Darrin Simmons never did get to sleep Tuesday morning. So after staring at the wall for a few hours he got back into Paul Brown Stadium at 6 a.m., a mere six hours after the finish of the worst game of his 122 games as Bengals special teams coach in Monday night's 27-21 loss to the Steelers.
"Our specialists have to pick it up," Simmons said in the middle of preparing for the Colts. "It's been a couple of weeks now that we haven't punted it very good, we haven't kicked it very good, and we have to snap it better. All three of those guys have to better. Everybody feeds off of them. The better they play, the better everyone else plays."
A fumbled kickoff by Bernard Scott to open the game enraged Simmons. Two missed field goals perplexed him. But the blocked punt, just the fourth one in Simmons' tenure and the first in 39 games, had him apoplectic. Not only because his unit had worked on the same look the Steelers showed the Saints the week before, but because it came less than three minutes after Scott's fumble.
"Why is it all of a sudden happening at critical times like this? It's tough for me to put my finger on why," Simmons said. "But it's happening at inopportune times. We're picking bad times to make bad plays and it's killing us right now. It kills the momentum, it kills the mojo. Not only for the team, but fans, and everything."
That said, Simmons says he's confident that kicker Mike Nugent can break out of the doldrums after missing field goals from 51 and 45 yards against the Steelers and missing three of his last five after he made his first nine of the season.
"He's got to kick with confidence. Like I told him. He's got to get back into the preseason where he's in competition but he's in just competition with himself," Simmons said. "Competition with his own self to get better and be more consistent and reliable. And not fall back to what he was when he came here And that's the thing he has to guard against. I've got faith that he'll battle back mentally. I've got faith he'll bounce back. He has to. He's got no choice. (Punter Kevin Huber) has to do the same thing. The things we're focusing on in practice have to carry over into games. It's not enough right now."
On the first pure block of Huber's 25-game career (he's had a couple deflected), Steelers cornerback William Gay looped around from the outside and went inside untouched to take it off Huber's foot. As the upback, Bengals safety Tom Nelson made a good call, Simmons said, to help a player that got beat when one of the defenders made a quick move on the line.
Simmons wouldn't name the player, but it appeared snapper Clark Harris got caught when the player switched sides and flashed in front of him, opening an alley for Gay. What also bothered Simmons is the punt team was pretty well intact. The only additions from the week before were two regular special teams performers, gunner Reggie Nelson and slot man Chinedum Ndukwe. Nelson had to play from scrimmage the week before because Ndukwe was shelved with a knee problem.
"The guy that (Tom Nelson) had, he had to help out the guy that got beat across the face," Simmons said. "I don't know what Tom could have done differently from what he saw. He had to help out on somebody else and there was the risk of his guy coming free, but he made the determination that the guy he helped out on was a more immediate threat than his guy. And he probably was right based on what he saw. It's hard to fault what he did. We've got to block them better. We've got to play with better awareness of what personnel is in the game. It's a look we repped in practice. They did the exact same thing against New Orleans.
"We knew who we were supposed to block. It' not like we miscounted or anything like that. A guy just beat us across the face. Just got beat. Nothing schematic was wrong with it, we just got beat. One guy was trying to help cover, pick his guy up, and obviously his guy comes free."
Simmons is sounding like Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis these days. He likes the effort. But the execution has been lacking. How else can you explain what happened to Nugent on Monday night? He had a bad practice Thursday, so Simmons sat him down Friday "to get the bad taste out of his mouth." Then Nugent kicked well in the Saturday night practice, held on the same surface and pretty much same time as the game. And in pregame warmups he made a 52-yarder despite not hitting it great and when Simmons suggested he end on a better note, Nugent drilled it for his last practice kick.
The miss on the 45-yarder came on a high snap, but Simmons said it was good enough to kick.
"We've got to have confidence in each other; we've got to have confidence in ourselves first, including me," Simmons said. "Guys have to step up and take it upon themselves that this is my job and I have to get my job done better. It's not good enough and it's hurting us and until we get that fixed we're going to mire ourselves in mediocrity."