Monday, December 16, 2013
Like Bengals, Dre Kirkpatrick started slow
By Coley Harvey
PITTSBURGH -- On the very first play of Sunday night's game, the Pittsburgh Steelers made their game plan known.
They weren't going to throw the ball far. They mostly were going to toss short, underneath routes that put their receivers and running backs in positions where they could get in space and pile up yards after the catch.
The Steelers also made it painfully evident they were going to pick on second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.
Dre Kirkpatrick spent much of his first career start chasing Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown.
And why not? Kirkpatrick was making his first career start. Earlier in the week, he had been tapped to play for injured veteran corner Terence Newman, who suffered an MCL sprain against Indianapolis the previous week. On a defense with very few weaknesses, Kirkpatrick's inclusion in the starting rotation as a boundary corner appeared to be its most vulnerable spot.
So the Steelers did. And did. And did. And did again.
Of the 25 passes quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw in Pittsburgh's 30-20 win, 12 went to the right side of the field; the side where Kirkpatrick spent most of the night.
While Kirkpatrick contends he wasn't thrown off by the amount of action he received, he did admit that early on, he wasn't playing like he wanted to. Much like his team, he had a slow start to the game and spent the rest of the night trying to make up for it.
"After the first few series, I was on my heels a little bit," Kirkpatrick said. "But I had to take a deep breath and settle down, and I feel I did a good job of just adjusting to the game."
Eventually, he did ease in, recording four tackles and holding Pittsburgh wideout Antonio Brown to a mild five-catch, 66-yard performance. Of those catches, it was Brown's 12-yard reception in the first quarter, though, that hurt the Bengals the most. On a play in which Cincinnati dropped nine players into coverage and only rushed two, Brown caught a pass in the end zone that marked Roethlisberger's only passing score.
Otherwise, Brown -- who entered Sunday's game with four 100-yard receiving games, including a 138-yard performance last week against the Dolphins -- was held in check. Kirkpatrick was primarily charged with stopping the player who entered the week ranking in the top 4 in the NFL in receiving yards.
"I just had to bow up and just keep fighting," Kirkpatrick said. "I feel like I did a good job of just bowing up and fighting, and making those guys fight for everything they got."
After drawing a 15-yard facemask penalty on the very first play of the game, and missing a pair of tackles on first-half Brown receptions, Kirkpatrick was looking very much like the player some Bengals fans had anticipated seeing. Despite his strides all season, particularly in limited action the previous two weeks, some still were focused on his horrid preseason showing at Dallas in August. Pass interference penalties were his problem in that one.
Coach Marvin Lewis said he needed to review film before he commenting on Kirkpatrick's play.
It's still unclear exactly how long Kirkpatrick will be in this starting role, but the expectation is that he will continue playing it at least through the end of the regular season. Newman's injury had a timetable of one to three weeks for a return. After beginning last week on crutches, he was able to walk without them by the end of the week, but was wearing a leg-length knee brace.
As mentioned above, Kirkpatrick wasn't the only one who started slowly Sunday. The Bengals' offense had a tough time getting into rhythm on its first two drives, and three special teams miscues in the first quarter helped give the Steelers a 21-0 lead just 13 minutes into the game. Despite rallying late to bring the game within a two-point conversion of being a one-score contest, the Bengals, as Kirkpatrick said, simply "ran out of time."