Initial comments ...
How do you apply credit to that win? "Expected, just because we've got a great team. I love this team. I love everything about them. They didn't hesitate for one second after those first two weeks when all the noise was getting out about expectations. They didn't let that affect them for one second. They just came out and answered the bell, and responded for two consecutive weeks. Just really proud of them on this stage, against that team. That's a really good football team — they're going to win a lot of games. I thought they handled every moment in this game exactly how they needed to, especially in the second half. Capitalizing on turnovers, touchdowns, special teams stepping up big — that was just a great way to win a Thursday night game."
Did your decision to kick the field goal on fourth-and-one from the one-yard line have to do with your trust in the defense? "Yeah, really it did. That was a tough decision; we battled that around. Ultimately we decided to kick it and expand the lead that way, and felt good about it."
Do you have faith in your defense more than anything? "I've got a lot of faith in our defense. It's like comparing your children, so I'm not comparing them to the other (units), but we know that when need them to step up, they're going to do it. Whether that's putting pressure on the quarterback, being tight in coverage, creating those turnovers they did — that's a really explosive team. They put you in a lot of different tough spots. I thought we did a great job with bending, not breaking. Even the play that we gave up down the field, Chido (Chidobe Awuzie) had excellent coverage. He's right there, and they just made a play. That's going to happen when they have (great) players like that. I'm just really proud of the way that the guys kept responding and were able to help us pull it out."
How big were those explosive plays on offense? "It was great. Two of them were go routes, and T.B. (WR Tyler Boyd) had a route that he scored on against Arizona a couple of years ago that we've been saving. We've tried to get to it before, it's just tough to get to sometimes. Those two guys stepped up when we needed them. Tee (Higgins) on the third down — that was huge. We were staring down the barrel of another three-and-out at that point, and so they were doubling Ja'Marr (Chase), they were doubling T.B., and so Tee had the one-on-one against a great corner. He got him, he scored a touchdown, so that gave us a lot of momentum at that moment in the second quarter. Ja'Marr's was when we needed it — we just got the turnover, I believe, and we needed that big play to keep going. They were challenging us at that point, playing press-man, and that's where Ja'Marr steps up big on the go route. Then T.B., same thing, we need some momentum so he ran that little corner-post and made a big play. You can talk about those three guys, they deserve credit, but the offensive line did a heck of a job. Joe (Burrow) had time to make the throws that he needed to make versus a good defensive line — a good pressure team. I thought our guys answered the bell against Cover Zero, that was going to be big in this game, they play Zero as much as any team in the league. Our guys responded with Tee's big play on the second play of the game, and T.B. with the double-pass. We got multiple people that can throw on this team — Joe Mixon, T.B., who knows? We'll find out next who can throw the ball as well."
What were your thoughts on S Vonn Bell's two interceptions and LB Logan Wilson's third-down stop? "Huge. Vonn's picks were big, and the return was even as big because it flipped the whole field there. He probably picked that ball off at the 15- or 10-yard line, so if he stays down where they touch him, that's a field position battle you're dealing with right there. I think we're up two or three (points) right there — maybe five; I can't remember — but that was big. He did a great job. And Logan Wilson on that third-and-one — I didn't see that full play, but I saw him get up there in the hole, make that big stop and drive them backwards. That's Logan. Those two guys came up big when their number was called. It could have been Vonn, Logan, Eli (Apple), Jessie (Bates III), Sam (Hubbard) — anybody on that defense steps up and makes plays, and we're not shocked by it. So, just thought they responded in the right way as a whole."
Why were Vonn Bell and Sam Hubbard captains? "No, honestly. It's a scramble at the coin toss to figure out who I want to send out there."
How has Tee Higgins improved compared to last year? "I just think they're really smart ballplayers, all of those guys. I think it's only continuing to improve, and it's taking them to an elite level. I think they do a great job with their communication to our staff — 'This guy's playing me like this.' It's unbelievable feedback. Not receivers shouting. It's, 'I can get this guy his.' Very unselfish. It can be anybody in any week that gets a lot of targets or doesn't, and those guys are so unselfish. I love those guys."
How did you feel about the atmosphere tonight? "We've worked really hard to get to where we're at. People here want to support this team, they want to support a winner, and we owe it to them to be a winner. They're here for us. It shows up when you're watching cutups from a couple of years ago that, deservingly so, there weren't many people there. And now, we've come this far. We've earned it. We've put in the work to give this fanbase something to cheer about, and they've shown up and answered the bell as well. These primetime games are special, and we have a tremendous fanbase. I know our players and coaches appreciate that. (They're the) best fans. Where else would you rather be than Cincinnati, Ohio? I'd rather be here."
Can you describe the moment you had with your team after QB Tua Tagovailoa was injured? "It's a heavy moment. He's a guy with tremendous character, and you hate to see that happen. It's a tough moment for everybody, especially them, then to take it to third-and-long, and you got to come out there and respond. I won't say that there's in-depth conversations going on, but certainly thinking about Tua, and that's a horrible thing to see."
What does it say about your team's ability to thrive in big spots? "These guys are championship caliber players. They're winners. They're not just talented guys that get by. They're talented guys whose work ethic matches their talent. They have the ability to reach their full potential. It's a team that I just love to coach."
What can you say about Jessie Bates' leadership? "Jessie's A-plus. We have the best safety tandem in the league. I'd put our defense up against anybody's, to go that far. Vonn made those great plays that turned the game for us, and Jessie made some big tackles. You look at a lot of guys — last week when we played the Jets — (it was) Chido. I didn't give him a game ball after the game because I give them to guys with turnovers. He just didn't give up a completion, so at what point is a guy going to get a game ball when you just keep throwing at him and it's incomplete? So, we've got so many guys who maybe don't get the stat production, but their role is so critical to the success of others. They allow everybody else to get the credit, and it's just such a great unit as a whole."
How good was it to see TE Hayden Hurst succeed? "Hayden brings a lot of energy to the unit. He feeds off that emotion. He had a couple plays. He had that one, he had a tough catch going toward our tunnel on a little play-action pass where we hit him on double coverage. He did a great job with that play. Then he caught that goal line pass. Hayden's been a great asset for us."
What do you attribute the secondary's success to? "They're unselfish, great communicators. They're always making sure who's got the call. They do a great job. If you give up a play, just let it go and move on to the next play. You don't see guys dejected and pointing fingers. That's a sign of a great unit, is the lack of finger pointing. They pick each other up."
How important was that 57-yard field goal? Did you think twice with a new long snapper in there? "Trust that unit. Don't think twice about Cal (Adomitis) — he's done a great job for us. It's a decision you've got to make. Just because a guy can make a 57-yarder, it doesn't mean it's 100 percent, and it flips the field position. Ultimately, he made us look good, but if it doesn't go our way, that's a significant field and momentum change. We put it on Evan (McPherson), and he came through for us." What did Joe Burrow's confidence mean tonight? "Joe was lights-out. He was seeing it really well, giving guys an opportunity. It's man coverage, you've got to beat man coverage and we've got the guys to do it. We had the protection to match it, we have a quarterback where that's what he wants to see — 'Give me man coverage, let me fit into tight windows and tough spots.' So, I'm proud of the way all those guys stepped up."
Why did you continue to call plays for a struggling running game? "There's spots where you get jammed. Just another inch, and we're bursting through there. Sometimes, that's the way it goes early on. It's tough. But the dam's going to break, so you just don't want to give up on it. Even though I've got so much faith in our passing game, you can throw it every snap. At some point those guys need to come off the ball, get guys in the running game, help our play action pass, help run a couple keepers. It even gives us a chance on T.B.'s play — that run action still helps us do some other things. Again, I've got confidence that we'll get going. Watch the tape, and you're not going to see a lot of runs show up against the Miami Dolphins in the first three weeks. It's just hard. That's maybe why Buffalo threw the ball as much as they did. It's a tough unit, a good front, they've been there awhile together."
What did you think of RB Joe Mixon's touchdown? "Awesome. Just a great momentum boost for us at that moment, when you see the pile drive like that. Running with speed — that's big. Ripping that band-aid off and getting your first touchdown of the year is important. So I was happy for Joe that it was able to happen. He earned that one."