Nugent was on crutches, and the fear is that he has suffered an ACL and MCL injury.
"It doesn't look good," Nugent said.
Before rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham fumbled the ball away on the next snap, head coach Marvin Lewis had an animated discussion with Ochocinco while presumably telling him he was going to kick the winning extra point when the Bengals tied it.
"Easy money,'" said The Ocho, who kicked the deciding point in a 2009 preseason game in New England when Shayne Graham got hurt.
If Nugent is indeed out for the year, the Bengals need a kicker and quickly. Dave Rayner, who lost the training camp battle to Nugent, just signed in Detroit. Graham just hooked on with New England.
Some big-time kickers have come back from an ACL injury, such as John Kasay and Joe Nedney.
DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD: Gresham had a career-high nine catches for 85 yards, all in the fourth quarter, including a 19-yard touchdown that cut the lead to 23-17 with 2:35 left. But it was a fourth quarter he'd like to forget. On the next snap he fumbled the ball at the Colts 34 when he refused to go down.
"In the last two minutes," he said. "I've got to get down."
He'll also learn that the man that forced it, Colts right end Dwight Freeney, leads the NFL in forced fumbles over the last several years.
Gresham also took the blame for quarterback Carson Palmer's fourth-quarter interception that nearly was returned for a touchdown and set up a short field goal that made it 23-10 with 10:01 left.
"It was a read route and I read it wrong," Gresham said. "Put that on me, not Carson."
BLAME GAME: Everybody took the blame. Palmer took the blame for all three of his picks. Wide receiver Terrell Owens took the blame for the last one, a ball over the middle at the Colts 28 with 5:47 left in the game. He said he anticipated a linebacker being there and that he should have come out faster.
"It's commendable for Carson," Owens said. "But it's not all his fault."
It looked like Palmer got hit on the first interception that got returned for a touchdown and that he was forced out of the pocket on the Gresham pick. But he said, "I didn't get touched all day until the last couple of plays ... the protection was great. ... We did what nobody does and came in here and blocked their ends."
Palmer was sacked three times, but the NFL's best sack tandem of Freeney and Robert Mathis didn't get him until the third to last play and second to last play. The Bengals chipped with their tight ends and backs to help the tackles block.
Asked if his arm had anything to do with the interceptions, Palmer said his arm was fine.
"I felt great all game," he said.
CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE: Left tackle Andrew Whitworth said what everybody is thinking after the sixth straight loss that Terrell Owens summed up best with, "We keep finding ways to lose instead of coming up with ways to win."
"Guys start to lose their confidence and it makes it tougher to have success," Whitworth said. "We've got to get our confidence back. We've got to get guys smiling and enjoying this game and play it like they know we can play."
SIMPLE FIX?: After another game his offense failed to score three touchdowns (that's for the sixth time in nine games), a season-low 72 yards rushing and a season-high five turnovers, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis sounded like he wants to make it simpler.
"We have to understand it and see it together and that's kind of where we are right now," Lewis said. "I have to look at it. Are we trying to do too much and maybe look at that. Maybe too much variety at times. The different looks that occur. We need to see them through the same eyes."
The most disappointing thing besides the misconnection in the passing game is the inability to run the ball against a small unit that is fourth worst in the NFL stopping the run. The Bengals rolled out their heavy packages and double tight ends. Tackle Anthony Collins was used in lot of plays so right tackle Dennis Roland could be a tight end. They also rotated at tackle some with Andre Smith out for the year (Roland got the bulk of the snaps) and did well enough in pass pro that Palmer said he wasn't touched until the last desperate dive.
But running back Cedric Benson averaged just 1.7 yards per his 14 carries for 24 yards, his lowest since he got hurt against Pittsburgh last year and had 22 yards on seven carries.
"They put both safeties down in the box," Whitworth said. "How many times did the safety make the tackle? When that happens you think the ball would get spit out at some time with those people in the box and it never did. They semed to have the right people in the right places."
BAPTISIM BY FIRE: Safety Rico Murray had the guttiest game by a defense that played its guts out. The Bengals went-toe-to-toe with Peyton Manning and gave him just one TD drive with 13 of the 23 points coming off short fields on turnovers. In his sixth NFL game, Murray was a horse in passing situations and played mainly cornerback. He was second on the team with eight tackles and had two passes defensed.
It was only the second game this season that Manning didn't have a touchdown pass and only the 10th time in the last 61 regular-seson games. Murray, who saw wide receiver Reggie Wayne in the slot plenty, helped hold the NFL receptions leader to three catches for 34 yards.