CINCINNATI -- It was arguably the most attention-grabbing play in a game full of highlight-worthy catches, returns and turnovers.
After Kansas City Chiefs punt returner De'Anthony Thomas narrowly avoided a big collision as he caught a late-first quarter punt Thursday night, the speedster reversed course and raced clear past the Cincinnati Bengals' coverage unit 80 yards for a touchdown that tied the preseason opener at 10. It was a wild play in a game that had many of them. All told, including the ground he covered running across the field, the rookie Thomas ran 114.3 yards on the return.
What led to the breakdown for the Bengals?
A number of things. Poor tackling and poor angles -- particularly on the back side of the return -- didn't help. They combined to open an alley that Thomas ran through without being touched. Before those became issues, though, Dre Kirkpatrick, who was closing in on delivering a big tackle as soon as Thomas caught the ball, got spun around by his defender while trying to avoid early contact with the returner.
"The guy pushed me in the back," Kirkpatrick said of the blocker.
Kirkpatrick, as the gunner on punt coverage, was trying to not let what he believed was a push in the back run him into Thomas.
"That's one of those plays where if you hit the guy before he catches the ball, and you didn't give him room to properly catch the ball, they probably would have thrown a flag," Kirkpatrick said. "I should have made the tackle once I touched him [since] they didn't call it. It was just one of those bang-bang plays."
As he tried to avoid contact with Thomas, Kirkpatrick angled his body in a way that didn't allow him to attempt a tackle, despite the fact he and the blocker still crashed into the returner a split-second after he caught the ball. Thomas then bounced off the contact, spun to his right and found the soft zone in the Bengals' coverage unit. With a couple of timely blocks and a missed tackle, he sprinted into the aforementioned alley.
"Like I said, I have 10 other guys behind me," Kirkpatrick said. "We just have to make our mistakes up."
Coach Marvin Lewis agreed with Kirkpatrick that he wasn't solely at fault for the score.
"He did a good job releasing as the gunner," Lewis said of Kirkpatrick. "The gunners are going to make that kind of juke and move -- that's their job -- all the time because they're used to getting double-teamed. [The Chiefs] did a nice job beating it over the top, and we would like to get [the returner] down. There's a lot of people that have to make that play."
About four minutes later, Kirkpatrick made up for his part of the botched return when he intercepted backup Chiefs quarterback Chase Daniel, and returned the turnover 40 yards for a touchdown. Kirkpatrick read the route all the way, watching Daniel's eyes follow a tight end who was racing across the field.
"The ball kind of came off his hand funny," Kirkpatrick said. "I was there, and I'm going to take presents, if you give them to me."
Rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard was in the area and delivered a timely block on a receiver to spring Kirkpatrick free for the score. One play prior, Dennard also came off the edge for a sack.