After placing Stephen Gostkowski on injured reserve because of a hip injury that will cost him the remainder of the season, the New England Patriots brought seven kickers in for tryouts. Among the group of free agents to visit Foxborough was 15-year veteran Mike Nugent, who eventually won the job and was signed to the Patriots’ 53-man roster as Gostkowski’s replacement. Just three days later, he played his first game for the team.
All in all, his Patriots debut against the Washington Redskins was a mixed bag: Nugent made five kicks, but pushed his first attempt — an extra point that would have tied the game at seven in the first quarter — wide to the right. That miss from 33 yards out might have prompted the team to attempt a 4th and 1 from the Washington 22-yard line later in that period; the attempt was stuffed and New England turned the ball over on downs.
After his rough start, however, Nugent seemed to hit his groove — something he acknowledged in the locker room after the game: “I just needed to loosen up a little bit and get a little bit of the rust off. [The final five kicks] felt good, and looking back on the day, I think I did a great job just learning from that one. When you’re just a little bit more relaxed and don’t try to aim the ball, just swing through it and it’s going to go.”
Nugent, of course, had not attempted a kick in an NFL game in more than a year before he took the field on Sunday: the 37-year-old ended 2018 on injured reserve after hurting his hip in late September, and was not retained by the Oakland Raiders after the season. While he did try to stay in shape, the former second-round draft pick failed to find a new home before the Patriots called and eventually signed him.
“I think it’s always good to bounce back and hit some short ones and hit the rest of them,” said Nugent when talking about his first game for the team, “but it’s just like a golfer: you’re thinking of the shot you want back. So I’m going to work on it this week and make sure that doesn’t happen again. [...] I hate to be in the locker room thinking I want one kick back, but if you don’t learn from it, you’re not any good at this game.”
The veteran, who is exclusively working as a place kicker with punter Jake Bailey doing kickoffs, certainly showed some resiliency against Washington while the Patriots’ coaching staff showed trust in him as the game went along: Nugent was brought onto the field for a field goal try on a 4th and 2 from the Redskins 19-yard line shortly after his extra point miss. He went on to make both that kick and another field goal (from 23 yards out) as well as three PATs.
Nugent got into a rhythm after his initial shank, and finished the game in solid albeit unspectacular fashion. If that is what the Patriots are going to get out of him on a week-to-week basis, they probably can feel good about him as a replacement for Gostkowski.