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Changing the Dre Kirkpatrick narrative

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Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick made two plays that saved touchdowns. Yet, my initial reaction to the game pounded his mistake. I was wrong.

NFL: Preseason-Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

I’m nothing if not pragmatic.

Part of my postgame reaction following Cincinnati’s 23-22 win over the New York Jets featured a less-than-favorable reaction to the performance of Dre Kirkpatrick. My example included two plays, both of which led to New York touchdowns — the pass interference that put New York on the three-yard line in the first quarter and a touchdown throw to Eric Decker in the second.

One commenter “SerbianBengalsFan” disagreed.

But I dont agree with Dre having a bad day! I think he did quite well. Very iffy call on the PI, and that TD pass was almost unstoppable. Playing on the left side, against their best receiver, I think he did very well.

Now I’m bothered with introspection.

Did I lose objectivity based on a theme that’s followed Kirkpatrick for nearly four years? Am I more likely to complain about a bad play than to praise a good one? Remember the old days, in the way back machine, when most people lost objectivity with Andy Dalton? One bad play and everything he did well was thrown out by “haters”, while “apologists” ignored the bad and praised the good. There was never any middle ground? Have I personally moved that misaligned objectivity to Kirkpatrick?

It’s possible.

Truth be told, I’m a fan of Dre Kirkpatrick (actually, I’m basically a fan of everyone on this team so that’s kind of a stupid comment). His passion and energy are intoxicating elements that are transferable to teammates; the type of passion that can change the momentum in a game, motivating teammates around him. That’s his potential, his ceiling and where my expectations remain.

But, Cincinnati’s future at cornerback, notably high-value picks filling the beds of the local infirmary, is concerning. Not only does Cincinnati need Kirkpatrick to be consistent, avoiding big plays from happening with him in coverage, more is asked of him. Is it unfair to hold him to a higher standard than someone else? Yep. Such is the life of a former first-rounder and a starter for a playoff caliber team. And based on how well Pittsburgh’s passing game thrashed Washington’s suspect defense on Monday night, Cincinnati needs a strong showing from their cornerbacks this year.

Now, nudged by a reader who disagreed with my reactionary analysis of Kirkpatrick’s performance, I fired up NFL Game Pass to review the “rest of the story”.

The situation is first-and-goal from the Bengals four-yard line with 4:36 remaining in the first quarter. New York, already enjoying a 7-0 lead at this point, settled inside the five-yard line for the second time in as many possessions to start the game.

Cincinnati’s defense needed a victory, keeping the game close (or weathering the storm as sports cliches go) while a struggling Bengals offense found its rhythm. Kirkpatrick, lined up against Brandon Marshall, physically challenged his opponent, causing enough disruption to force the incompletion.

Dre Kirkpatrick against the Jets
Dre Kirkpatrick against the Jets

New York, unable to score on three throws into the endzone, settled for a field goal. Well, they tried. Margus Hunt did the first Margus Hunt thing we had expected since he was drafted.

One touchdown saved, one field goal blocked.

Let’s jump to the 11:33 point in the fourth quarter. Cincinnati, leading 20-16, was facing another threat from their own two-yard line. It’s third down. Kirkpatrick lined up against wide receiver Eric Decker, who settled into the slot. Fitzpatrick targeted the back right pylon and Kirkpatrick physically redirected Decker away from the football’s trajectory, forcing an incompletion.

Dre Kirkpatrick forces another incomplete in the endzone, saving his second touchdown against the Jets.
Dre Kirkpatrick forces another incomplete in the endzone, recording his second endzone save against the Jets.

Placekicker Nick Folk converted the 20-yard field goal and Cincinnati maintained their lead, 20-19.

Two touchdowns saved.

During both possessions in which Kirkpatrick saved a touchdown, the Jets scored a combined three points... which is important considering Cincinnati won by a single point.

Perhaps this is a personal joy, but here’s a play I enjoyed.

With 11:13 remaining in the second, Fitzpatrick called a toss to Matt Forte. Kirkpatrick watched pulling offensive lineman Brent Qvale target him. There was no backing down. Kirkpatrick took the shot, stood his ground and forced just enough hesitation from Forte for safety Shawn Williams to make a tackle-for-loss.

Dre Kirkpatrick takes on a blocker against the Jets.
Dre Kirkpatrick takes on a blocker against the Jets.

Props, Dre. However, next time drop to the floor — just as effective.

According to Pro Football Focus, Kirkpatrick covered receivers that were targeted six times, allowing three receptions for 36 yards receiving and a touchdown. Against Brandon Marshall, he allowed just one catch for 4 yards on three targets. Kirkpatrick was targeted equally in both halves, three times each.

Kirkpatrick played well and provided an impact when it mattered. Regardless, he needs more consistency (which I’m still holding onto), which was my overall theme but presented a bit pessimistically, overshadowing the positive work he did. Maybe that’s something I can work on.