Initial comments ...
"The game — as it played out yesterday, with the attrition with some injuries — was very hard-fought. Guys stepped up and played more often. There was a lot of back-and-forth with the special teams. The altitude has a bit of an effect on some guys, so (the players) were a little dreary because of that."
With Pat Sims being waived, you must see something you like in Andrew Billings. What do you like about him?
"Andrew has played increasingly better. He's done a really good job of playing physical, he's been able to penetrate — and that's what his responsibilities are. He's been disruptive. He's still trying to put it all together, but he keeps making positive plays."
The offensive line seems like it has come together recently. What has caused that?
"We would love to have Jake (Fisher) in the rotation and be where we are with him (playing), but we need to keep working at it. We need to do a good job with whatever responsibilities (we have). We need to clean some things up in the running game. We had six or seven plays that went for zero (yards), or (negative yards) yesterday, after having a lot of positive plays. At the end of the day, you don't feel as good about it as you should. A few of those plays were on the goal line or at the end of the game, but we're failing to get the job done. Unfortunately, (the errors) are spread amongst a few people, rather than one or it being just a correction. We have to keep doing it together the right way, all of the time."
How do you think Cedric Ogbuehi played yesterday? Was it a step forward for him?
"All of our guys battled yesterday. We did the one thing you want to do when you play in Denver: make sure you have the lead. That enables you to control the (pass) rush a bit. They have three outstanding edge rushers. But, we all have work to do."
How do you think Andre Smith has played the last two games?
"We all have work to do. Andre has been in there, been very physical, and has stepped up in his leadership. That's been great — I'm certainly glad we have him here."
The special teams have been solid under Darrin Simmons for so long, but now there's been a few games in a row with special teams mishaps. Is it anything you can put your finger on for that?
"Yes, we had a nice field goal block, which was good (laughs)."
Made possible by you ...
"No, I had no hand in that. I didn't step on the field."
But, you called the timeout ...
"That didn't cause the field goal block (laughs)."
The last two weeks, we've talked about either Vontaze Burfict missing a half of football or A.J. Green. Now, everyone stayed in the game, played well and made key plays down the stretch ...
"You have a better chance of winning when your best players are on the field (laughs)."
Alex Erickson seems to be playing productive football in an expanded role...
"Alex had the touchdown and two big third-down conversions yesterday. Every opportunity Alex gets, he does a nice job. He played significantly down in Jacksonville, but he came through yesterday with a couple of big plays (yesterday). He does a nice job when he's called upon to go in and block and do other things. Tyler Boyd came back and had a big third-down conversion, too. These guys are competing to play. That's a good thing."
All three of Andy Dalton's touchdowns came on third down, and two of them came in the red zone. That's pretty big, isn't it?
"Yes. When we convert those plays (in the red zone) for touchdowns, it's big. It was important in this football game. I told the guys, (converting in the red zone) would be a key to the game. In Denver's games previously, (allowing points in the red zone) had been to their demise. They had been playing so well on third down defensively, and our offense had their best third-down showing. We converted our first four in the fourth quarter, until the very last drive. So, those things were big offensively. The touchdowns (in the red zone) and the third downs were big."
How do you think Jordan Evans played?
"I thought, when he went in, he did a couple good things."
What do you like about Jordan Evans?
"Since he has been here, Jordan has shown the ability to make plays when he's been put in situations to have those opportunities. For the most part, he's been pretty sound with his assignments — he just has to make sure that we can depend on him that way. That's important. When he got the opportunity (at Denver) and he was put in there, he responded with a couple of plays on the edge. A couple weeks ago, he did the same thing. He just has to continue to do that. Every time he gets an opportunity, that's been great. Part of his role here is also filling in on special teams and being a stalwart with that, with his speed, athleticism, size and stature."
You mentioned how tough it was with air out there in Denver, with 79 snaps on defense ...
"We probably should stop people on third down. That would help us."
Well your offense was converting them in this game, but your defense still struggled with that ...
"We still have to get a handle on third downs and make sure we do a better job. We got off to a really good start. I think they converted the second one, but after that, we settled down pretty well. But in the second half, we weren't very good. Those are things that make a difference in the game. In the one drive, they converted four third downs and a fourth down. Those things lead to a long drive. That was the whole first quarter, basically. There was a possession difference of something like three and a half (minutes) to 11-something (minutes), and after that, we were even. That makes a difference in the game. Everybody looks at that and says, 'Oh, wow, you didn't have the ball.' Well, in one quarter we didn't have the ball because they drove the field and converted third downs."
In the second half, it was less than a minute's difference in time of possession ...
"Those are things we just got to keep doing. After the blocked punt, they had six plays or seven plays, then Dre (Kirkpatrick) makes the interception, we score on the third play. So, early in the first quarter we had six plays. We want more than that, but we had the lead, which is a big thing (laughs)."
Do you feel like your team has the characteristics of getting hot down the stretch?
"We don't have to have characteristics, you just have to go to work and do your job every day and win each football game. There are no certain characteristics — other than people being able to make plays — to win games. You'd be writing a fable if you made up some kind of story with that."
How have you seen Darqueze Dennard come along the last few weeks?
"He really has done a fine job. Sometimes, he's not getting as many reps outside, but then he'll go outside and basically play the whole game yesterday and responding that way. I really thought he played a good, sound football game."
Is it more of a matter of just staying healthy for him?
"I think it's a maturity thing — a maturation over time. In his case, he's changed how he prepares physically, his diet and everything that way. He's growing into being a pro, and that's good. It's good for his future."
It's not easy to play corner in the slot and then go outside. That's not as easy as it sounds, right?
"Well, you got play somewhere on first and second down. If they don't put three wide receivers out there, then you'd be standing beside me (laughs). I would think it would be something he would be looking forward to (laughs). He takes snaps all the time in practice at both spots. He responded, and he's really a smart player. And having being around Leon (Hall) like he had been here, he has learned from one of the best. And also learning from Adam Jones, learning (how to study) the opponent. Those guys (Hall and Jones) share a lot, and they've taught these (young) guys, along with Dre (Kirkpatrick), how to grow and do those things."
How has Joe Mixon come along in trying to figure out how to make the most out of his rushing opportunities?
"As a runner, you just can't be frustrated. You can't let the last play, positively or negatively, affect the next one. You got to make each one. I think we said that in here. It's its own little masterpiece all the time, no matter what it is. You got to make the most of it. That's all. You ask the runners to do that all the time. They can't preconceive or have a pre-notion in their mind where this ball is going to end up fitting. They just have to let it happen and let their physical tools and abilities go to work."
Has that been the process of maturation for Mixon — knowing not to always focus on the home run?
"Joe's been pretty grounded his entire time here. I never felt anything different from Joe Mixon. But being consistent and being on the tracks, we want to make sure to pair things all the time, so that he has a great understanding of what's being asked of him."
KeiVarae Russell got a chance to make an impression being active this weekend and made a great play to block a field goal ...
"It was very good. He was excellent. He did what he was coached to do. He was very intent on the ball on the snap, and that what you got to have. Every week we look at our get-offs on those things, and he was excellent. He was spot on. That was great."