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Published 2:13am Thursday, December 19, 2013

CINCINNATI (AP) — Shawn Powell can finally get away from Cleveland.

The punter had one of his worst games there Oct. 3, allowing Travis Benjamin to have a club-record day — 179 yards and a touchdown on punt returns — during the Browns’ 37-24 win over the Bills on a Thursday night. The short flight back to Buffalo was a rough one, with Powell replaying all those imperfect punts in his head.

A few hours later, he was released. But in order to drive to his home in Rome, Ga., he had to head back to the setting for those unsettling moments. He got onto Interstate 90 and headed toward Cleveland, the first leg of his trip.

“That game has really been on my mind,” the second-year punter said. “When I drove down from Buffalo to go home, you go through Cleveland. It was just like: Dadgummit.

“But I watched that game. I looked at what I did wrong. I’ve been working on what I was doing wrong.”

He’s got a chance to get it right.

The Bengals (9-5) signed him to replace Kevin Huber, out for the rest of the season with a broken jaw. The 6-foot-4 punter suddenly becomes an integral part of Cincinnati’s playoff push — he’ll hold on field goal and extra point attempts as well.

There’s a lot riding on each kick.

Huber got hurt during a 30-20 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday night that left the AFC North leaders with no margin for error. They lead Baltimore by one game, but finish the season at home against the Ravens.

After leading the division by at least two games for much of the season, they’re in danger of missing out on the playoffs entirely. They can’t afford a loss to Minnesota (4-9-1) on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

“We’ve really got to win because if we lose this game, it’s going to be really ugly,” safety Chris Crocker said on Wednesday.

The Bengals are trying to get Powell ready in case it comes down to one kick.

They chose him over four other punters who tried out on Tuesday in part because he’s had a lot of experience as a holder. Huber was the holder on field goals and extra points. Powell, long snapper Clark Harris and kicker Mike Nugent got their first chance to work together in practice on Wednesday.

“It’s definitely a getting-used-to period,” Nugent said. “But just seeing Shawn hold, not only can you tell he’s very good at it but he’s done it before. He’s been in game situations, he knows the game speed.

“It’s something we definitely have to work on this week because it’s something new.”

Huber got hurt during Antonio Brown’s 67-yard return for a touchdown in the first half. The punter didn’t see Terence Garvin coming to block him and wound up getting hit in the jaw with the Steelers player’s helmet.

Huber broke his jaw at the chin and cracked a vertebra. He’ll have surgery Friday to repair the jaw. The vertebra is expected to heal on its own — Huber is wearing a neck brace for a couple of weeks.

Huber said Wednesday that he’s watched video of the hit-to-the-chin a few times. As a Bengals fan growing up in Cincinnati, Huber disliked the Steelers. The season-ending injury adds to his feelings.

“But at the end of the day, the guy made the block he was supposed to make,” Huber said. “It was a hard hit. It obviously worked out the way they planned it because they got a touchdown. It’s hard to get mad at him for making that block, because that’s what he’s coached to do and he made the right block.

“Do I still have that feeling toward the Steelers? Yeah. But that’s how I was raised. We’ll go on from there.”

Notes: LB James Harrison and DE Carlos Dunlap were held out of practice on Wednesday with concussions. CB Terence Newman also missed practice with a knee injury that sidelined him for the game in Pittsburgh. … RG Kevin Zeitler was limited in practice. He has missed the last three games with a foot injury.

———

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

 

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