NFL Nation: Dre Kirkpatrick

Countdown to combine: Bengals CBs

February, 21, 2014
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With the NFL combine this week, we've been taking a look at positions of need and who the Cincinnati Bengals might be looking at during the combine at those positions. We've reached the end and are evaluating the Bengals' most immediate draft concern.

Position of need: Cornerback

Now that players have started arriving at the combine and talking with teams and media, we're wrapping up our combine countdown with the position that ought to garner the most eyeballs from Bengals' decision-makers leading up to the May draft. Much like we've said about the other positions (here's a look at our pre-combine reads on the situations at running back, on the offensive line, defensive line and at quarterback), this draft for Cincinnati is all about backups and reserves. Though there might be some exceptions for prospects who can contribute right away on special teams, the Bengals are in Indianapolis this weekend mostly looking for help behind their starting lineups. The only real casualty to the Bengals' starting rotations on offense and defense could be defensive end Michael Johnson, who will enter free agency March 11.

As for cornerback specifically, the Bengals have a veteran returning group paced by Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Terence Newman. Brandon Ghee also could return in a reserve capacity if he gets re-signed starting next month, allowing him to get paired again with third-year player Dre Kirkpatrick in the back end of the rotation. But with Hall coming off his second major injury in three seasons and having just turned 29, and Jones and Newman both now in their 30s and entering the final years of their contracts, the Bengals have to start preparing for life without them. Kirkpatrick factors into those plans after being drafted in the first round in 2012. With this year's draft class so ripe with good cornerback talent, the Bengals will look at bringing at least one along. For now, it stands to reason that they will use their first-round pick, No. 24 overall, on a corner.

Three players the Bengals might be targeting (all three are expected to attend the combine)

Darqueze Dennard (CB), Michigan State: Dennard has appeared on Bengals mock drafts since early January, most specifically making it on ESPN draft insider Mel Kiper Jr.'s 1.0 and 2.0 mocks. In the days entering the combine, though, Dennard has started climbing in the eyes of most draft experts, including ESPN's Todd McShay. Many seem to believe he won't be available when the Bengals make their pick at 24. Durability could be an issue for Dennard, who had his share of injuries in college. One of the more positive aspects to his play, though, are his instincts and knack for finding the ball. He had 59 tackles and four sacks his senior season.

Lamarcus Joyner (CB), Florida State: At 5-foot-8, Joyner stands a shade shorter than the types of longer and leaner corners the Bengals have brought in over the years, but his versatility in the defensive backfield will make him an attractive target for some team. At FSU, he played the boundary cornerback positions, lined up some in the slot at nickel, and was featured for most of his career at safety. He also appeared on special teams both as a return specialist and tackler on kick coverage. Cut from the same cloth as a player like Jones, Joyner plays with a chip on his shoulder. It's that combination of fearless play and versatility that should make him a serious late-first-round target.

Stan Jean-Baptiste (CB), Nebraska: Likely a second- or third-round talent, Jean-Baptiste ultimately may not end up in the Bengals' draft plans. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he's also a little bigger than the cornerbacks the Bengals have brought in lately, but more important than that, he seems to still have playmaking ability with respect to intercepting passes and creating turnovers. He had four interceptions in 2013. His comparative height and weight advantage can help him when jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. It also might make some teams think about moving him to safety.

A look at the 16th, 17th pick

February, 5, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys will not know until a coin flip at the NFL scouting combine if they or the Baltimore Ravens will pick 16th or 17th in the first round of the May draft.

The only time the Cowboys used the 16th pick in the draft came in 1961 when they selected E.J. Holub in the second round. They have not taken a player with the 17th overall pick since cornerback Kevin Smith in 1992. Before that? In 1990 they took Emmitt Smith, who is now the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.

What type of player has been available at Nos. 16 and 17? Here’s a look at the past 10 years.

2013 – EJ Manuel, Buffalo; Jarvis Jones, Pittsburgh
2012 – Quinton Coples, New York Jets; Dre Kirkpatrick, Cincinnati
2011 – Ryan Kerrigan, Washington; Nate Solder, New England
2010 – Derrick Morgan, Tennessee; Mike Iupati, San Francisco
2009 – Larry English, San Diego; Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay
2008 – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Arizona; Gosder Cherilus, Detroit
2007 – Justin Harrell, Green Bay; Jarvis Moss, Denver
2006 – Jason Allen, Miami; Chad Greenway, Minnesota
2005 – Travis Johnson, Houston; David Pollack, Cincinnati
2004 – Shawn Andrews, Philadelphia; D.J. Williams, Denver
2003 – Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh; Bryant Johnson, Arizona.

Polamalu is by far the best player selected in either spot. He will be in the Hall of Fame. There are quality players in there like Williams, Greenway, Rodgers-Cromartie, Iupati, Solder and Kerrigan. Andrews had a pretty good short run as well. Kerrigan is solid and has done some good things versus the Cowboys. Coples has showed some pass rush his first two seasons. I expected more from Kirkpatrick, who was on the Cowboys’ radar in 2012.

The Cowboys held the No. 18 pick in 2013 and traded down to No. 31 with the Niners where they took Travis Frederick. They felt they were in a position to trade down and still pick up a quality player. When they saw Eric Reid, Justin Pugh, Kyle Long and Tyler Eifert go off the board in the next four picks they were left sweating it out until they got Frederick.

How costly was Geno Atkins' injury?

January, 29, 2014
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CINCINNATI -- Yes, it's the offseason, meaning the time of year has arrived when media entities compile their sundry end-of-season lists.

As you might have been able to tell, the list frenzy hit ESPN.com's Cincinnati Bengals blog about two weeks ago when we started counting down the top 10 plays from the 2013 season. We've also devoted lists to breaking down the team's position groups, and will have even more list-form analysis regarding other items in the coming months.

Such blogs are good complements to other coverage. They can further and firm what has already been reported, or be good jumping off points for generating discussion as seasons get reviewed and the results of others predicted.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsCincinnati's defense was one of the NFL's best despite losing Geno Atkins in Week 9.
Over the weekend, Pro Football Focus trotted out one particular list-based blog that evaluated the "costliest" injuries around the league this season. The countdown looked at 10 players across the NFL whose statistics and grade of play made them difficult to replace. The list also included a group of three players who were considered honorable mentions for costliest injury. Of the 13 total players, two were Bengals.

Most notably, PFF said it felt defensive tackle Geno Atkins had the NFL's costliest injury in 2013. Cornerback Leon Hall made the additional three-man cut.

Both are, in fact, among the top players on a defense that entered the season regarded universally as one of the best. That alone made it more difficult to replace them, driving up the metaphoric cost of their mid-season injuries.

But, really, how costly did those injuries -- specifically Atkins' -- turn out to be? After all, without the Pro Bowl lineman and the cornerback who was having a Pro Bowl type of start to his eighth season, the Bengals still finished near the top of the league's defensive rankings. In holding opponents to an average of 305.0 yards per game, Cincinnati ranked third in total defense.

A large part of the reason why the Bengals were able to garner such a high ranking was because they got contributions from other parts of their defense to absorb the injuries to Atkins and Hall. Atkins went down at Miami in Week 9 when he tore an ACL trying to make a tackle. Hall tore an Achilles two weeks prior when he was trying to out-jump Detroit's Calvin Johnson on a fade route into the back of the end zone.

According to PFF, Atkins' replacement, Brandon Thompson, and fellow interior line starter Domata Peko, had issues getting pressure and stopping the run. Thompson had two sacks and no quarterback hits, while Peko "struggled mightily alongside him," the blurb said.

It's tough to really say Atkins' fellow defensive tackles played poorly, because while they may not have been getting pressure or stopping the run with regularity, they were getting help from others. Defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry each had 7.5 sacks, and fellow end Michael Johnson tied for a league-high eight pass deflections at the line. The Bengals' third-down conversion rating was the second highest in the league this season and the highest at home. Even if the Bengals' interior linemen had issues stopping the run overall, they were still doing something right on third down.

It's also unfair to fully pin replacing Atkins' production on Thompson and Peko. They weren't the only ones playing defensive tackle in the wake of Atkins' injury. Fellow tackle Devon Still mixed in a bit at Atkins' old spot, as did ends Gilberry and Margus Hunt. Linebacker James Harrison also played at tackle in certain nickel situations to provide an additional athletic pass-rusher on the interior during passing downs.

Part of PFF's decision to deem Atkins' injury the costliest in the league hinged on the fact that he was the site's Defensive Player of the Year runner-up the year before, and the fact he amassed a dizzying plus-80.0 grade in 2012 from it. That grade was more than double what any other defensive tackle received from the site that season.

Indeed, replacing the best player in the league at his position is a tall, unenviable task. But upon further review, it was one the Bengals actually passed quite easily.

With respect to Hall, though, the challenges for continuity were even greater. The domino effect of his injury and others meant still-learning second-year player Dre Kirkpatrick was thrust into more playing time, as was veteran Chris Crocker, who came out of retirement four weeks into the season. Challenges aside, though, like Atkins' replacement, Hall's held firm without him. Kirkpatrick had his problems combating double moves and deep, wide-open receivers, but he still finished with three interceptions, including two that effectively iced a key win.

Should the injuries to Atkins and Hall have been costly? Most definitely. But the Bengals' talent was just deep enough to prove the pair wasn't completely irreplaceable.

Kiper mock 1.0 reaction: Bengals

January, 15, 2014
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CINCINNATI -- Most of the Cincinnati Bengals' more pressing needs in this year's draft will come on defense, as they try to maintain the measure of depth they have enjoyed the past three seasons.

In his first mock draft Insider of the new year, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. went in precisely that direction as he declared Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard the Bengals' selection with the No. 24 pick of the first round.

Dennard was the second cornerback to go in Kiper's mock draft. Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State, the top-rated corner on Kiper's Big Board, went 10th to the Detroit Lions.

Cornerback is just one of the more glaring weaknesses the Bengals will have entering this year's draft. They also will be looking to shore up their depth at linebacker, safety, defensive end, guard and offensive tackle. At linebacker, a cover player who can slip into one of the outside linebacker positions during nickel situations will be sought. When Emmanuel Lamur was lost for the year after an injury in the last preseason game, the Bengals spent the next month scrambling to find an adequate nickel linebacker. Part of their plans included shifting defensive back Taylor Mays into the spot.

To avoid such scrambling this year, the Bengals would like a true cover linebacker on the roster in case something happens to Lamur or any of the other outside linebackers next season.

While Terence Newman, Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick will be back next season, the Bengals still need an extra cornerback in the event injuries hit that position like they did in the first part of the 2013 season. They were fortunate Chris Crocker was still in shape and able to come out of retirement and fill necessary gaps due to early-season injuries to Hall, Jones and Kirkpatrick. When Hall was lost to injury near the middle of the season, Crocker's presence became even more necessary.

Two drafts ago, the Bengals spent their first-round pick on Kirkpatrick. While he started showing signs late this past season that he was beginning to make the transition to the NFL, he still had noticeable struggles. He was out of position at times and completely burned at others. By having another young cornerback come in, particularly if Brandon Ghee doesn't get re-signed this offseason, the Bengals could be sending a message to Kirkpatrick to play well more consistently or risk losing his job.

Dennard has played well for all four of his seasons at Michigan State. Football fans in Cincinnati ought to be somewhat familiar with him, too. This past fall, while helping the Spartans go 11-1 and leading them to a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl victory, he had 59 tackles and four interceptions. He deflected a pair of passes in MSU's Big Ten title game win over Ohio State.

He also has an NFL connection. The Dry Branch, Ga., native is distantly related to Patriots defensive back and former Nebraska standout Alfonzo Dennard. Like many of the Bengals' cornerbacks, Darqueze Dennard played other positions in high school, including receiver. ESPN's draft insiders laud his cover skills and ability to come away with interceptions.

In addition to linebacker and cornerback, another position the Bengals could attempt to draft in the first round is defensive end. With Michael Johnson likely gone because of the high price tag he likely will fetch following a year spent as the team's franchise player, Cincinnati will be looking to replace him. Although Margus Hunt began to impress coaches by the end of 2013, and veterans Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers will be back to rotate into Johnson's spot, the Bengals would like to add another body to help with the depth there.

Possible first-round targets include Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt and Oregon State's Scott Crichton. Kiper had the Chiefs taking Tuitt one spot ahead of the Bengals at No. 23, and Crichton going to the Broncos at No. 31.
CINCINNATI -- Terence Newman will miss a fourth straight game Sunday as the Cincinnati Bengals listed the veteran cornerback among their inactives ahead of the first-round AFC playoff game here.

Newman was out the last three games of the regular season after suffering an MCL sprain in the Bengals' 42-28 win over the Colts in Week 14. Like they did in the other three games he missed, the Bengals are replacing him with second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Last week, Kirkpatrick had two interceptions, including one he returned 21 yards for a game-icing touchdown.

Cincinnati closed out the regular season last week with a 34-17 win over the Ravens at home.

In anticipation of a likely start Sunday, Kirkpatrick told ESPN.com earlier this week that he wasn't feeling nervous about making his first career postseason start.

"You can't really get any bigger than the game I played in 2011," the University of Alabama product said. "Alabama-LSU. That game was so big, there was so much media there. I don't look at it as no different. ... Both are on the same platform for me."

It appeared Newman had a chance to play Friday when he participated in his first practice since suffering his knee injury. Even though he returned, he was listed as doubtful on the injury report and didn't seem he would be conditioned enough to play. All signs point to him possibly being healthy enough to play next week if the Bengals win Sunday. With a win in this wild-card game, the Bengals would advance to the divisional round, where they have to travel to New England to face the Patriots. Cincinnati beat New England at Paul Brown Stadium in September.

While Newman was listed among the inactives, two tight ends, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert, weren't. The pair missed last week's finale and spent much of this past week trying to get back for this game. Gresham didn't play last week after picking up a hamstring injury in the win over Minnesota the week before. Eifert suffered a stinger in that game and was shelved until this past Thursday.

Here are the inactives for both teams:

CHARGERS: QB Brad Sorensen, WR/KR Lavelle Hawkins, S Brandon Taylor, CB Marcus Cromartie, OL Stephen Schilling, OT Kenny Wiggins, DT Sean Lissemore.

BENGALS: WR Dane Sanzenbacher, CB Terence Newman, RB Rex Burkhead, OG Tanner Hawkinson, DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo, TE Kevin Brock, WR Ryan Whalen.

W2W4: Chargers at Bengals

January, 4, 2014
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CINCINNATI -- Before the Cincinnati Bengals began practices this week, coach Marvin Lewis rattled off a list of themes they could expect reporters to write about and ask about this week.

In no particular order, among them were statements about how:
  • The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since Andy Dalton and A.J. Green were drafted.
  • The Bengals haven't won a playoff game under Lewis.
  • The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since 1990.
  • The Bengals were good at home, sporting an 8-0 record there this season.

In a week in which Cincinnati was hosting a first-round playoff game against a San Diego team it had already beaten on the road this year, he was trying to get them to feel like underdogs. He wanted his players to feel like they weren't loved by the rest of the football world. He wanted them to feel the same sense of desperation and urgency the fans of their city had felt for 23 years.

He wanted them to know what was at stake Sunday afternoon.

Along with needing a win in order to advance in the playoffs, some around the city simply want the Bengals to win Sunday so they may start changing the city's postseason luck. Lewis knows that. He wanted his players to be aware of that, too.

For a possible drought-ending playoff win to happen, the Bengals will have to do the following four things. Here's this wild-card round Chargers-Bengals W2W4:

Does Good Andy show up? This was the top question most had for the Bengals for 16 weeks this season, as they wondered which version of the team's enigmatic quarterback would make an appearance. "Good Andy," the version of Andy Dalton who posted 300-yard passing games with ease and who could connect with receivers for three and four touchdowns in wins, showed up multiple times this season. But he wasn't present enough to render "Bad Andy" moot. Twice this season, Dalton threw for less than 200 yards in a game and four times had QBRs that were below 30.0. It was mostly against intense pressure that "Bad Andy" arrived on the scene, throwing ill-advised interceptions and forcing incompletions into difficult coverages. During the first half of last month's Bengals-Chargers game, Dalton was bad for one half before completing a 180-degree turn in the second half to help spark a big late-season victory. Of course, Cincinnati will need more of the good guy this week.

Hostile at home. Paul Brown Stadium has been a difficult place for opposing offenses to play this season. Even some of the league's best units -- the No. 3 Packers and No. 7 Patriots -- had their struggles there. New England quarterback Tom Brady saw a consecutive games touchdown streak ended as he was held out of the end zone. Two field goals were all the Patriots could muster in the teams' October meeting in Cincinnati. The Bengals had a timely fumble return for touchdown and a key fourth-down stand that beat Green Bay the week before the Patriots arrived. Inside the building nicknamed "The Jungle," the Bengals are averaging a 17.6-point margin of victory in all eight home wins. Ask the Bengals why they play so well there, and they are quick to defer to fans who attend those games. After needing help from local businesses to make a sellout possible, be on the lookout for how many fans the Bengals are able to have show up. An emptier stadium could lead to a less hostile environment than what the Bengals are accustomed to.

Offensive line shuffle. Last Sunday against Baltimore, Cincinnati's offensive line took a beating so intense that offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was growing concerned about whether he was going to get out of the game with a line he could field this week. At one point, a trainer shouted: "We don't have any offensive tackles." When he did, Andre Smith and Anthony Collins, both sidelined by ankle injuries, offered to go back in and finish the contest. Injuries like those were among reasons why the Bengals barely had any linemen practice Wednesday when the week's playoff preparations began. Center Kyle Cook also had a foot injury and guard Andrew Whitworth dealt with his own ankle issue. Because of the line shuffling that resulted, Gruden said preparations this week have been "unique." While all of the injured linemen should be healthy Sunday, watch to see how well they all respond to their apparently nagging injuries. If just one isn't able to go, it could throw the starting line rotation out of whack. The same anticipated rotation that includes Whitworth at left guard and Collins at left tackle was first used the day the Bengals pounded 150 yards of rushing offense at a battered Chargers defensive line.

Kirkpatrick or Newman? In addition to a little uncertainty on the Bengals' offensive line, there are some question marks revolving around the left boundary cornerback position. Second-year defender Dre Kirkpatrick, who missed Thursday's workout with an illness that he was still getting over Friday, appears set to make his third straight start in place of veteran Terence Newman. Although Newman finally returned to practice Friday for the first time since injuring his left knee Dec. 8, it doesn't appear he's had enough time to get fully healthy. He only had the one day of practice this week. Still, he contends that he'll be in shape if needed. Officially, he was listed as doubtful for the game. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert could be similar game-time scratches or additions. After missing last week completely, both were declared questionable going into this weekend.
CINCINNATI -- For the first time in a month, Terence Newman practiced for the Cincinnati Bengals on Friday.

But that might not be enough to get him back in the starting rotation. It appears he will be missing his fourth straight game after being listed as doubtful on the injury report following Cincinnati's final practice ahead of Sunday's playoff game against San Diego.

Newman
Newman
Kirkpatrick
It was originally believed following his Week 14 injury against the Indianapolis Colts that Newman would only miss one to three weeks. After that third week passed seven days ago, he was expected to be back practicing this week. He didn't appear until Friday, continuing to to rehab from his MCL sprain Wednesday and Thursday.

Newman was one of 12 players on the injury report. The list included his backup, Dre Kirkpatrick, who practiced despite having an illness that kept him out Thursday. Since Newman's injury, Kirkpatrick appeared in the past three games. Although he has been beaten at some critical times, he also has come away with three key interceptions, including his game-icing 21-yard interception return for touchdown in last week's 34-17 win against the Ravens.

"It's just about being more focused this time of the year," Kirkpatrick said Friday. "I know what it takes to win championships. Just the intensity has to pick up. I'm not a leader, but I've got the intensity that I am a leader."

Before getting drafted in the first round last year, Kirkpatrick starred in the secondary at Alabama. The Crimson Tide won two BCS championships while Kirkpatrick was there. He was listed as probable on the injury report.

Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert also made the injury report, marking the second straight week there will be doubt about their playing status. Both were declared inactive last week with respective hamstring and neck injuries. Gresham has practiced all week, despite being limited for part of it. Eifert returned Thursday after suffering a stinger in Cincinnati's win two weeks ago against Minnesota. Both were listed as questionable.

In addition to Kirkpatrick, receiver A.J. Green was listed as probable after dealing with a knee injury that caused him to miss Wednesday's practice. He returned Thursday and was full-go Friday when the Bengals dodged single-digit temperatures by practicing inside the University of Cincinnati's practice bubble.

Here's the full Bengals injury report:

DOUBTFUL
CB Terence Newman (knee)

QUESTIONABLE
C Kyle Cook (foot)
TE Tyler Eifert (neck)
DE Wallace Gilberry (concussion)
TE Jermaine Gresham (hamstring)

PROBABLE
OT Anthony Collins (ankle)
S Chris Crocker (knee)
WR A.J. Green (knee)
CB Dre Kirkpatrick (illness)
LB Vincent Rey (ankle)
OT Andre Smith (ankle)
OL Andrew Whitworth (ankle)

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
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CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 34-17 victory against the Baltimore Ravens.

What it means: It may not have been pretty, but the Bengals' victory Sunday was just what they needed to build a little momentum entering the postseason. All week players and coaches talked about how they didn't plan on packing it in despite having already earned a playoff berth and another division title. They had every intention of playing their starters throughout the ballgame and doing whatever they could to beat their AFC North-rival Ravens, thereby helping keep the defending league champions out of the playoffs. If the win itself was the good, the bad and ugly were the four turnovers and poorly struck punt the Bengals had in the ballgame. If a team is going to have those miscues, it has to be glad to have them in a win. They could serve as good motivation for Cincinnati, too, as the Bengals look to correct their issues as they get ready for postseason.

Stock watch: Andy Dalton -- Falling. It's hard to truly say the Bengals quarterback's stock is trending downward since he threw for two touchdowns and was close to going beyond the 300-yard mark for a sixth time this season, but he didn't look as good Sunday as he had for most of the rest of the month. Along with his prolific passing numbers, Dalton also threw four interceptions. His first interception came on a deep ball on the game's first play. That pass was slightly underthrown as receiver Marvin Jones had to slow his stride in order to get underneath the ball. When he did, he had the ball ripped from him by Corey Graham. The next interception was the result of miscommunication between Dalton and receiver A.J. Green. They will need to clean that up heading into the postseason. Dalton's performance also came on the same day he set Bengals single-season records in passing yards and touchdowns.

Near-costly Shank: Bengals punter Shawn Powell, brought on two weeks ago in the wake of Kevin Huber's season-ending jaw injury, had a near-costly shank on a third-quarter punt. As he reached back to kick the ball, it appeared his foot got caught in the turf before swinging through and glancing off the ball. When the ball left his foot, it hooked immediately to the left, sailing over the Bengals' sideline and into the first two rows of stadium seats. Altogether, the punt traveled 10 yards, two yards shy of the first down marker the Bengals would have needed to reach if they went for it on fourth-and-12. On the ensuing Ravens drive, Baltimore scored and added a two-point conversion to tie the game. The sequence ended up not hurting the Bengals after all.

Dre's day: Backup cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick had the best performance of his young career, coming away with two interceptions late in the ballgame. Both pickoffs came on consecutive plays on consecutive drives. The second opened the Ravens' second-to-last drive and resulted in an interception return for a touchdown with about four minutes remaining that effectively put the game out of reach.

What's next? The playoffs are up next for the Bengals, who won't know their opponent until the conclusion of Sunday's late afternoon games. They either will play Pittsburgh or San Diego next week at Paul Brown Stadium. If the Patriots lose later Sunday afternoon, Cincinnati will have the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.

Eight injured Bengals miss practice

December, 24, 2013
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CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals were without eight players Tuesday afternoon as they held their first practice ahead of Sunday's regular-season finale against the Baltimore Ravens.

The group was headlined by linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who continues to miss time after being placed this week under concussion protocol. He suffered a head injury late in the 42-14 blowout win against the Vikings in Week 15. On Monday, Bengals officials confirmed that he was one of three players who had been placed under the protocol this week. Tight end Alex Smith and practice squad cornerback Onterio McCalebb also were being evaluated for head injuries.

Like Burfict, Smith missed Tuesday's practice.

They were joined by offensive tackle Andre Smith, linebacker Vincent Rey, cornerbacks Terence Newman and Dre Kirkpatrick, and tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert. Newman has missed the past two games because of a knee injury that came three weeks ago. It's possible he would miss this game, as well, in order to get completely back to full strength entering the postseason.

Eifert was diagnosed during Sunday's game with having suffered a stinger. Andre Smith also left the game with a sprained ankle. It's unclear as of now how the other players were hurt. It's likely the high rate of absences resulted from the fact that practice was a day earlier than normal. There is a chance many of those who missed Tuesday's session will be good to go later in the week. Linebacker James Harrison returned to practice Tuesday after being declared inactive Sunday because of a concussion he had the week before.

Because the Bengals were practicing on a day they normally take off -- Wednesdays are typically the first days they practice each week -- no injury report was provided. An injury report will be released to media late Wednesday, outlining just what caused each player to miss practice time.

Cincinnati spent Tuesday working out inside Paul Brown Stadium in an effort to get work in before Christmas. In deference to the holiday, they will be taking Wednesday completely off.
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.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Brown
AP Photo/Don WrightDre 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."

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
11:38
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PITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 30-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

What it means: Much of the Bengals' focus this season had to do with proving themselves to the rest of the football universe. As a team that has spent much of its history in the lower tier of the AFC, the Bengals entered this season with the belief that many others doubt them, and they even carried that thought with them into this week when a third straight postseason berth was on the line. But in actuality, there were few who doubted the Bengals this past week. There was an overwhelming belief by pundits that they might actually be a force once the postseason began. When the New England Patriots lost to the Miami Dolphins earlier in the day, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Cincinnati would win and retain the No. 2 seeding the Patriots' loss was about to give them. All the Bengals had to do was win. But that didn't happen. They didn't even show up at Heinz Field, and now, like before, the Bengals still have to rely on help from others in order to script their postseason story. With a win, they would have fully controlled their fate.

Stock watch: Offensive line -- falling. Cincinnati's offensive line has been rather solid all season, consistently ranking among the best in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. The group didn't look quite as strong Sunday, as the Steelers were getting consistent pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton. Most of the pressure came in the first two quarters. It eased a bit in the second half as Pittsburgh was trying to protect the lead and wasn't rushing Dalton quite as regularly. What also helped Dalton was the fact he and his receivers became more committed to running quick-strike screen and slant routes that didn't give the pass rush much time to develop. The early pressure led to Dalton being sacked in the first half for the first time since Nov. 10 at Baltimore. It was the only sack the Bengals' line allowed.

Injuries pile up: Injuries have ravaged the Bengals all year, and they hit them even harder in this game. With Dre Kirkpatrick starting at cornerback in place of veteran Terence Newman, the Bengals already were down one of their top defenders. Late in the first half, though, they also lost linebacker James Harrison. The former Steeler was run from the game with a concussion in the same quarter that Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber left with a fractured jaw.

Green short of 100: Bengals receiver A.J. Green was seven yards short of 100. He hasn't gone beyond the 100-yard mark since that same Nov. 10 game when Dalton was previously sacked. He had a chance to do that on the Bengals' last drive, though, but he didn't catch up to a Dalton deep pass.

What's next? The Bengals will try to get back on track next weekend when they return home and host the Minnesota Vikings in the first of two regular-season games left at Paul Brown Stadium. Minnesota blew past Philadelphia on Sunday, 48-30.

Bengals list CB Terence Newman as out

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
3:15
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CINCINNATI -- All week, the Cincinnati Bengals have been expected to give second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick his first career start.

They will.

Newman
Newman
Kirkpatrick
On their injury report released Friday afternoon, the Bengals officially listed starting cornerback Terence Newman as out for Sunday night's nationally televised tilt in Pittsburgh against the Steelers. Kirkpatrick will take Newman's place in the starting lineup, occupying the boundary cornerback position opposite Adam Jones. It's been an opportunity Kirkpatrick has been anxious to have since he was taken by the Bengals with the 17th overall pick in the 2012 draft.

"Make no mistake, when we bring guys in here and we talk to them about how they could possibly be our first pick in the draft, it's a total package," coach Marvin Lewis said. "It's their abilities, but yet the confidence in their abilities and the ability to work at what it takes, as well. When you get your first year where you're kind of sideways all the time for injuries and things like he had last year, it's taken his time and his opportunity a little longer to get going."

Kirkpatrick's addition should be the only change the Bengals make to their starting lineup. Newman was the only player listed as out on the injury report. According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, he is expected to miss 1-3 three weeks after suffering an MCL sprain in last week's 42-28 win against Indianapolis.

Along with Newman were seven probables. The list includes linebacker James Harrison, who will be playing his first game in Pittsburgh since departing the Steelers in the offseason. After a potential deal fell through, he signed with Cincinnati in April, marking the first time in his 12-year pro career that Harrison had played for anyone other than Pittsburgh.

At one point this week, it seemed his return might not take place. He and two other players had fallen ill with a bug that spread around the team for a couple days. The illness forced Harrison into missing Thursday's and Friday's practices. Fellow linebacker Vontaze Burfict was out Thursday, and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis missed Wednesday's and Thursday's sessions.

One of the other probables, offensive guard Kevin Zeitler, likely will be put back into the starting lineup at right guard after coming back from a foot injury that has kept him out the past three games.

Here's the full Bengals' injury report:

OUT
CB Terence Newman (knee)

PROBABLE
LB Vontaze Burfict (illness/thigh)
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (illness)
LB James Harrison (illness)
DE Wallace Gilberry (knee)
S George Iloka (concussion)
WR Marvin Jones (shoulder)
OG Kevin Zeitler (foot)
CINCINNATI -- Most times when Leon Hall walks through the Cincinnati Bengals' locker room these days, reporters are absent.

Wednesday was a rare exception.

As the cornerback and his booted right foot breezed through around midday after another weekday rehab assignment, he was stopped by members of the media who hadn't talked with him since before he tore his right Achilles during in a win over the Detroit Lions two months ago. He has been on the injured reserve since and remained mostly out of sight while undergoing his second major rehabilitation in three seasons.

[+] EnlargeLeon Hall
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsLeon Hall is trying to recover from his second Achilles injury in two years.
Much like the last time he went through an Achilles injury, Hall is also targeting a complete return by training camp.

"That's how I look at it," Hall said. "It's the same injury but every injury's different. I'm kind of approaching this one the same way I approached the last one as far as we're just going to rehab every day, see what happens in six months or whatever."

Six months from now, Hall, who turned 29 on Monday, hopes to be back to running, cutting and jumping.

In the summer of 2012, about a month before the start of that year's training camp, Hall was finishing up the comeback from his first Achilles injury; a tear to the tendon on his left foot.

In the months that followed, he went on to have a strong 2012 season and was on pace to have an even better one in this, his seventh year in the NFL. Last season, he was credited with 38 tackles, while also intercepting two passes and breaking up a career-high eight more. This year, before the injury, he was on pace to have 48 tackles. That would have been his most since 2009. He also was on pace for a career-high 10 pass breakups.

With respect to this particular injury, the timing couldn't have been better from the Bengals' point of view. Hall made a relatively expedient return before training camp last summer. Since this year's injury came two weeks earlier on the season calendar than the last one did, he has even more time to get healthy this go round.

"That's true," Hall said. "My left is healed 100 percent, so I'm kind of looking at it basically with the same mindset I had on the first one."

Hall went down during Week 9 in 2011. This latest injury came in Week 7.

The day-by-day progression of Hall's recent rehab has gone similarly to the first one, he said.

"Sometimes with this one you kind of go as the tendon allows you to go," Hall said. "But for the most part, it's going to be the same number of weeks I had in a cast and the same amount of weeks in this boot and so on and so forth."

Asked to think back to the moment he tried to jump while covering the Lions' Calvin Johnson in goal-line territory, Hall said he knew right away what he had done to himself. He knew the reason he buckled and went down as the pass to Johnson fell incomplete. As he was helped back to the sideline and disgustedly sat on a bright orange Gatorade cooler, he knew his season was done.

"I did know, unfortunately," Hall said. "The feeling felt all too familiar.

"It was a lot going through my head. Anything from: I had a lot of family at the game, to 'Not again.' One of those deals."

It wasn't until Hall returned to Cincinnati that night that he realized the long march to recovery was about to commence. After having gone through that process once before, he knew what to expect next; not that it made dealing with the injury any easier.

"I kind of realized the process that it takes, which can be good and bad," Hall said. "It's good because I know what's happening, but then obviously bad because you realize you have to go through it all over again."

What has helped Hall get through the more difficult moments this rehabilitation process has brought? The fact that his teammates have kept winning. The Bengals, playing most of the latter half of the season without not only him but also Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, are 9-4 and have a commanding lead in the AFC North. With a high playoff seed in sight, Hall has comfort knowing they're continuing on without him.

"When you're winning, it's not as hard because you're happy and the guys you're around every day, that you are used to being around every day, are playing well," Hall said. "So that's good."
CINCINNATI -- This is exactly what every young professional football player dreams about when he enters the NFL; getting the opportunity to replace a proven veteran, and helping keep the team afloat until the veteran comes back.

Dre Kirkpatrick, the Cincinnati Bengals' second-year backup cornerback, is in that very position this week.

With Monday's report from ESPN's Chris Mortensen that two-time Pro Bowler Terence Newman will miss this week's game against the Steelers and possibly the two after it with an MCL sprain, Kirkpatrick's opportunity to shine has come. While the young defensive back certainly doesn't wish injury on any of his teammates, he does want them to know he can fill their shoes more than adequately.

[+] EnlargeDre Kirkpatrick
AP Photo/David KohlCornerback Dre Kirkpatrick might get a chance to start in Week 15 against the Steelers.
If he wants to help the Bengals finish off their goals of winning out the remainder of their schedule and entering the playoffs with a high seeding, he has to seize this opportunity.

On the horizon for Kirkpatrick is an chance to prove his slowly shrinking line of naysayers and doubters wrong. It's a line that rightfully swelled following Cincinnati's preseason loss at Dallas back in August. That night, he was flagged twice for pass interference, was burned in coverage, and generally looked lost on the field. Some fans were calling for him to be cut, others were questioning whether the Bengals were smart to select the University of Alabama product with the 17th overall pick in the 2012 draft.

Already they had concerns about his health, after he was forced to the injured reserve with a knee injury at the end of last season. Those concerns were exacerbated this season when a hamstring injury kept him out of the Week 3 and 4 games against Green Bay and Cleveland, respectively.

Since returning in Week 5, Kirkpatrick has gradually been given more playing time, and he has done well with it.

"We’ve got a lot of good guys on this team. We don’t have any guys that are not top-notch guys," veteran cornerback Adam Jones said. "These guys work hard in practice. Even on scout team. They make it hard for the offense. When you see those guys working hard and making interceptions [in practice] against a top-10 offense, that kind of puts it in your mind that these guys are ready to go."

Cincinnati's offense ranked 10th in the league entering Monday night's Dallas-Chicago game.

Over the past nine games, Kirkpatrick has played 100 of the 102 snaps he has totaled this season. All but one of his 12 tackles have come in that stretch, as did his first career interception. He picked off a Philip Rivers pass last week against San Diego.

Back in late October when Kirkpatrick first got on the field as veteran corner Leon Hall's replacement, defensive backs coach Mark Carrier said he was detecting positive changes in Kirkpatrick's practice habits and demeanor.

"It's amazing, and he'll be the first one to tell you that when he's healthy, he can go out there and play," Carrier said. "Everyone's time comes, and he knew his time was coming soon."

That time is here again. With the Bengals in the middle of a playoff push and missing two of their best cornerbacks, they are looking to the young player to step up and play like he's been starting the whole time. If he does, he could end up playing a vital role in assisting the Bengals' efforts in securing a first-round playoff bye and home-field advantage.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 14

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
9:00
AM ET
CINCINNATI -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 42-28 win over the Indianapolis Colts:

Whit's move should stick: Offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth proved Sunday afternoon that his move from left tackle to left guard should stick. Naturally, when you ask him about the switch, Whitworth just grins and says he's out to do what's best for the team. If offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wants to leave him on the line's interior, then so be it. If Gruden watched the same left-side blocking display that the rest of America witnessed, he'd be smart to keep his Pro Bowl left tackle at the new spot. Since sliding into the line's interior last week after left guard Clint Boling was lost for the season with an ACL tear, Whitworth has been part of two of the Bengals' best rushing performances of the year. Against the Chargers last week, they rushed for 164 yards. Against the Colts, they hit 155, paced by rookie running back Giovani Bernard's 99.

lastname
Bernard
Burfict
'Shifty dude' strikes: After one of his four catches that resulted in a weaving, winding 22-yard scamper, Bernard overheard an Indianapolis defender call him "a shifty dude." It has been a while since the "shifty dude" has had as productive a day as he did Sunday. He collected more than 100 total yards of offense for only the third time this season. The last time was when he went for 104 in the overtime loss at Miami on Halloween. Against the Colts, Bernard had a career-high 148 yards of offense, rushing for 99 yards and catching passes for 49.

Second-year defensive stars: Linebacker Vontaze Burfict once again led the Bengals in tackles. He has done that in all but one game this season. This time around, though, the tackle totals were relatively down. According to postgame stats given to media, he recorded eight. That's a little below his double-digit average of 10.7 tackles per game. Still, it's a sign that the second-year, former undrafted free agent was around the ball. Another class of 2012 signee who contributed greatly in the win was cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. The onetime backup continues making strides in the secondary as he gets awarded more playing opportunities. With another second-year player, safety George Iloka, as well as veteran corner Terence Newman going down with injuries, Kirkpatrick's role could increase if either is lost for any time.

Tate's returns: It can be easy for a return specialist's statistics to get lost in the shuffle in a two-possession game in which his team scored 40 points. (Quick side note: This is the first time in franchise history the Bengals have scored 40 or more points in three straight home games. They had done that in back-to-back home games four previous times.) Still, Brandon Tate was quite effective on the punt return team. His 18.3 yards per return average was his highest this season for games in which he has had multiple punt returns. His four returns also generated an average starting goal-to-go position of 63 yards, meaning the Bengals, on average, started at their own 37 after his returns. His previous season-best in a multi-return game was 61 yards -- the Bengals' 39.

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