Is there anything more anticlimactic in sports than a tie in the NFL?
The Bengals and Panthers traded points and clutch plays all afternoon, only for Cincinnati's Mike Nugent to send everyone home dissatisfied by pushing a 36-yard field goal wide right at the end of overtime, thus preserving a 37-37 tie.
Cincinnati had a chance to win the game on that kick because each team already had scored once in overtime. Nugent hit a 42-yard field goal, then Carolina's Graham Gano answered with a 36-yarder. Nugent's second OT attempt, which came on the game's final play, could have handed the Bengals a walk-off victory.
Instead, his miss produced the first tie since Green Bay and Minnesota deadlocked at 26 last Nov. 24. It was the third tie under the NFL's updated OT format, in which both teams get a possession unless a touchdown is scored -- St. Louis and San Francisco also tied back in 2012. That rule change was put into effect for the 2010 season, after the Saints won the 2009 NFC championship over the Vikings by taking the OT kickoff and marching for a game-winning field goal. Minnesota never had a shot with the ball in OT.
Both the old and new overtime systems have produced some confusion. In 2008, Donovan McNabb, then the Eagles' quarterback, said that he did not know an NFL game could end in a tie. Ex-49er Dashon Goldson was similarly confused after that 2012 St. Louis-San Francisco game came to a close.
"When I saw both sides walking onto the field, I was like, 'Where's everybody going?'" Goldson told the Associated Press afterward. "Did somebody quit? Forfeit? ... I didn't know there wouldn't be a second overtime if nobody scored."
There appeared to be less trouble Sunday.
Carolina had an opportunity to go for the win on its OT possession, facing a 4th-and-1 from the Bengals' 19. However, they opted to tie the game with a field goal.
The decision could pay off, because the tie looms large in both the NFC South and AFC North standings. Carolina moved to 3-2-1 with the outcome, meaning that Atlanta could not pull into a first-place tie by beating Chicago later Sunday; and the Bengals' 3-1-1 mark kept them out in front of the 4-2 Ravens. The Packers actually won the NFC North last season with help from their tie -- their 8-7-1 mark kept them just in front of the 8-8 Bears and 7-9 Lions.
Panthers QB Cam Newton pumped his fist, slightly unenthusiastically, as Nugent's kick sailed wide right. A tie obviously was better than a loss for either team, but the finish felt out of sorts at the end of a dramatic game. The Bengals took a 17-14 lead into halftime, Carolina responded with 14 unanswered points in the third quarter, and the tug of war continued through the final buzzer.
Normally reliable through his career with an 80 percent success rate on field goals, Nugent has struggled so far in 2014. He now has missed six tries already (11-for-17 on the season).
His latest miss cost Cincinnati a hard-fought victory and added another log onto the fire for those who would prefer the NFL find a way to eliminate ties altogether.