Best of Tuesday's Zoom news conferences from the Bengals coordinators ahead of Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13 against the Rams.
After allowing nine sacks against the Titans, the Bengals gave up only one sack in the 27-24 win over the Chiefs in the AFC championship game. There were many factors that went into the group's performance, including rotating second-year Hakeem Adeniji and rookie Jackson Carman at right guard.
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said they're still evaluating how to fill that spot against the Rams on a right side that has had second-year player Isaiah Prince playing tackle in place of injured veteran Riley Reiff for the last nine weeks.
Callahan: "Rotating those guards was something we had planned on going into the game. Two young players that have played a lot of football for us over the course of the season. We were facing a good interior front in Kansas City and trying to see if that could help us handle those guys a little bit.
"They both have different skill sets that were good for us in that game. Both guys made good plays and bad plays like every game goes for those guys up front. It's not like you're expecting perfection. They played admirably. We'll see what we're going to do moving forward.
"They played well against Kansas City. Chris Jones was a hard player to block. We're going to arguably have to block the best player in football in a couple of weeks here in Aaron Donald. There are really no words to describe how good he is. We have our hands full.
Callahan on Carman: *"It's been a traditional rookie arc to me for a guy who really changed positions when he came into the league. He was a tackle in college. He projected for us as a guard, so he came in as a guard so there is a learning curve. There's a maturation process that goes on particularly for young players. I think it's really, really difficult to play offensive line in the NFL. To see young players come in and succeed right away is not something that happens often, not that it doesn't happen.
"Everything he has done has been improved every time he gets out there and plays and the consistency part has picked up. Young players tend to be inconsistent. He's had moments of that, but I think his consistency has definitely flattened out. He's become more consistent, then things roll the right way more often. Really pleased with the way he's played and where his future projects as well. We've got big expectations for him and he's got to meet those."
Callahan on Prince: "Isaiah has done a really fine job stepping in. He was the swing tackle for us, early in the season when Riley Reiff was playing. He's had to step in and play a huge role for us down the stretch and in the playoffs. He has done a very fine job and he's got good length and good athletic ability. He does a nice job in pass protection.
"He has to play against some pretty good players. He has given up some sacks, like all linemen do. What he's done for us and how he's played, he's really stepped up. … There are times when you lose a starting tackle and then you're in a really bad spot. We felt like we lost our starting tackle and we really weren't in that bad of a spot because we had a lot of faith in Isaiah's ability to go play for us."
After giving up three touchdowns in Sunday's first half, the defense stiffened and allowed only a field goal in the second half. The performance was aided by defensive end Sam Hubbard and the rest of the defensive line's relentless pursuit of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes that sacked him four times.
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo: "(Hubbard) stood out to me on tape in college, even though I didn't necessarily evaluate him. When we got here, we just knew that we could build around him because of everything that he's made of.
"That was on display on Sunday. In the most critical point of the most critical game, he's one of the guys that rose up. Let me tell you, those D-linemen had an unbelievable job of trying to contain (Mahomes). That is not an easy job and he was running them ragged a little bit and they just never relented, none of them.
"You could tell just the inner fortitude of those guys up front, especially led by Sam, that they weren't going to give up no matter what. You can win a lot of games with guys like him."
The Bengals tied last Sunday's game with 14 seconds left in the third quarter on quarterback Joe Burrow's two-point pass to wide receiver Trent Taylor on Taylor's only snap of the postseason and his first score since Oct. 7, 2018, when he was with the 49ers. The Bengals signed him this spring and didn't elevate from the practice squad Dec. 19, and then it was to return punts.
Callahan: "Trent's played a lot of football in the NFL and he played quite a bit early in his career. He was really a dynamic player at Louisiana Tech coming out. I think he had 100-plus catches every year he was there. So he's proven it. He's a proven player. There's not much that we didn't know about him. And so we found a type of play and type of route that we felt he ran really, really well.
"He's got the right kind of quickness and set up and we felt like it was a great play for how we were trying to attack that coverage. We worked on it for about 2-3 weeks … It's a very specific route for a guy like him and he fit in perfect. I think that's what's great about our team. We have a lot of guys that do things that are limited roles, but those roles they do really well. I think that's the sign of a good team, a team that's got guys that are bought.
"It looked good all week, the last two weeks in practice it's looked great. It just happened to be the perfect time to call it. We felt great about the call and that Trent would do his job there and he did. It's a testament to Trent and Trent and Joe getting that trust down because Joe doesn't throw a ton of balls to Trent, but it was really well done on both of those guys' part."
MONEY FROM ANY DISTANCE
As rookie kicker Evan McPherson continues to perform, the more praise he gets from his coaches. The rookie is 12-for-12 with field goals in the postseason, two from future Hall-of-Famer Adam Vinatieri's postseason record of 14.
Assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons: "You always hope they're going to do as well as he is, but he's exceeded our expectations. I knew he had a chance to be really good, though, after watching him and being around him for a period of time, I knew he was going to have a chance to be really good.
"Then that got confirmed when we got our hands on him in training camp and, really, in the offseason workouts. In training camp, I knew he had a real chance. Because of COVID our access to some of these guys has been so limited in the draft preparation, that it's hard to get to work with them a whole lot or see them a whole lot, or talk to them a whole lot prior to the draft.
"But coming into it, he's been everything that we expected him to be and then some. But his mental makeup is fantastic. It's exactly what you're looking for in that position."
When McPherson hit the walk-off 31-yarder to go to the Super Bowl, Callahan celebrated in the booth in glorious fashion and it was all caught on the CBS camera.
Callahan: "It was definitely a favorite of amongst my friends and family that text me. It's a moment of pure joy. … You work so hard to get into these moments, they're so rare in your career. I've been really fortunate to be a part of a bunch of them.
"This has been a really fun season, but you put all the work in during the week. You go through the stresses of the game and it's probably the purest form of emotions. That first 30 seconds after a game-winning play like that and we're not down on the field. So we don't get to go jumping up and down and running on the field and all that.
"We're just kind of stuck in a box. Chairs all around our feet and there are wires that are all connected. It's hard to celebrate the same way, but I do my best. I don't take those moments for granted. Those are always going to be emotional moments. They're always going to be moments that require a celebration if you will.
"They always stick this little camera in front of me and so at the end of it, I just kind of screamed at it. I guess that got caught on the broadcast."
STAFFED WITH STAFFORD
Callahan had a two-season stint with Rams quarterback Matt Stafford in Detroit as the Lions quarterbacks coach.
Callahan: "I really enjoyed working with Matthew. He was a lot of fun to be around, to work with, to coach. He's a great player. I'm not surprised at all that we're seeing him in this game in two weeks. He was really a fine player for the two years I was there.
"He was excellent before I got there and he's been excellent since. I think he's really cemented himself as one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL. He's a phenomenal worker. He's extremely intelligent. He's a great human being on top of it. If you look at all the things that he's done for the city of Detroit when he was there, he's phenomenal.
"I've got nothing, but the utmost respect for Matthew, I have a good relationship with him. I saw him at the Hall of Fame induction when he was there for Calvin (Johnson) this summer. It's always good to see him. I love the guy. I think he's one of the toughest competitors out there and we've got our hands full with that offense.
"They're really good with him at the trigger. I'm looking forward to playing against him and competing against him, but he's a warrior, man. He's as good as they come."
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Tight end C.J. Uzomah left Sunday's game with a knee injury and was on the sideline with crutches. On Monday, head coach Zac Taylor said he had an MCL sprain and could be ready to play in the Super Bowl. His impact has been felt.
Callahan: "He's a highly underrated part of our offense this year. He doesn't quite get the accolades and recognition that our receiving corps does. He certainly deserves probably just as much, because of what he's asked to do. He's a Swiss army knife in a sense that he can get in there and block. He's physical. He's tough. He catches balls. He breaks tackles.
"He's been a big part of our underneath passing game. He's made a bunch of huge plays for us catching balls underneath, and then taking six-yard completions for 10, 12, 15 yards. Then in the run game and the play-action game he's a big part of all of that.
"Certainly not having C.J. in two weeks is something that we'd have to work around and guys are going to have to step up with Drew (Sample) and Mitch (Wilcox). He means the world to our offense, the world to our team as a leader. … His personality is infectious, his leadership skills are outstanding, our guys love him.
"To not have him with us would be something that would be detrimental to us to some degree."
STORYTIME WITH SIMMONS
Simmons shared two stories about his specialists against the Titans, McPherson and kick returner Chris Evans, another rookie returning kicks for the first time as a pro in the postseason.
Simmons on Evans: "He rips the kickoff return up through there. Obviously, I told him … the most important thing to do is to hand the ball to the officials at the end of the play.
"He pops up and it's a sprint for him to find the official. He walks up to the official, hands him the ball and he taps the official on the shoulder. Like he's just so happy just to hand him the ball. I took great pride in that and it's something that (shows that) you're getting through to him and he understood how important and how critical that is."
Simmons on McPherson: "Evan was not very good in pregame warmup (in Tennessee). I think he would be the first to tell you that. He was poor. I mean he had a few field goals where he was short from 50 yards, which is very unlike him. I did not have a great feel for what his range was in that game.
"At the end of pregame warmup … he goes sprinting into the locker room and I'm asking Kevin Huber, 'What the hell did he do? Did he just hurt himself again? Is something wrong with them?' (Huber said), 'Aw no, no, he just needs to change his shoes. He'll be fine. He's going to change his shoes.'
"I'm like, 'Okay. I don't know why the hell he's not wearing the right shoes in the first place.' He goes back inside and changes the shoes. We had our short little field goal there at the end of pregame warmup and (McPherson) looks up and goes, 'Okay, I'm fine. I feel good again.'
"I think we had a 54-yard field goal at one point in the fourth quarter and at the time, I'm thinking, 'Man, that's too far based on what I saw on pregame warmup, that's too far based on what he hit.' Kevin looked right at me at that time and says, 'Nope, he's good. He's fine.'
"I'm like, 'All right, field goal let's do it,' and he stroked it. He annihilated it."