Powell's shank led to Bengals punter switch

CINCINNATI -- At the moment Shawn Powell's foot connected with the football for a second time last Sunday, all of Paul Brown Stadium knew what would be coming in the next few days.

The punter would be packing his bags.

The odds seemed high that after his 10-yard shank made a beeline for the second row of stands behind the Bengals' bench, his short stay in Cincinnati would come to an end. Tuesday afternoon, it officially did.

Bengals special-teams coach Darrin Simmons told reporters this week what most had already assumed: The shanked punt played a key role in Powell getting waived, and Zoltan Mesko signed to take his spot ahead of Sunday's first-round playoff game against the Chargers.

"I hated that it didn't work out for Shawn. I know he wanted it to and I wanted it to for him," Simmons said. "But there comes a time when we're trying to win a series of games and a 10-yard punt is like a blocked punt to me. When we're playing critical games and field position is such a factor, that figures into it. Sometimes, it's just not the right place or the right time for someone or something. So we decided to make a change."

The punt didn't end up hurting the Bengals too badly. Although it was part of a rough third quarter that got the Ravens back into the contest, Cincinnati ended up holding on for a 34-17 win in the regular-season finale.

In Mesko, the Bengals are getting a fourth-year punter who has kicked on the big postseason stage before. Signed by the Bills after the 2012 draft, Powell didn't have the experience Mesko had.

Along with spending seven games this season with the Steelers, Mesko punted three seasons for the New England Patriots. He performed in the playoffs each of those years, averaging a net of 40.1 yards per punt in the postseason. That figure is actually higher than his regular-season average of 39.0 yards. Mesko is hopeful he can help factor into the Bengals' postseason success, but he's not sure if simply playing in the postseason will be much of a benefit or not.

"Just because I have playoff experience doesn't mean it's going to pay off for me," Mesko said. "The experience is always good. But I'm saying I have to earn it and we all have to earn this victory."

Mesko wasn't part of the five-man group of punters who the Bengals invited to tryout for the position two days after Kevin Huber suffered a season-ending injury at Pittsburgh. Huber was lost when a vicious blindside hit from the Steelers' Terence Garvin broke his jaw and cracked vertebrae in his neck.

Even though they felt more comfortable going in Powell's direction two weeks ago, the Bengals believe they made the right decision to sign Mesko this time.

"For me, it's a plug-and-play thing," Simmons said. "The thing you try to do with somebody new when it's a crash course is you try to reduce their anxiety with change. So there's little change that we could have for him. That's a positive."

Mesko said he only needed one day to get into a rhythm catching snaps from long-snapper Clark Harris. Like Powell and Huber, Mesko will be holding for kicker Mike Nugent on field goal and point-after attempts.