The Tennessee Titans may have caught some people by surprise with their rare free kick at the end of the first half against the Houston Texans. But Coach Jeff Fisher has been waiting to try one for years.
"It's always in the back of our minds, and we got them pinned down, and things started to fall into place, especially on third down with a time out left," Fisher said Monday. "It worked out well for us. It was just too bad that we didn't get a chance to get close."
Andrae Thurman fair caught a punt at the Houston 48 with four seconds left in the first half under orders from Fisher, who then sent out Rob Bironas for a 58-yard field goal attempt off the kicking tee -- a play on which the Texans could not rush the attempted kick.
The kick was short and caught in the end zone. Bironas said he was a bit out of practice.
"I actually heard about it last year by my special teams coach in Pittsburgh," Bironas said. "We practiced it a little bit in training camp this year, but never quite that deep."
Fisher said Bironas had hit a 58-yarder in warmups and thinks taking the approach of a kickoff with a longer run up to the ball might have worked better.
"We learn from it," Fisher said.
Fisher, who is co-chairman of the NFL competition committee, said he's been close to the situation in several games but hadn't had the chance until Sunday's 34-20 victory over Houston.
"I was prepared for it in a game against Cincinnati a number of years ago. They punted the ball and hit a great punt and pinned us back inside our 40-yard line. So we just took a knee," Fisher said.
Jets kicker Mike Nugent already has missed three field goals this season. Not exactly a stellar performance for the second-round pick out of Ohio State. Nugent missed two Sunday against Tampa Bay.
"He's going to miss some kicks," Coach Herman Edwards said. "Once he starts making them, he'll be fine. Kickers go through this sometime. He's a young kicker and he's a good kicker. He just got out of rhythm. I think he pressed a little bit. But he'll make those kicks."
Nugent is 4 for 7 on the season, including 1 for 3 from 40-plus yards. One of the reasons the Jets used their first pick in the draft on Nugent was because of his strong leg, a contrast from Doug Brien, who was cut after missing two field goals in a playoff loss to Pittsburgh.
Last year with the Buckeyes, Nugent missed three kicks all season. Edwards said the Jets are going to stick with Nugent, who was taken 47th overall, the third-highest selection for a kicker since 1982. Making sure Nugent keeps his confidence up also is critical, since the Jets anticipate being in plenty of close games this season because of their struggling offense.
"We might be rolling that way all year, so that's why I tell you, you have a lot of opportunities hopefully," Edwards said. "He'll be fine."
There's one way that the first-place Bengals still resemble their bumbling former selves. They still know how to self-destruct.
The Bengals are 4-1 even though they lead the league with 57 penalties. They set a franchise record with 17 penalties in a win over Minnesota, and have been in double digits in three of their five games.
The difference is that they've been able to overcome their mistakes most of the time. Now that the schedule is getting tougher, the mistakes will hurt more.
"We just can't do that," running back Rudi Johnson said. "We've had some penalties that hurt us and put us behind the eight ball. It's something we've got to eliminate."
It's a surprise that the Bengals top the penalty list. Coach Marvin Lewis has emphasized poise during his three seasons, and gotten results. The Bengals averaged 6.4 penalties per game last season. It's up to 11.4 this time around.
Part of it can be attributed to injuries on the offensive line that forced players to change positions. But the penalties have come from all parts of the team.
"It's a tough thing to fix, and we haven't done a good enough job with it," quarterback Carson Palmer said.
Lewis doesn't know why the penalties are piling up this season. He notes they're up all around the league -- Baltimore had 21 in a loss to Detroit last weekend, one shy of the NFL record.
"I think there's everybody around the league looking for that [answer]," Lewis said. "We're not alone."
NFL regular season games averaged 13.95 penalties last season. It's up to 15.84 this year.
Brandon Stokley was the Indianapolis Colts' forgotten man. He re-emerged as a major threat last Sunday in San Francisco.
"It felt good," Stokley said. "I'm sore today, and it feels good to be sore."
Stokley has proven himself a valuable asset as the third receiver in the Colts' offense. In 2004, he caught 68 passes for 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns, all career highs, and was part of the first receiving trio in league history to each have 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in the same season.
This year, though, he has been more of an afterthought.
With defenses dropping more players into coverage to prevent the Colts from throwing deep passes, Stokley's role appeared reduced the past few weeks. After catching seven passes for 83 yards in the season-opener against Baltimore, he had only three receptions for 23 yards in the next three games.
But last week he caught six passes for 59 yards, most in the second half.
"We were going with a little more three wides this week, so I got in a few more plays because of it," Stokley said. "That's how it works in this offense."
Garcia Getting Closer
Detroit's Joey Harrington can count on starting at quarterback Sunday against Carolina, but it might be the last week he can do that.
Harrington's job was in jeopardy during the offseason because of his uneven play during his first three years and the signing of Jeff Garcia. But the Lions have been forced to stick with Harrington -- even when he threw five interceptions at Chicago -- because Garcia's ankle and leg were injured in the final preseason game and rookie Dan Orlovsky was the only other option.
Through four games, Harrington has thrown four touchdowns, seven interceptions and completed 51.3 percent of his passes for less than 150 yards a game.
Garcia is coming off an awful year in Cleveland, but Lions Coach Steve Mariucci knows him as a three-time Pro Bowler he coached at San Francisco.
"I'm feeling better every single day," Garcia said. "I'm still not to the point where I can run, or feel comfortable moving forward on it. I'm still on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. I'm hoping next week I can be more involved in practice, and maybe be ready."