ML: “We have a distinguished guest here with us today, Mayor Cranley, so I’m going to let him lead it off.”
JC: “It’s a great honor to be here on behalf of the City of Cincinnati. First let me say to Coach Lewis, congratulations. Unbelievable, exciting year and we’re very happy for the success of the Bengals and what it means for our city and for our region to have such an awesome team. This city is catching the ball the way
“On behalf of our city, we want to congratulate them for their incredible season as well as being 8-0, undefeated here at home, and we believe that that record will be extended this Sunday. And this Sunday is a very big deal for Cincinnati. It’s a big deal for the coaches, for the players, the entire Bengals organization as they work to win the Super Bowl. But let’s not forget that there will be 2,500 game-day workers that will get extra paychecks and dozens of not-for-profit groups that will earn money based on how people play, not to mention churches and soccer teams and cheerleading squads, etcetera. But there’s also a bigger impact here.
“Hosting an NFL home playoff game is a tremendous opportunity to show off the wonderful progress and excitement of Cincinnati. Paul Brown Stadium is a beautiful facility, where you can see all of the downtown skyline, the bridge, the Banks, and obviously brings people down, not only for tailgaiting, but for after-parties and for our restaurants, etcetera. When people talk about an opportunity for us to brag to the world about the success of our city is having, this is it.
“As we tell the story, one of the great ways to get that message out about the success of downtown and Over The Rhine, and the Banks, is to sell out Paul Brown Stadium. Just today, as I came here, I personally bought two tickets, $86 apiece, to come to this game on Sunday as your mayor. What I’m asking is for people of this city to come forward and buy tickets because we want Cincinnati to shine, and selling out Paul Brown Stadium is part of making it shine.
“I’ve also taken a few other steps. Today I spoke to the office of the mayor of San Diego, Todd Gloria, and he and I are scheduled to have a personal conversation later, but because of the time difference, we weren’t able to connect personally. We have made a bet. It’s an exciting bet. On the extremely unlikely scenario where we were not to win on Sunday, which I know won’t happen, I will be sending at personal expense – not at taxpayer expense – a care package that will include Gold Star Chili, Graeter’s Ice Cream and Montgomery Inn ribs. On the more likely scenario that we win, they will be doing two things, and one is sweeter than the other. The one that isn’t as sweet, but is still going to taste good, is that they’re sending us craft beers from San Diego to toast our victory here in Cincinnati, which I’d like to share with you (Coach Lewis). The other thing, which will be even sweeter for all of us, is that the mayor of San Diego has promised that if his team loses, he will wear a Bengals jersey to his weekly press conference in San Diego as the mayor of Cincinnati.
“To conclude, let me say a couple things. I remember like it was yesterday The Freezer Bowl. My parents were at the game and I was at home watching it, and we won. I went out and played Nerf football at halftime and I still remember how cold it was and we were only out there for about 10 minutes.
“We’re going to win this thing. We’re going to beat the Chargers and it’s going to be a great week for Cincinnati, so I would ask all of you to help me make it a great city by doing what I did. I personally bought two tickets today and I’m asking all of you to come down and show your pride for the Bengals, show your pride for downtown, show your pride for the wonderful team that Marvin Lewis has put together. Let me just end by saying, Who Dey.”
ML: “The last two years we have been down there in Houston and we saw the incredible atmosphere that the playoffs bring. We haven’t had a home playoff game since ’09 and the atmosphere that’s created around the NFL, the playoffs, it’s what everybody wants. People have been clamoring and talking about this since we got started back in April, then all through training camp and so forth, and all the questions: Are you going to the Super Bowl? We don’t ask the question. You’ve got to answer it by winning and that’s what time it is now for us. Hopefully people will continue to come out. Our crowd yesterday was just incredible. It has a real effect on the other team. You have to understand that. Hopefully we will have that again, that same kind of atmosphere, because that’s why you do this – the opportunity to continue all the way through. We know we’ve got one. We’re going to work to earn another one, and we’ll go forward.”
What’s the possibility of (Jermaine) Gresham and (Tyler) Eifert playing?
ML: “We’ll see when we get to Sunday.”
What do you remember most about the regular-season matchup that you had out there in San Diego?
ML: “It was a hard fought football game that obviously we got some control of and won. They play good defense. They’re a big and strong group up front. Their offensive line is one of the better groups in the NFL. They’ve got athletic, explosive receivers and tight ends. They’ve got got hard running backs and obviously an outstanding quarterback in Philip Rivers. We’ve got our work cut out for us, but that’s the way it is now.”
Talk about your defense. You guys finished third in the NFL:
ML: “Stats are great, but right now we’re starting again. The defense did a tremendous job yesterday of playing in sudden-change situations and holding them to two field goals to begin the game. They have to go in there and don’t flinch, and they’ve done a nice job of that this entire season. I thought we did a great job yesterday. The most important thing when you play the Baltimore Ravens is don’t give up explosive plays, and I think their biggest play of the day was 18 yards. When you flip to the other side, we had four or five that were 20-plus. That’s the big difference in the football game. That’s what you’ve got to do and we’ve got to continue that throughout the playoffs.”
Some of the guys talked last week about the appreciation of making the playoffs a third straight year, but understanding that a lot of times a season’s success is predicated on playoff success. Do you think that’s fair?
ML: “Yes, I think it is. Our guys understand that they don’t do this just to play good in the regular season. They’re doing this to be World Champions. In order to do that, you’ve got to win games in the playoffs, every game in the playoffs.”
You’re 0-4 in the playoffs:
ML: “That means if I can even my record, we’ll feel pretty good. That’s my goal.”
Do you feel more pressure this year, compared to the past couple years?
ML: “I don’t think so. I think it’s always the same.”
People always want to talk about playoff intensity and how it ratchets up. How real is that and how different does that make a playoff game?
ML: “It’s kind of like the game we played yesterday. We’re playing against a team that knows if they lose the game, their opportunity to go forward probably is gone. We played a whole back end of the season a year ago like that. We’ve played somewhat that way this year. Every play is important. What I think our guys have done a great job of understanding is that if you’re prepared to do it, then let’s go. I’m ready for this test and let’s go forward. You don’t have to be anxious about it. The preparation takes care of that.”
Besides the obvious advantage of a crowd, are there factors or reasons why you’ve played so well at home?
ML: “For the most part, taking care of the ball pretty good. We’ve created turnovers on defense.”
What causes turnovers? What are the two or three elements you have to have?
ML: “To cause turnovers defensively, you have to put pressure on the football. You’ve got to apply pressure on the ball, whether you apply pressure on the running game, tackling with the arms, everybody being gap sound where they belong on their feet, and getting 11 guys to the football. When the ball goes on the ground, you get a chance. By tackling with the arms, you have opportunity to possibly knock the ball loose. I think pressure on the ball in the passing game as well. You’re close to receivers, you’re around the quarterback, you cause high throws, low throws, tipped balls, and those kinds of things that cause opportunities for turnovers. Offensively, you want the other. You want clean things. You can’t force the ball into coverage. You have to understand that you take your lumps. Sometimes you may have to check the ball down. Contrary to the way people talk at times in different areas, that’s why the ball goes down underneath sometimes and the guy has to try and run for the first down. But you don’t want to throw the football into coverage at any point, at any time.”
ML: “Doing good. We’ll see Sunday.”
Both teams have won four of their last five games. Both teams are going into the playoffs on an uptick. Does that mean a hill of beans when you go into the playoffs?
ML: “It means both teams are feeling pretty good about themselves. They’ve done a great job. You’ve got to credit Mike (McCoy) and his staff for what they’ve done. A couple weeks before we were there, the sky was falling in on them. They’ve done a nice job of raising the sky again. We know they have a very good football team, led by a great quarterback, so we have work to do.”
Do you remember watching the Freezer Bowl back in the day?
ML: “I’m sure I was watching it, but I can’t recall anything. There have been a lot of Bengals-Chargers games since the Freezer Bowl. I had a more memorable loss to the Chargers in the playoffs since the Freezer Bowl.”
When you play a team for a second time, where’s the balance between looking at that first game and trying to go off what worked, what didn’t work and maybe treating this as a whole new game?
ML: “It is a whole new game. You’re applying yourself. Every time you face somebody it’s a new game. What went on the last time doesn’t matter for a hill of beans. You’re going to go and put your plan together based on what your strengths and weaknesses are and what you feel theirs are, the fronts, coverages and so forth, the plays, personnels, formations that you’re going to see from them.”
Did you have a chance to watch their game yesterday?
ML: “Oh, not really.”
I was wondering what you thought of their fake punt inside the 30:
ML: “It was something they had to do. They felt they had to maintain the football. They must have gotten a look they felt they could execute it against, otherwise they wouldn’t have run it. They felt they had the proper look so Eric Weddle put the play on and they converted it.”
What do you think they’re doing the last four weeks to raise the sky, as you said?
ML: “They just kept playing. That’s all. They didn’t worry about what people were saying around them, they just kept playing. They’ve been opportunistic, they’ve been putting points on the board. They had a couple of fumbles against us that were uncharacteristic to their team, their group. Those are the things. We have to do a great job. We turned the ball over against them. We can’t have turnovers against them. We’ve got to maintain the football. We’ve got to be just as good as we’ve been on third down.”
What’s the biggest change or progression you’ve seen in Rivers the past few years? Why are they being more successful on offense?
ML: “I think they’re different schematically. It may be the same quarterback but his skills and abilities are playing in a different offense. He’s being coached by different people. They have good players and their offense is put together a little differently.”
Is his ability to scramble one of the more surprising things about him?
ML: “I thought he moved, not as much against us, but in the games previous to us he moved quite a bit. That’s something that he probably wasn’t as known for as much but he’s been moving around a lot this year.”
Was that because you guys didn’t allow him to move around and did a good job of staying in your rush lanes that last game?
ML: “That’s always part of our plan if you’ve got a quarterback that’s trying to move.”
It’s tough for a first-year coach to take a team to the playoffs. The fact that Mike McCoy has done that speaks volumes to the job he has done, doesn’t it?
ML: “It speaks to what they’ve done. They’ve done a great job. They put together a good coaching staff and they’ve done a nice job.”
You’ve gotten to this point three years in a row now, four out of the last five years. What do you think it says about the stability of the franchise? If you look around the NFL teams are changing coaching staffs right and left constantly:
ML: “I think we’ve had the opportunity to grow and mature our players. I think when you have the chance to do that, you reap the benefit of it. The guys, they know what to expect. They develop. When you have a guy who goes down and the next guy has to go in, he’s been part of the program, part of the system, he plugs into place a little easier. That’s part of it.”
Is it a tough day because while you’re preparing for a playoff game you have a couple of friends and associates around the league have gotten canned?
ML: “It’s a difficult day. I think it’s a hard day. It always is. There’s only 32 of these and now we’re going to be on over 130 changes since Jan. 15, 2003. That’s hard.”
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