Bengals players (12.29.19)
What is it about Cleveland that makes you play so well?
“It’s the last time going out in 2019, I wanted to leave the season on a positive note. I don’t want to talk about me though; my line did a great job. They were physical and set the tone off the bat, and Randy Bullock sealed the deal. I give credit to all of them.”
You seemed to do it all today …
“That’s what I try to do to put a stamp on the year. I want to build off this. The coaches called it up, and we went out and executed it. That’s what we’re supposed to do. I think everybody did a great job, and we have to build off it.”
It was a complete game for the team …
“I think the guys did a great job of not playing behind the sticks. There were no bad penalties. We executed the game plan. Coach (Zac Taylor) had the plan going in to be balanced, and we did a great job of doing that today. A lot of people stepped up in a big way, especially John Ross stepped up at the end. It was a slow start, but it’s not how you start it’s how you finish. We needed him in a big way and he delivered. Alex Erickson on the third and three, Andy (Dalton) did a great job checking down, and Alex made the play. After that, we delivered with the run for me. Hats off to everybody, we all played a part in this.”
You crossed 1,000 yards with a 41-yard burst …
“It was a great feeling. The line blocked it perfectly. We preached all week one-on-one in space. I showed that on that play. The defensive back wanted to talk and it was a chippy game, but we came out of it mistake free. We did what we were supposed to do.”
All that talk probably turned into respect after?
“That’s what I wanted to do. Have to give hats off to the linemen and receivers that also delivered in a big way today. Andy was delivering too with big conversions. We came out and executed. Playing against a divisional opponent, we did what we were supposed to do.”
If this is Andy Dalton’s last game, what do you have to say?
“He’s a fighter. He went through adversity. At the end of the day, that’s Andy. As soon as I came in, he embraced me from day one. I’ll always ride and die with him. No matter what the situation may be, I’m sure he’s going to fight. Nothing in this league comes easy, and I’m proud of how he bounced back. You put anyone else in that situation, they may not bounce back. Andy did, and I take my hat off to him.”
Were your linemen going crazy when you were playing well?
“They were doing that all day. I was feeding off them, and vice versa. That’s how it’s supposed to be. Bursting through the hole and making the play is exciting. They did a great job, and it was a great feeling.”
Were you aware how close you were to last year’s rushing total?
“I was trying to go get it. Somebody told me in the fourth quarter. But at the end of the day, I’m glad we turned it around. The linemen did a great job, so I’m happy for everybody.”
You led the team in interceptions despite limited snaps, how do you build off that?
“I want to get better, and never let my team down. On the field I don’t play just for myself, I play for the team and the fans.”
Did Odell Beckham Jr. say anything to you with your physical play?
“It’s football, we all talk to each other. At the end of the day, there’s mutual respect. We’ll hopefully battle again next year.”
Your returns are dangerous. Do you try to take it to the house every time?
“I try to read blocks and score every time. I thought I was going to score today, but Jarvis Landry came out of nowhere.”
It was a team effort on defense, does that make it easier?
“It does. When the front plays great, it’s easier for us and vice versa.”
How important was it to get a division win at home to finish the season?
“Nobody wants to go into the offseason with a loss to a rival. This can spearhead us into next season.”
Was the strategy to shut down the run and make them throw it?
“It was to stop the run that was the main focus. I feel like we did that today. Then our offense played great with Joe (Mixon) and the offensive line. They helped the defense out a lot today.”
What was the plan for an elusive quarterback like Baker Mayfield?
“We wanted to get him into the third and long. We were one sack shy of getting Geno Atkins to talk to you guys. We stopped the run well too, and the offense controlled the clock.”
How much do you guys feed off each other?
“It’s a collective effort. The offense was clicking. Anytime Joe (Mixon) gets 30 touches, he goes crazy. That should be the recipe going forward. The whole defensive line worked together. Everybody almost got two sacks. Everybody brought something today, and that was our goal.”
What was the locker room like afterwards?
“It was very exciting. The season was disappointing, but we kept our head on straight and focused week in and week out. We finished it off strong though. The whole season was discouraging, but we finished on a positive note, so we’ll build on that.”
Can that be achieved consistently?
“We overcame a lot of adversity this year. It’s the start of something. We got one, now we want to keep it going.”
How much better does it make the offseason?
“It makes it a lot better. When you evaluate yourself though, you look at the whole record.”
Did the defensive line set the tone today?
“Yes. The offense set the tone as well. They responded with a big play after Cleveland went deep early. We need to be better at preventing those plays.”
If this is Andy Dalton’s last game, what does that mean for the team?
“It means a lot, seeing the way he finished the game today. He dove for the pylons, stepped up in the pocket, and extended many series. He overcame the adversity of being benched on his birthday. He stuck to being the leader in the locker room still, mentoring Ryan Finley, who can still be a great player in this league. Obviously there’s the Joe Burrow question, and that’s a realistic scenario. For Andy, it’s a great thing to go out on. Sadly, with the terms being what they are, you just have to make the best of it. He did that today, we did that today, and got the win.”
Looking back at five straight playoff appearances, how much do you look at the four years after?
“That draft class in 2011 sparked us to get five straight appearances in the playoffs. But we also lost those five games, so it wasn’t enough. It’s bittersweet. It’s a new day though; we want to take that next step. Zac Taylor is implementing a new culture around here. This year is not an example of it (with the team’s record), but if you had been in the locker room around the team, you’d feel the steps in the right direction. The record doesn’t show it, but when you look at the tape, guys are putting in the work.”
How did the team stick together?
“We focused week in and week out. If you really love the game, you should be ready to play and locked in every week. Zac does a good job taking care of the guys and changing the culture.”
You had a strong finish to the season …
“The bye came at a perfect time. I broke my streak of consecutive games played, so that was frustrating. After the bye week, I had the time off to rest my knee and get back healthy. I wanted to finish strong. I’m still not 100 percent, but that bye gave me a second wind. And we came together as a team defensively. It was an accumulation of all of that; our defensive line getting healthy, and getting more opportunities to rush. We wanted to get everyone involved.”
There was a balanced effort with that today …
“Exactly. That’s what you have to look forward to; more opportunities to rush.”
How much does one win linger?
“It’s good today. Ending the year with a win is a great feeling. Our season didn’t go the way we wanted, and that’s the big picture. But we’re focusing week in and week out. Today is good; we’ll enjoy it by going out to eat to celebrate. This locker room won’t be the same after today, and we know that. We’ll get together as a team and do something together, and handle everything as it comes.”
How good is it to see young guys step up?
“Germaine Pratt, Fred Johnson, and Darius Phillips all are the future. Then Jonah Williams will get healthy. Joe Mixon is still a young player, as with Sam Hubbard. Carl Lawson is recovering from an injury still. We have a lot of potential talent here. Then we’ll do what we do in the draft. That will help get the results we want.”
If this was Andy Dalton’s last game as a Bengal, what does it mean to you?
“He’s been a leader, a beacon of hope. I’ll never forget that Atlanta game last season there on that final drive. His confidence in the huddle when he just let us know, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this game.’ He always brings that. Same thing we had last week in Miami. He always has been that beacon of hope. He’s never down. He always has that confidence in the huddle. I’m forever grateful to him.”
He’s from Texas and reminds me of those guys in the old Westerns where, “We’re just going to get this done.” Is that accurate?
“You never see him flinch, and never see him down. He is just that guy — very calm, very controlled and very confident.”
What does it say about this group that, especially in the last two games, you showed a lot of fight?
“Confidence. Every man in here has pride. Nobody wants to go out there and get humiliated. We all take pride in just winning our one-on-one battles, and it showed. It’s a great way to finish the season and start off next year.”
As a receiver, you like to go out there and make plays. But what’s it like to be able to run the ball like that?
“When we can run that ball that efficient, the pass game is going to open up great. At the end of the day, we just needed to keep pounding it, keep hitting them and keep gashing them. That’s a receiver’s dream. You get that run going, and then you’re one-on-one all day out there. I loved it.”
Will this win linger for a while, and will you have a good feeling going forward?
“Absolutely. Even if we’d have lost, I still feel like we’ve got a great shot next year. We’re a very talented team. We just need to continue to believe.”
How big was that first touchdown, after the Browns scored three plays in?
“That’s how you change a game. You’ve got to answer. They had two minutes on the clock, and there was a lot of football left. We just had to go out there and find ourselves and dominate.”
You guys had six sacks today. The defensive seemed to get after them all day …
“Yeah. I mean, we’ve been talented. We’ve just been down all year — playing from behind. The Jets game, you could see what we could do. This past game, you could see what we could do. If we’re up or we’re in a competitive position, we can just feast. We’ve had a talented D-line. I think that’s the main thing that’s been happening this year, is not being able to stop the run. Once you stop the run, you can get after the passer.”
Are you totally in the moment right now, or do you allow yourself to look at next year?
“I’m going to go take a break and then go look at next year. I haven’t thought about next year at all. I know what I need to fix, and I know what I am capable of.”
What do you need to fix?
“Just having an offseason healthy. I wasn’t fully healthy at camp, and then I tried to get back to who I was and there were ups and downs. Like I said, we were playing from behind in games. I’m not making excuses, but that’s what it is. I’m blessed and thankful I get to go into the offseason healthy. I can train instead of trying to figure out how to walk and run again. We’ve been working hard all season, and I’m happy we can win.”
Is it exciting to see so many young faces step up and make plays?
“It’s very exciting. I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t know the plan, but it’s very exciting to go out there and have fun together. I’m going to work on my catching, because I dropped a pick (laughs). But I’m good at coverages.”
What happened on that?
“Sometimes I don’t get the reps, but I was like, ‘I’m not going to mess this up’ (laughs). I knew he was going to run the end route, so I played it and came back on. He’s like a $55 million receiver, and I locked him up man-to-man (laughs). I just didn’t finish. That’s what separates the great DB’s from the ordinary ones, is the picks (laughs). So I have to get better at that.”
How does it feel to end the season healthy?
“It feels good to get healthy. This is the first time ever that I’ve not had to stay here and rehab for a couple months. It feels pretty good.”
You and Andy Dalton face uncertain futures here. Was there a bit of soaking it in for you there in the fourth quarter?
“A little bit. And just trying to secure the win. It’s been such a long year, and everyone just stuck together. Nobody’s going at each other’s throats. We just tried to get better every week. Neither team was playing for anything today, but it does feel really good to end the season with a win.”
Do you wonder about what the future will look like for you? Is that something you and others start thinking about as soon as this game ends?
“We’re going to go hang and have a little gathering after this, so tomorrow when we all have headaches we’ll probably think about it (laughs). We’ve enjoyed being together and everything that comes with being on a football team. Obviously it didn’t go how we wanted, but we still spent a lot of time together.”
What has Andy Dalton’s friendship and your play together on the field meant to you?
“Starting as a rookie, he was more of a dad figure than anything. I’m running around, a dumb little rookie, and then a couple years in, I’m starting to grow up a little bit. I’m getting married, so now we’re connected on the same level. That’s been fun. I’ve definitely seen the closeness as I’ve gotten older.”
What will a gathering like this be like tonight?
“It’s so hard because you don’t want the season to be over, but it is over. We’re just going to enjoy each other. A lot of times, when the season’s over — and a lot of good friends are in here — everyone has their own lives in different parts of the country, and you don’t see a lot of guys. So you just enjoy it and have some fun.”
The players seemed to stick together this year through all the losses, but that doesn’t seem to be the norm for a team in this situation …
“No, it’s not. I remember years past when we were going to the playoffs, and after one side of the ball has a bad game the other side of the ball is yelling, and it’s just crazy. As bad as things were at times this year, guys just never did that. A lot of that is from coach’s leadership. That was a big point of emphasis. We’re just not going to do it. Hopefully we can build on that going forward, and in the years in the future when we are in the playoff hunt and winning a division, we stay together when things aren’t going our way and can make a run.”