Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates began the season as one of the most underrated players in the NFL. More game than name, Bates' contract situation hung overhead, as the Bengals hadn't yet paid their young stud safety, who entered the final year of his rookie season.
At the beginning of the 2021 campaign, Bates said he was "pissed off" he didn't get a new contract during the offseason. Entering Week 11, the safety admits the focus on his contract situation has affected his play on the field.
"I think it kind of goes into everything. I feel like I'm at a better headspace now than I was at the beginning of the season," Bates said this week, via the team's official website. "So caught on to proving the wrong people right, and the main thing I should be focusing on is proving the right people right as far as my coaches, my teammates, my family and not worry about all of the other stuff. I know that's going to work out, I know what type of player I am, that stuff's going to work out regardless. But like I said, I've got to be better for this team, so I'm excited for it."
After being a Pro Bowl snub in 2020, Bates' play has fallen off this season. Through Week 10, he's allowing a 108.8 passer rating against and a 75.0 completion percentage against. His 232 receiving yards allowed in eight games played is already more than he allowed all of 2020 (178).
"I feel like I've been just a step away from making big-time plays. As I watch games earlier yesterday, the teams that are winning football games, their main players are making plays for them," Bates said. "And I haven't done that this year. I know that. I'm aware of that, like I said before. I'll be excited to make more plays and celebrate with my teammates as I do it."
Following a stellar start to the season, the Bengals defense as a whole has struggled in back-to-back losses to the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns. The Bengals defense has allowed 37.5 points per game (31st in NFL) and 436.0 total yards per game (31st) in their last two games played. The unit allowed 18.3 PPG and 339.9 total YPG in Weeks 1-7 (ranked in the top 10 in the NFL over that span).
If Cincy is to make a bid for its first playoff game since 2015, the defensive turnaround must start Sunday in Las Vegas against the similarly 5-4 Raiders.