Best of Sunday's Zoom news conferences after the Bengals' 19-16 AFC Divisional win Saturday over the Titans in Nashville.
ONE-MAN WRECKING CREW
The Bengals defense was stout against one of the best running backs in the league, Derrick Henry, and a lethal play-action offense with quarterback Ryan Tannehill and wide receivers Julio Jones and A.J. Brown. But Bengals defensive tackle D.J. Reader flashed even brighter all night long. Reader posted five solo tackles, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hit.
Reader is particularly close with free safety Jessie Bates III and he helped him through a rough early stretch in the season as Bates coped with contract negotiations and new personnel in the secondary. He has played his two best games of the year in the playoffs.
Safety Jessie Bates III: "A guy named D.J. Reader stepped up big time. I could say stuff about, all the guys up front, but I think D.J. really, really, really stepped up. People maybe know his name now, which they should have been on.
More Bates: "D.J. is one of my best friends on the team. He's the guy that I was going to, when I was in my little funk. When I was a little isolated, D.J. was the one that was calling me, D.J. was the one that was texting me, coming over to my house, just hanging out. Can't say enough about him. … He's the best of the best upfront. I don't think a lot of people give him enough credit. He's a hell of a person, and a hell of an upfront guy and the guy that you got to have in the locker room."
Head coach Zac Taylor: "Unbelievable. He was Superman yesterday, quite frankly. I knew during the game, you see him make some plays, but until you really dial in and watch the tape, you then can, can further understand the impact he had on the game.
"I thought our defense overall, you can point out every single player making some key plays in that game. I think our defense and Lou Anarumo room and that staff did a tremendous job yesterday. But if you're going to single out one guy for their performance, D.J. Reader is certainly deserving of that.
Tight end C.J. Uzomah: "He's a … monster. … He's a beast. I love D.J., straight up. His leadership in the locker room, his presence on the field. He's a force, he's a freak of nature. He's a savage, are you kidding? When the whole defense plays as well as they played and coach is up there and he goes, 'I could call out each individual player but I'm going to specifically say that D.J. Reader played a hell of a game,' that's how you know you're an absolute animal out there."
DRESSED FOR THE PART
Uzomah, one of the team's more stylish dressers, lives in Nashville in the offseason. He was asked why he showed up Saturday for the game with the "Urban Cowboy," look.
Uzomah: "I got these boots and belt the day before. My agency is based out of Nashville. All my best friends are in Nashville. I was like, 'I'm tripping. I need a belt.' One of the boys said, 'I got you. I'll literally go to the store and say, give me the fattest one.' And he did. I was on FaceTime with him. The guy was like, 'You're going to need a nice belt with this.' I was like, screw it, whatever.
"Then my agent came and he said, 'What are you wearing tomorrow?' because he wants to know what I'm wearing, too. He said, 'You're wearing Jordan's with that?' I said, yeah. He said, 'Nah, nah, hold on.' He made a call. Tecovas came through. Dropped off a pair of boots. That was it. Two seconds it happened. I was like, 'Let's go. Here we go. This is big-time.' But when in Nashville, you have to, right? Cowboy up. Saddle up. Get ready."
With the Bengals in next Sunday's AFC championship game, the team got to kick back with their fans Sunday night and watch the Bills and the Chiefs play for the other spot. As the fourth seed, the Bengals travel to the winner.
The team has already beaten the Chiefs. They clinched the AFC North with the 34-31 win at Paul Brown Stadium three weeks ago. The Bills would be a new face this season, but a familiar one in the AFC championship game. The Bengals beat them in the 1988 AFC title game at Riverfront Stadium to qualify for Super Bowl XXIII.
Bates: "It's a weird question that everybody's been asking, ever since we won the game, 'Who do you guys want? Who do you guys want?' At the end of the day, that's not anything we can control. We did our part. We earned a Week 20 now, and whoever that team is, we got to go in and it's going to be a dog fight again. A good thing that we can kick our feet up and watch who we're going to play. Let those guys beat up on each other a little bit and get back to work on Monday."
Uzomah on a potential advantage playing the Chiefs again: "It's playoff football. It's gloves off. It's a street fight. You're saying we have tape on Kansas City. They have tape on us. You can say the exact same. That does not matter. Whoever we're going to get we're going to get their best shot. If we play KC, it's going to be different than the time before. I'm going to be watching not as a fan, but watching as someone who is dissecting film, which is going to be fun at this time of the year. It doesn't really matter.
The Bengals defensive line keeps getting hit with injuries. Defensive tackle Josh Tupou has been dealing with a knee injury since the season finale in Cleveland and could only go five plays in Tennessee. Defensive lineman Cam Sample, recently returned from a groin injury, apparently re-aggravated it Saturday after playing 19 snaps. End Trey Hendrickson, who got a concussion last week, got banged up again against the Titans, but looks good to go.
Taylor: "Cam Sample left with a groin injury, so we're going to have to see where he goes this week. … Tupou gave it all he could for as long as he could. We ended up pulling him out of the game. So we'll monitor him this week as well and see where he's at. … I think Trey will be fine. Really, Tupou and Cam Sample are the two that we'll have to monitor this week."
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has been part of the Taylor-led Bengals from the start and his unit has raised eyebrows by not allowing 20 points in both playoff games. Anarumo reportedly has recently been interviewed for the head coaching vacancy with the New York Giants.
Bates: "I heard (Cowboys linebacker) Micah Parsons call (Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn) a weird uncle. (That is) almost how Coach Lou is. You have conversations with Coach Lou, he's always messing around … I just can't say enough about him, man. He's pushed me to limits that, a lot of coaches haven't.
"There's been times where I've been like, 'Hey, I'm not messing with Lou today, man. I'm not, I didn't like the way he kind of said that to me,' but I really know that he means well … It can seem like he's being a butthole, but it's for a good cause. … I'm happy to be a part of it. I'm happy that we have those types of coaches and to be able to have that type of accountability and have some success together, it's good.
"I'll call him more of like more of, like the brother-uncle type of thing. Coach Lou, I can't say enough about him, it's something that you've got to experience for yourself."
Taylor on the Giants interview: "These guys have earned the opportunity. (Offensive coordinator) Brian (Callahan, interviewed by the Broncos) and Lou, so people are noticing that. Lou has been at the Giants before, they obviously thought highly of him when he was there the first time.
SPECIAL (TEAMS) SIMMONS
Assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons is one of the best that the league has to offer and Taylor didn't want to leave him out.
Taylor on Simmons potentially as a head coach candidate:"Quite frankly it should be three for three. I'm not trying to kick Darrin out the door, but he's kind of the best-kept secret we've got in the NFL. It's probably just because he's done such a great job here for so long, that he hasn't scattered around a lot of different organizations, like a lot of us have. Darrin should absolutely be in the conversation. It's kind of shocking that he's not, but I'll keep him as long as I can keep him."
One of the reasons Simmons is so highly regarded is he's the league's only kicking game coordinator who actually kicked.
Taylor: "It's really two-fold with Darrin. Not only is he top-notch with the scheme and putting our guys in great positions, getting the most out of them, but also the technique of the specialists. You watch him in pregame, he punts. He's done all this stuff as one of the all-time greats at (the University of Kansas).
"He's had tremendous success with punters and kickers here. We're happy to have him, he's the best in the business. That's probably why he's been here so long and has such great units and had such great specialists come through here, and it came through us in a big way yesterday."
TALES OF TAYLOR
To the national audience, Taylor was a coach on the hot seat and saved his job this year. But the people inside the Bengals locker room know a different story.
Bates:"Simply our motto is being a connected team. (Taylor) wanted a team that's connected, a locker room that's connected. We have really good coaches, that put us in great position, but he really wants the players to take it over. (I'm) just thankful I have a coach like that, that can be able to (say), 'Hey, this is the standard and I want the players to take it over.'"
Slot cornerback Mike Hilton made an excellent play in the Bengals red zone on a blitz, tipping a Ryan Tannehill pass and then catching it for an interception. Despite the pick, he was picked on after Tannehill caught up with him to make the tackle.
Bates: "We had a lot of jokes (Sunday) afternoon about Mike getting caught. We're trying to line up the order of, who had the worst returns this year. We tried to put Sam Hubbard's name in there and everybody's like, 'Nah, Sam's not a skill guy.' I think Mike's pretty much at the top, of that list right now. He made a hell of a play. You jump in the air and you track the ball. I think he was almost maxed out at that point, so we can't complain too much about that."
Hilton took to twitter to defend himself. He pointed out that on the play before, he sprinted downfield to take down Titans running back D'Onta Foreman on the Bengals 9 at the end of a 45-yard run. So he may have saved a touchdown twice.