Mike Nugent watches his 52-yard field goal sail through the uprights. (AP photo)
Updated: 9-3-10, 6 a.m.
INDIANAPOLIS - Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis says Mike Nugent is healthy enough to kick or else he wouldn't have sent him out there for Thursday night's 30-28 win over the Colts here in Cincinnati's merciful fifth and final preseason game.
And Nugent said if he's the Bengals kicker when the smoke clears over the 53-man roster some time Sunday, his groin is healthy enough to kick in the Sept. 12 season opener in New England.
"Absolutely. I definitely think I can be ready," said Nugent, and his second field goal from longer than 50 yards in five days looked to prove exactly that. "I feel like I'm getting there. I always want to make sure I'm honest with the coaches. Because I wouldn't tell them I'm ready to go if I wasn't. "
In the cozy indoor confines of Lucas Oil Stadium, Nugent capped the Bengals' first drive with a 52-yarder on top of last week's 54-yarder in Buffalo, which tied his longest NFL kick. He says it was the first time he had gone 50 in back-to-back games since his Ohio State days with 55- and 50-yarders.
He also added a 34-yarder with 9:20 left in the game after Dave Rayner hit his only try of the night, a 39-yarder that marked his longest of the preseason. That left the four-month competition 6-for-8 for Rayner and 3-for-4 for Nugent with his only miss a 59-yarder at the end of the first half against Philadelphia on Aug. 20.
"That's a good question," said Nugent, when asked if Thursday's display was enough to make it. "Dave had a good night, too. I wish I knew more about it."
After tweaking the groin early in training camp, Nugent didn't try a field goal in a game until the space shuttle launch in the third preseason game against Philly. Now the Bengals have to decide if they think he is past the stage where he could possibly tear it in New England and leave them without a kicker. The last time the Bengals were in Foxboro, Chad Ochocinco stepped in for the injured Shayne Graham and provided the winning margin with an extra point. But that was a preseason game. That won't fly on CBS' reality TV.
Nugent admits he's been trying to convince the coaches.
"I think all you can do to convince them is do what you can on the field, so I hope the video looks good," he said.
He wished he had better placement on his kickoffs, but the leg seemed to hold up.
Moments after the 52-yarder, he drove the kickoff to the Colts 1. His two other kickoffs went to the goal line and one-yard deep. Rayner's went from the goal line, then to the 3, and then the 10.
"The ball was coming off the foot," Nugent said. "Nice place to kick in, too."
The only time Nugent had ever kicked in Indy was at the 2005 NFL scouting combine. That had a good result. He became that draft's highest-rated kicker when the Jets took him in the second round. He hopes this Indy experience got him another spot.
SPECIAL PLAY: The Bengals head into the season off a Pro Bowl preseason on special teams after a night running back Cedric Peerman notched their fifth kick return of at least 40 yards by three different guys with a 50-yarder in the fourth quarter. Rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley chipped in with a punt return of 36 yards, the seventh punt return of least 21 yards for special teams coach Darrin Simmons.
"Darrin does a great job getting us fired up," said wide receiver Quan Cosby, who has four of those returns. "And the guys buy in. Special teams is extremely important. It helped get points on the board and it really clinched the game. That's the way we look at it. Any way to win it, that's what we like to do."
The Bengals had two penalties on special teams with holds on punt returns, one by safety Kyries Hebert and the other by wide receiver Jerome Simpson. Simpson also got a tough break when the ball bounced up and hit him in the helmet when he covered a fourth-quarter punt. Indy recovered on the Bengals 23 and scored a touchdown two snaps later.
Hebert looks to be in a too-close-to-call scrum at safety and Simpson went a long way in securing a spot with six catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.
"The only negative I'd like to clean up is a little of the stuff on special teams," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "Some of it was on guys, I think, that have an opportunity to stay here with us and might be in some of those situations down the road."
Peerman won't be returning kicks if he beats out James Johnson for the last running back spot and he may be with the Bengals only until Brian Leonard (foot) comes back in the second or third week. But his 50-yarder along with his 93-yard touchdown run from scrimmage probably locked up getting his year's salary guaranteed by being on the Opening Day roster.
"Just the guys up front do a great job of getting their blocks. We work hard on those things and it's good to see hard work pay off," Peerman said of the kick return. "I wasn't very solid in the kicking game. I have to get better at those things. That's where I'm going to play so I just have to be good at that stuff."
More special teams: Shipley came out of an onside-kick mess with the ball when he snatched a hard grounder coming through traffic.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» It looked like there were no major injuries after the game. Safety Rico Murray said he only suffered a cramp at the end of the game. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins left the game early but said he only had a nick and that he was fine.
» In a sign there were no medical maladies after the game, the extent of the health issues was a case of the sniffles for Carson Palmer, who is battling a cold. "I'm fine; just a cold. I'm getting ready for next Sunday," Palmer said.
With players jetting out of the locker room with a last-day-of-school* *feeling to bus back to Cincinnati for a couple days off from going on the field, Palmer gobbled a few cold tablets and remained optimistic for 2010.
"I'm optimistic every year," he said. "We'll find out. I think we have the right mindset right now. We have a good group of guys, a good veteran group of guys, some good young guys who can contribute. But there are no predictions. Nobody has a crystal ball and knows where we're headed. All we can do is continue to work and get better."