CINCINNATI — Mike Nugent will be on a field somewhere, staying sharp with an offseason workout. He’ll line up and imagine himself in the middle of a kicker’s most pressure-filled moment.
The clock is nearly down to zero. The crowd is standing and screaming. Players on both sides avert their eyes as a game full of big plays and tense moments comes down to the kicker’s final swing of the foot.
Try to imagine how that is going to feel.
“I do it in the offseason when I’m just out by myself,” Nugent said. “If you can try to put as much pressure on yourself as you can when you’re practicing, put yourself in the situation, maybe that adds up and makes it easier when it actually happens.”
Two weeks in a row, he’s come through for real.
Nugent’s field goals in the final seconds gave the Bengals wins at Buffalo and Detroit, vaulting Cincinnati (5-2) into a two-game lead in the AFC North. The Bengals host the New York Jets (4-3) on Sunday.
The Bengals’ kickers have played a big role during a current three-game winning streak.
Punter Kevin Huber pinned the Patriots with a 57-yard punt into a downpour, and the Bengals held on for a 13-6 win at Paul Brown Stadium. Huber pinned the Bills in overtime, and Nugent finished them off with a 43-yard field goal for a 27-24 win.
Last Sunday in Detroit, Huber pinned the Lions late in the game, giving Cincinnati good field position when it got the ball back one last time. Huber was good from 54 yards on the final play for another 27-24 win.
“We keep it interesting, don’t we?” receiver Marvin Jones said.
Nugent’s 54-yard kick tied Doug Pelfrey’s club record for longest game-winner. He’s the first kicker since Pelfrey in 1994 to end back-to-back games with a winning field goal.
Ending a game on such a long kick meant something special.
“I think it is kind of nice,” Nugent said. “It was a lot of fun just coming off the field knowing we got a win, especially being an away game.”
Nugent spent his first four seasons with the Jets, the last four with the Bengals. He has seven game-winning kicks in the closing minutes of regulation or overtime, though the one at Detroit on Sunday was his first from longer than 50 yards.
Those kicks don’t come around very often. Nugent had one in overtime at Ohio State and a game-ending 54-yard kick against Marshall his senior season.
In each of the last two games, Nugent got a chance to win it after wasting a chance to pad the lead. He missed a 34-yard field goal try in Buffalo and a 47-yarder in Detroit, but came through at the end.
“I sit there thinking if I’d made that earlier kick, how different would the game be at the end of the day,” said Nugent, who is 10 for 13 overall this season. “You think about that after the game but not so much during because if you make a big deal of that during the game, it’s going to drive you crazy and maybe not get the better result.”
Nugent got those two chances to win a game because Huber pinned opponents deep in their own territory and the defense quickly forced a punt that gave the Bengals good field position. Both kickers have come through when needed most.
“We knew they would be huge, and Kevin has had a really good year,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’re asking Kevin to do special things with the ball, and he’s delivering. That’s great. Every time you see the returner catch a ball on the boundary and step out of bounds, Kevin’s done his job again.”