Nugent struts passed the dismantled Dolphin CB
Today begins a look back at the Jets' numerical roster and each respective player's individual 2006 season. This regular feature is scheduled to run throughout each week in the offseason. Mike Nugent kicks it off.
*When Mike Nugent packed away his cleats following the 2006 campaign, his right kicking shoe was smoking. If you include statistics from the Jets' postseason game in New England, Nugent ended his season with a field goal make streak of 21 straight. The second-year kicker connected on 89% (24 of 27) regular season attempts, and then he was perfect in the postseason.
"I think there is always room to go up; you can always get better," said a humble Nugent during the year. "Unless you're kicking every kickoff for a touchback and making every field goal and every extra point - you can always get better. Anytime I hit a kickoff to the 10 instead of the goal line, I think, 'Okay this is what I might have done wrong,' and try to work on it for the next one."
But Nugent's brilliant campaign actually started with an ominous outing in Tennessee. In the season opener against the Titans, Nugent missed an extra point and two field goal attempts fewer than 35 yards. Despite his struggles, the Jets found a way to win in Eric Mangini's first game as head coach by a 23-16 score.
"I was pretty consistent in the way I kicked in the game," Nugent said. "I was kicking the ground, and I just couldn't get a feel for it. I just didn't get out there and hit the ball like I normally would and it obviously showed in the game."
After pushing the ball to the right on three occasions, the onus was on Nugent to get things turned around.
"Each person needs to go back and individually hear the coaching they get and understand where the problems were and fix the problems," Mangini said a day after his club's victory at Tennessee. "I'm looking for that across the board from everybody."
Nugent made noticeable progress the rest of the way, converting on 23 of 24 field goal attempts and all of his 32 extra point attempts. He was named Jets' Special Teams Player of the Week by Mangini after tying a career-high with four field goals in a 26-11 week twelve defeat of the Houston Texans. Included in those four field goals was a career-long 54-yard effort, which tied Nugent for the second-longest kick in team history with John Hall. The 14 points Nugent recorded also tied a career-high (vs. Oakland on 12/11/05), and he even racked up a special teams tackle against the Texans.
"I was just thinking, 'The warm-ups went really well, so just hit it like I did during warm-ups,'" Nugent said of the 54-yard boot. "I always have a lot of confidence in Ben Graham holding, James Dearth snapping and all the guys on the line doing a good job of protecting us. I knew all that would come through; I knew I had to do my job."
Nugent would continue to do his job throughout the season. During the Jets' 38-10 December rout of the Packers at Lambeau Field, Nugent connected on a career-high five extra points. But his most significant kick of the season was a 30-yard strike on a sloppy field at Dolphins Stadium, propelling the Jets to a 13-10 Christmas Night win over their rivals. Nugent's game-winner, which came with just 10 seconds remaining in regulation, allowed the Jets to earn a postseason berth the following week with a triumph over the Raiders on New Year's Eve.
"I thought that Mike made a great kick there at the end to seal the game," Mangini said. "I was very pleased with that."
The only hiccups the field goal team experienced down the stretch were a couple of bobbles from holder Ben Graham, which prevented two Nugent attempts. When the local media met with special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff at the midway point, he indicated Nugent would improve on his kickoffs over time with increased strength. Nugent finished with just two touchbacks and the Jets finished tied for 24th in the league on kickoffs as opponents averaged a drive start at the 28.5-yard line.
"I compare us to how we do against our opponents and it's not exactly where I want to be, but it's not that terribly far behind," Westhoff said. "I want to continue to see him improve as a kickoff guy and he's go to do that, but yet there is a whole process involved and we'll get to it."
Westhoff, regarded as one of the league's sharpest position coaches, and Mangini helped Nugent recover from his porous start by raising the heat on him at practice.
"That was an auspicious debut to the year for him. That was a tough day for him and he had to fight through that and he has," Westhoff said of Nugent. "We just try to continue to pressure him in practice and what I try to do is maximize what they do well, minimize what they're having problems with and put them in as accurate of situations as I can duplicate, so when they do step up to bat in a game, they're as prepared as they can be."
Honored with the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for December, Nugent was perfect on 12 field goal attempts and totaled 47 points.
"It's kind of one of those things where you're happy to see it happen, but in my opinion I just see so many other things involved," said Nugent of the award. "You see an individual award like that, and you're just thinking that so many other things have to be put together to get to that point."
Nugent's fantastic season proved a great Mangini axiom. The first-year head coach repeatedly talked about the importance of a five-second rule – players simply had to store away past outcomes and move on.
"You have to realize the play is over and you can't do anything about it. The only thing you can really do is just make up for it on the next one and do your job on the next one," Nugent said.
Despite a less than memorable opening act, Nugent found his groove and the 5'9", 185-pound kicker became a consistent force.
"Especially being a kicker, you want to be as consistent as possible," he said. "That doesn't mean a great weekend here and bad weekend here. You want to try and stay level the entire time."