Bengals HC Zac Taylor (12.29.19)
Initial comments …
“(I’m) really pleased with the performance of our guys today. This really was the game we’ve been expecting — we’ve been waiting — to play all year. When you hear me say, ‘I’ve enjoyed our preparation, I’ve liked our preparation leading up to games and the mentality of our players,’ that’s what it has looked like every game of the season — we just hadn’t put it all together (up to this point). So today was a really good job (by us) of putting all three phrases together, and helping us earn a victory in a divisional game (and) a home game.
“The crowd … we heard ’em. There were some third downs where they were the loudest we’ve heard them all season. So that’s the right way to end the season (and) give us a little bit of momentum going into the offseason, but I’m proud of the way everybody has fought through 17 weeks here. (There has been) a lot of adversity, and we got a win today, and that felt good.”
Having a season like you’ve had, how big is it for your psyche and that of the team’s to go out a winner today?
“It’s big. Just (to have) the feeling that we have in the locker room right now — that feeling that we’ll have tomorrow in the building — even though we know that it’s unacceptable to go 2-14 in an NFL season, (it’s big). We are all very clear on that. But all we can control is what’s right in front of us. And today, this is what was right in front of us, and we did it. I’m proud of the way the guys responded, and we just (want to) use all the momentum we can gain from that, move on to tomorrow and on to the offseason.”
What was different that made you guys able to put it all together today versus other games this year?
“We played good complimentary football. We created some turnovers. For the most part, aside from the shot(gun) play we took a shot on and gave up the turnover there, I just thought we — overall — we were better situationally. You look at the red zone on offense, you look at third down on defense — all the areas that maybe we’ve done a couple things well in a game and then maybe we weren’t good on third down or in the red zone — today you saw production on both sides of the ball in all those situational phases.”
Can you talk about the play of Darius Phillips today?
“He’s a ball hawk. When the ball comes near him, he just makes a play on it. You know, the one (interception) that was almost a punt return in a sense, he just has a knack for the ball and makes a play when it’s in his vicinity. Those are the kinds of things you need from guys. We’ve been missing that a lot this year, and he has stepped up and gotten some key turnovers for us.”
How much did Joe Mixon and the offensive line set the tone for the game right off the bat?
“Right off the bat, (they did). You know, when it’s going to be a wet game, you’re going to have to lean on that (the rushing game). We didn’t know how wet it was going to be, but we went in and we had good production against them the last time we played. That was fresh on our guys’ minds that we needed to replicate that, and we did and then some, it felt like. Again, Joe, you saw him running through some people today. He was on a mission, and that’s a credit to the guys up front. And that’s a credit to (offensive line coach) Jim Turner, and the guys that put together that run plan, you know? We all felt very good about what we were going to go out and do, and we went out and executed it.”
What does it show you that Mixon was running that hard in Week 17, despite the team’s record?
“He’s been that way all season. Earlier, we had some struggles there in the first couple of weeks, but starting with the (Los Angeles) Rams game, we really felt he really has done a good job carrying it. Again, he and the offensive line are just in sync, and then Gio (Bernard also) gets in here — we have (high) expectations for Gio as well. The receivers have done a better job improving every week on the perimeter in the running game, and that’s why he’s able to get up on some of those safeties and corners. Everybody did their job in the run game.”
What attributed to today’s performance, given the season you’ve had?
“It speaks to the leaders we have in the locker room and the leaders we have in the coaching staff, that we’ve managed to keep everybody in this thing (and) playing the right way. You know, all we can control is today, and we felt like we really put our best game on the field today. That was the best we’ve played. We can’t control what we did the other 15 games. We can just control today, and I’m proud our guys executed today.”
Is there a sense of pride you guys avoided having the only one-win season in franchise history?
“That’s not really how we look at it. We have to improve on the things we made mistakes on every single week. And in each area, we have seen that improvement. This is a good way to finish the season and (a good example to) point back to in April, when our players show back up. We finished it the way that we should have been executing it the whole season, and that’s what it’s going to take. That’s what it’s going to feel like and that’s the way we expect the Bengals to play football. That’s a great way to end the season.”
Can you speak to one thing you did well this season and one thing you need to improve on now that the season is done?
“I feel like there are a lot of things I can improve as I go (forward). I just try to make the notes every single week, so I don’t forget things I realize (now that) maybe that I was going (down) on the wrong path on in September. I think our coaching staff has done a good job of that, hitting on all the things that we can improve on. Now that everyone has (been here), it’s seeing how things are going to go. What’s our culture going to look like in the offseason for a full year? What’s our system going to look like on offense, defense (and) special teams? Everyone knows what to expect from each other. We’ve got to come back ready to clean everything up — tighten everything up — so that we can win a heck of a lot more ballgames next year. (There’s) probably too much to say there. There’s a lot in both areas.”
As a quarterback coach, what did you think of Joe Burrow’s performance during Louisiana State University’s bowl game last night?
“Those aren’t things we worry about. We had a huge divisional game right in front of us. Obviously, I was concerned about our guys playing their best, and thought that the focus was very good today.”
As a fan, did you get a chance to watch any of the LSU game?
“No. Any time there’s a game on Saturday, I peek (at it) if I’m sitting around, but for the most part, (no). I took my son to the Harlem Globetrotters game yesterday, so that was my focus there in the short term, and then we (the team) came back (together) and had meetings last night.”
The defense made their presence felt today. Is that the kind of performance you want to see from them consistently?
“Without question. And you saw (Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield) had to hold on to the ball a lot as well, so that goes both ways: The coverage is doing a great job communicating on the back end. They’ve got some explosive playmakers now, and they made some plays. That’s what happens when you play that team. But for the most part, they were in sync (in terms of) the coverage and pressure. Our guys were relentless with their energy and they got to the quarterback, giving us some huge plays in that area.”
What do you think the players learn from a 2-14 season?
“Well, they know, No. 1, it’s not acceptable. We’ve got to be playing for bigger things here in December. That’s certainly our plan, and guys believe that can happen. They know how close we’ve been, and they see it better than anybody. Now they see what a complete game looks like. That’s been our expectation all year, and we have to make sure our guys understand that as we meet with them tomorrow, and as we return in April. A lot of what we put on the field this year is not acceptable for the Bengals. They know that, they realize that, and I know we have the right guys in that locker room to get us pointed in the right direction.”
How would you assess the way Andy Dalton finished the season given his benching, etc.?
“(He’s a) true leader. Really, that’s the expectation we have for him with everything we knew about him before we got here. He’s really kept the support there and put us over the top. Today, he made some great decisions, (and he) got us back in it (against Miami) last week. You can’t say enough great things about what Andy Dalton has meant for this team, and I thought he really played well for us today.
“Really, the one shot (that was intercepted in the end zone), I wanted him to take that shot, and it got picked — they made a great play. But, as a coach, I’m saying, ‘We want to be aggressive here and take a shot, and try to put this thing away.’ Cleveland made a big play on (that throw).”
Would other quarterbacks be hesitant to make throws like that — throws that may end up looking bad in terms of their stat lines?
“I’m very confident that he doesn’t worry about his stat line. He just tries to do what he can to make the plays, and when you can be on the same wavelength with your quarterback. (You know that) he knows, ‘He wants me to be aggressive here, so I’m going to be aggressive,’ and he understands when to check the ball down when it’s not there. He does a great job with managing the game that way.”
Do you think you’ve coached him for the last time?
“The offseason stuff will take care of itself. But right now, we’ve got this team in the building, and we’ll handle them tomorrow and sort all the other stuff out later.”
Did you think about pulling Dalton before the last kneel down, so maybe he could have a moment in front of the fans?
“No. My brain doesn’t work that way. We were just trying to end that game. Trust me, he handled it the right way, getting the kneel downs and filling up the time. We just wanted to end that game the right way.”
Will it be enough next year to talk about how hard we played after defeats?
“It’s not enough this year. We don’t want to be pulling moral victories out of everything. But again, it was a team learning their coaching staff, (and) a coaching staff learning their team, and we fought through some adversity. There were some challenges there. We need more wins, and it’s not acceptable for me to sit up here and say, ‘Well, our effort was good.’ That’s not the way the NFL works, and we all understand that. We have to win more football games.”
You said this was the most complete game you played all year. What can you build from this game going into the offseason?
“I think our communication has improved as we’ve gone (forward), and that’s what really shows up when you’re getting stops on third down on defense, and when your running game is as efficient as it has been … the second half of the season. It just goes to show that we’re all getting on the same page. We need guys to step up in the fourth quarter and make big plays, and you saw that today (with) Joe Mixon running over their safety at the end to put us in field goal range. We’ve seen that from (a lot of) guys recently really — stepping up and swaying the game in our favor. Those are the things we’ve just got to build on.”
What did Dalton do to help you establish the culture you wanted in your first year?
“You need your quarterback to lead by example and he’s done that. He’s in the building more than anyone else. He knows the playbook inside and out. He does a great job helping guys get lined up when they need the help, so he’s just a guy you don’t have any concerns about on or off the field. That’s critical, and Andy’s done that for us.”
Is it better to have a veteran in a position to do those things rather than a second- or third-year player trying to do so?
“You want guys that can quickly learn from their experiences, and Andy’s got a wealth of experience there. Even when Ryan (Finley) was playing, Andy was right there by his side to help him. (I’m) just happy with that.”