Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick will make his fifth career start on Sunday Night when the Cincinnati Bengals play the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC North Championship. It won't be an easy task either. Pittsburgh entered the weekend with the league's second-best passing offense, averaging 300.5 yards/game and ranked in the top-ten in touchdowns (31) and 20-yard passes (51).
Kirkpatrick, who is starting for the inactive Terence Newman, also started during week 15 against the Cleveland Browns earlier this month when Newman sat with an ankle. Newman will not play Sunday Night after being struck with a nasty bug that forced him to sit all week at practice.
There were eight Bengals that dealt with some illness, from sinus infections, to stomach viruses and even the flu. Of those players only Newman is out.
Kirkpatrick was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his week 16 performance against the Denver Broncos. With 2:41 remaining in the fourth quarter, Kirkpatrick returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown to give Cincinnati a 37-28 lead and eventual win. Kirkpatrick added a second interception with 1:07 left to play, all but sealing the team's Monday Night win last weekend.
"Dre has had a tough start to his career, and he’s had to show some patience," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "He had some injuries and had trouble gaining a foothold. But this season, he’s made the best of every opportunity he’s had. He has excelled on special teams, he’s excelled now on defense when he gets chances, and he’s just got to keep growing. He came through against the Broncos in a big football game."