Healthy Christian Kirk breaks free with his feet and fingertips

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Christian Kirk felt Monday night coming.

A groin injury that kept him out of a Week 3 game was getting better and the Arizona Cardinals receiver had caught five passes for 78 yards in a Week 5 win over the New York Jets.

Then Kirk took the field on Monday against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, a venue he had dominated as a college receiver at Texas A&M with more than 300 receiving yards and six total touchdowns in three games against the University of Arkansas.

And in his Monday Night Football debut Kirk led the Cardinals with 86 yards on two catches -- one for 6 yards and one for 80 -- that both went for touchdowns.

"It's crazy," Kirk said, "but I think it's just something about the bright lights."

Kirk's first score was a flip from quarterback Kyler Murray that traveled 1.56 yards in the air, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, and Kirk used his speed to run wide before breaking for the end zone.

His second score was a deep shot that traveled 48.44 yards in the air. Murray launched it to a streaking Kirk on a deep post. It was a play that the Cardinals installed this week knowing they'd have a chance at a deep touchdown because of something they saw on the Cowboys' film. Kirk caught it on his finger tips in stride, not even so much as slowing down, before scoring.

"Preparation breeds success," Kirk said. "That's one thing I always believe in."

Kirk had worked all offseason on that type of route alongside fellow receiver Trent Sherfield and running back Chase Edmonds. They ended every workout with deep posts thrown by backup quarterback Chris Streveler. If they dropped the pass or it was overthrown, they had to restart. Kirk estimated that of the 100 routes they ran, they had to rerun about 70 of them.

The play showcased the blazing speed that's made Kirk a dynamic weapon in coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense. But in the back of Kirk's mind, even as he began building speed on the route, was the one thing that could take that speed away.

"I was worried about my hamstring for a little bit at first because when you're running that fast you, you kind of stretch out like that it can get a little scary," Kirk said.

Kirk has missed games with injuries in each of his first three NFL seasons. As a rookie, it was four. Last season, it was three. Heading into this season, his goal was to play in all 16 games, which he thought would prevent him from getting one of the most damning labels in football: Injury prone.

To Kirk, his injuries -- a broken foot at the end of 2018 and an ankle injury in September 2019 -- were "freak" incidents that could have and would have happened to anyone in the same situation.

Then he suffered a groin injury in Week 2 of this season and tried playing through it. He eventually left the game and missed the next week.

Kirk had spent this offseason rehabbing his ankle, which never got healthy last season, he said. He suffered the injury in Week 4 and missed the next three games. Kirk has said the rest of the season wasn't easy, from practices to cutting to contact to just having the injury constantly in the back of his mind. It didn't help that in the final month of the season, his ankle kept getting rolled up on.

That helped him develop a label that has caught on: Tough.

"He's one of the toughest guys out there," Kingsbury said. "I mean, he practices every day. He pushes through things every day. I mean, he'll will run route after route after route, trying to get better."

Before this season, Kingsbury said Kirk's "full potential" would come to light if he could stay healthy. Kirk has averaged 82 yards per game the last two weeks and seems well on his way.

It's just a matter of Kirk staying healthy the rest of the season, and he has more incentive than ever. He noticed Monday night that the Cowboys were rolling safeties toward the NFL's leading receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, leaving him one-on-one -- which was the case on his 80-yard touchdown. The more teams do that, the more Kirk can punish them.

Now that he's over the "little bit of a speed bump" that was his groin injury, Kirk feels like he's on his way. Monday proved that.

"I'm happy with where I'm at and how I'm progressing right now," Kirk said. "I'm just being patient and just trying to make every opportunity that comes to me."