CINCINNATI (AP) — Minutes before the opening kickoff of the New York Jets’ playoff game, kicker Jay Feely learned he was going to have to do a whole lot more. For the first time in the NFL, he would be punting, too.
Steve Weatherford was dizzy and had a fast heartbeat after warming up Saturday, leaving him unavailable. Feely bailed the Jets out of what could have been a disastrous setback, punting seven times during a 24-14 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals that didn’t come down to him.
“I’d never punted in the NFL,” the nine-year pro said. “I had one punt in college. I punted one game in high school when our guy was sick. I was not very comfortable out there.”
It was touch-and-go at times, but it was good enough. He even managed to pin the Bengals a few times, though it was not something he intended.
“I’m bad enough that I’m a good pooch punter,” said Feely, who punted seven times for a 31.4-yard average and pinned Cincinnati inside its 20 three times. “I tried to hit it as good as I could, and that’s where it’s going to end up.”
Weatherford expected to do the punting and warmed up before the game, played in single-digit wind chills. He didn’t feel good as the kickoff approached.
“I got a little lightheaded and I had an elevated heart rate,” Weatherford said. “It wasn’t life-threatening, but any time it’s your heart …”
Coach Rex Ryan joked that he almost had a heart issue after hearing about the problem.
“I’m hoping he’s OK,” Ryan said. “Maybe it was just a little anxiety. Who knows?”
The coaches then told Feely that he was going to have to do the punting.
“You go out and try to do your best,” he said.
He immediately ran onto the field and got in a couple of practice kicks, hoping the Bengals wouldn’t notice. Bengals kicker Shayne Graham spotted him and ran to the sideline to inform his coaches.
Feely’s first punt was low and wobbly, traveling only 33 yards. Rico Murray ran it back 23 yards, setting up Cincinnati’s first touchdown. Feely got better after that.
“That was definitely the most nervous I have been in the NFL, before that first punt,” Feely said. “It wasn’t a thing of beauty.”
His coaches saw it differently.
“Jay Feely was tremendous today,” Ryan said. “I had no idea he could punt like that.”
Feely also got the better of Graham when the game was on the line.
Feely kicked a 42-yard field goal on the Jets’ opening drive of the second half, but it was wiped out by a holding penalty. He then was ready to kick from 52 yards, but a false start scuttled that play. He wound up punting to the Cincinnati 12-yard line.
The Bengals then drove into field-goal range, but Graham — Cincinnati’s franchise-tagged player — was wide left from 35 yards.
Feely’s 20-yard field goal with 5:47 to go put the Jets in control. The game essentially ended when Graham was wide right from 28 yards with 3:49 left.
“There isn’t anything you can say about that,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “When you miss the field goal, you miss the field goal. It’s a shame, and it killed us. Unfortunately in this case, it is mostly a one-man operation, and that is the sad part of it. Shayne feels worse than anybody. Those points obviously make a big difference.”
Graham didn’t wait around to do interviews after the game.