Rewind to Draft Day 2017 and the heat the Bengals took for taking Memphis kicker Jake Elliott ahead of Arizona State kicker Zane Gonzalez. Then fast forward a smidge to Cut Down Day 2017 and the second-guessing that enveloped special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons when the Bengals cut Elliott and stayed with veteran Randy Bullock.
Now fast forward to Monday. Black Monday if you're an NFL kicker. Just talk to some old friends like Mike Zimmer and Hue Jackson. Zimmer canned his kicker in Minnesota after he missed twice in overtime Sunday as the Vikings lost a chance to beat division rival Aaron Rodgers of the Packers. Jackson deep-sixed Gonzalez after two missed field goals and two missed PATs got them beat against New Orleans, 21-18. If Jackson had Bullock, the Browns would be 2-0 and Jackson he'd be leading the Ohio Governor's race.
Even Elliott had a tough time Sunday. He's not going anywhere, but his missed 42-yarder Sunday at the end of the half prevented the Eagles from cutting the Bucs' half-time lead to 20-10 and on the first possession of the second half Philly went for it on fourth down on a short field and failed to hasten a 27-21 loss to Tampa.
Now try this. Take away a blocked field goal last season and Bullock, Carolina's Graham Gano and Jacksonville's Josh Lambo are the only kickers since the beginning of 2017 to have missed just one field goal. Bullock's 18-for-20 last year that includes the block is the most accurate season in Bengals history and he's kept it going in the first two games of 2018 with three of his four field goals coming with less than four minutes left and changing the complexion of the game.
His 29-yarder on Thursday night gave the Bengals the huge eight-point lead and he tacked on a 40-yarder to seal it. In the opener his 39-yarder put them up four and forced the Colts to score a touchdown.
"I'm proud of the way he's competed," said Simmons after Monday's practice. "Every time he's been called on, he's answered the bell. That's what you're looking for there. He prepares and he doesn't want to let his teammates down."
Add in the block and Bullock, Gano, Robbie Gould and Cody Parkey are the only kickers the past two seasons with at least 24 field goal tries and two or fewer misses.
"Those kind of situations are the ones you want more than anything," Bullock said of the fourth quarter. "You want to get those points and make it a two-score game to make time their enemy."
On Sunday, kickers looked around and saw the enemy was them. Yes, Bullock and Simmons were watching. And wincing. Bullock says the kicking fraternity is so small that everybody knows everybody. But it's too soon to text.
"Usually I give it a couple days before I start reaching out. Typically in those situations your phone blows up. More than anything I let the dust settle and then reach out," Bullock said. "It's a performance-based business. Sometimes that's tough for young guys to do. The consistency level at this level is completely different than college. The standard of the bar is set so much higher. Those rough days can really set you back."
Since the Bengals cut Elliott after Bullock beat him out in training camp, both have done well. Bullock's 91.7 percent since the start of 2017 is eighth best in the league. Elliott's 81.8 is 24th. Bullock has missed two PATs, Elliott three. But Elliott also had a terrific year last season kicking the Eagles to a Super Bowl championship and delivered an ice-cold field goal in the fourth quarter against the Patriots.
"Randy deserved the job because he beat him and that's not unheard of," Simmons said. "It's a tough job. It's one of those few positions where you're either the goat or the hero."
In his seventh season, Bullock is sticking with what got him into the NFL. But he feels extremely comfortable in Bengals cleats.
"More than anything it's nice to be in the same spot for a couple of years," Bullock said. "And to be able to work with the same coach, snapper, holder, everything. That's contributed to my success."
When he sends his hang-with-em texts, Bullock has one style.
"Short and to the point," he said.
And Bullock has 20 points this season, a field goal away from the NFL lead.
MIXON RECOVERING: Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis told reporters after Monday's practice that running back Joe Mixon's arthroscopic knee surgery on Saturday was the result of an irritation of an old injury. Lewis compared it to a flat tire or a rock in the shoe. But there still seems to be no timetable for his return.
There was no sign of center Billy Price (foot) at practice. Right end Michael Johnson (knee) was on the rehab field with what is believed to be a sprained knee. Middle linebacker Preston Brown (ankle), who missed his first NFL game in his 66th try Thursday night, looks like he'll be back for Carolina on Sunday. He worked in individual drills.