Kicking The Critics

By Mark Cannizzaro
Jets Head Writer
December 1st, 2006
You know what's happened only once since the Jets' season opener back on September 10?

Their kicker, Mike Nugent, has missed exactly one field goal, a 52-yarder, in his last 12 attempts.

That's right, Nugent, the Jets' kicker who's often maligned for not being dependable, for not having long-range field goal ability and for his short kickoffs, has quietly put together a rather efficient season.

That season, of course, was highlighted by Nugent's career-best day last Sunday in the Jets' win over the Texans at Giants Stadium, where he kicked four field goals, including a career-high 54-yarder at the end of the first half. He, too, kicked off better and made a key big-play-saving tackle in kick coverage.

Somewhere, former Jets' GM Terry Bradway, who has also been maligned for using a second-round draft pick on a kicker, was smiling brightly on Sunday.

This is not to anoint Nugent as Adam Vinatieri yet, but he deserves some props after being somewhat passed off by Jets' fans as a mediocre draft pick and a mediocre kicker with lack of big-time range.

For the record, Nugent blasted that 54-yard field goal Sunday with yards to spare. It would have been good from more than 60 yards.

Though Nugent is a very modest 13th in the AFC in scoring amongst kickers with 59 points, he's been more a victim of lack of chances than anything. The important numbers are 12-of-15, which is his field goals made versus attempts. That's 80-percent made, which is what Bill Parcells always uses as a measurement of top kickers

Had it not been for a nightmarish opening day game in Nashville, where he 30-yard and 34-yard field goals in three attempts and missed an extra point, Nugent would be at the top of the league in percentage.

Before Sunday, Nugent was 0-for-3 on field goal attempts of 50 or more yards, including a 52-yarder in Cleveland, the only kick he’s missed since opening day. His career-long in the regular season was 49 yards, raising questions about whether his leg was strong enough to kick big-time long field goals. That's what made his 54-yarder so impressive.

The proof was in Nugent's right leg and it can only bode well for the December playoff push, which begins Sunday with a key road game in Green Bay against the Packers.

Despite fans’ lack of confidence in Nugent’s ability, the quiet, unassuming Nugent has never lacked it.

"If you don't have confidence in yourself, you might as well not even be out on the field," Nugent said. "If you're the only one in the whole stadium that has confidence in yourself, well, that's the most you need on the field to do your job. If you're doing your job on the field, then you're going to get to keep doing what you do, do what you do best and what you love."

Nugent, just 5-9, 182 pounds, undoubtedly boosted Eric Mangini’s confidence in him with his four-field goal performance Sunday.

"I think once you get one (long field goal) on the board, it always helps to make the next decision," Mangini said. "Mike really nailed (the 54-yarder). Mike is the type of guy that everybody cheers for because of the way he works, the way he cares. He's easy to root for. Obviously, everybody wants three points, but aside from that, it's just good to see him hit that type of field goal."

At Ohio State, Nugent set or tied 22 school records and forged a reputation for having a powerful and accurate leg. That got him drafted in the second round, 47th overall, by the Jets, one of the highest-drafted kickers in the last 23 years.

He made 22 of 28 field goals his rookie season, respectable numbers, and then had the horrible day in Tennessee, which nearly cost the Jets the game, which they eventually won, 23-16 _ that seven-point margin being exactly the number of points Nugent cost the Jets.

"Even though I had that Tennessee game, I'm glad we got the win, and my teammates are so supportive it's unbelievable," Nugent said.

Nugent said he believes his Sunday performance has boosted the confidence of the coaches and the team in him.

"I think you really have to earn that kind of confidence,'' he said. “You have to be consistent. You have to be dependable.''

Things to look for in the Jets-Packers game Sunday:

-Will the Jets be able to run the ball after watching the Packers’ defense allow Seattle’s Shaun Alexander to rush for 201 yards on Monday night? The Jets are coming off an abysmal rushing performance against the Texans, gaining only 27 yards on 26 carries.

Look for Cedric Houston and Leon Washington to get the bulk of the carries as Mangini tries to streamline the carries between two backs. Kevan Barlow might be the odd man out _ at least for the moment while the Jets try to find a consistent running game.

-On the other side of the ball, will the Jets be able to stop Packers’ back Ahman Green, who has 644 rushing yards and a 4.2-yard average? The Packers, as a team, enter the game having rushed for only 51, 47 and 43 yards respectively in their last three games. The Jets’ defense, meanwhile, had one of its better games against the run last Sunday against the Texans.

-Which Packers’ team will show up Sunday?

Green Bay lost its four of its first five games this season, it is 3-3. But the Packers have lost their last two games. Green Bay is, however, 22-7 in regular season games played on Dec. 1 and later.

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