The game balls were flying like Super Bowl confetti after the Bengals’ first win of the year Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Head coach Zac Taylor gave one to Andy Dalton, the quarterback he benched, and Dalton gave one to Taylor 33 days after telling him he disagreed with the move. And if you’ve never seen that, then you’ve probably never seen this, either. Running back Joe Mixon took the ball he carried for the five-yard touchdown run that gave the Bengals control over the Jets at 17-3 in a 22-6 victory and gave it to the other offensive line coach as he walked off the field after the game.
Frank Pollack was the Bengals line coach last year and Mixon said he deeply impacted him on how he views the game mentally and physically. So he wanted to show his appreciation and he affixed a quick note to the ball.
“I thought it meant a lot to him,” Mixon said. “I could see some tears in his eyes a little bit. I’ve definitely been planning that out.”
Taylor and Dalton were more dry-eyed and unscripted right after the game as they huddled up in the middle of the locker room. Taylor praised Dalton for his resiliency and leadership as well as breaking Ken Anderson’s franchise records for touchdown passes and completions. Dalton, a captain, said they wanted to give the ball from his first win to Taylor a lot sooner than this, but here it is.
“It’s hard to go through this season, your first head coaching job, you still haven’t won a game and all the stuff that weighs on you,” Dalton said later from the podium. “He has stayed steady this whole time. He’s a big reason why everybody has stuck together and the way we played today, it shows that nobody has given up. A lot of teams in our position could do that. I think it’s as big tribute to Zac he’s kept everyone together.”
- The way it’s been going this year after home games, Taylor has shuttered himself in his PBS office until the end of the 4 p.m., game before heading home so he’d fall asleep by 8:30.
But in the aftermath of Sunday’s No. 1 victory, this would be different after five losses by a touchdown or less. So as he emerged from the locker room, sister Katherine was the first to hug him and then he swept up his youngest child, Millie, in his arms and that’s where she stayed as her dad got handshakes and hugs all around. From his parents, Julie and Sherwood, all the way to his punter and longest-tenured Bengal, Kevin Huber.
This time, Taylor would have a glass of wine for the first time. Wife Sarah would know the right kind. But other than that …
“Pizza,” said Julie Taylor. “Like it’s been after every game for about the last 10 years. They’ve been so close so many times. I’m just so happy for these guys and Zac.”
Julie and Sherwood were running out of games. They hit the right one. They were in Seattle for the first one, here for the home opener and they went to the London game. It looked like Sunday against the Jets was going to be it.
“Next week we’re in Philly,” said Sherwood, whose other son, Press, is the Eagles quarterbacks coach.
Despite all the emotions that were bubbling inside (“It’s more emotional than you think it’s going to be.”), Zac did happen to catch the Eagles score and how Miami stunned them, 37-31. And he was thinking how his family couldn’t doubly celebrate on this day after finally getting one.
“Can’t catch a break,” Zac Taylor said.
But he definitely caught a break. Defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Sam Hubbard planned to meet at the former Nebraska quarterback with the obligatory Gatorade shower. But Taylor seemed to barely step out of a full douse. Dunlap didn’t blink. People were running from him all day. He tied a career-high with three sacks and the game fittingly ended with Dunlap chasing Jets quarterback Sam Darnold into a throwaway.
“We focused in on the moment,” Dunlap said. “We just won and it’s his first career win and he’s going to have a heck of a career. He deserves it. It’s as simple as that. Regardless how the season has gone. Coach Zac gets his first win and we want him to remember it.”
- Dunlap led a marvelous defensive victory against the hottest offense in the land, next to Baltimore of course. Only the Ravens had scored at least 34 points in the last three games. But the Bengals held the Jets to no touchdowns, the first time since a Dec. 6, 2105 win, 37-3, in Cleveland. They gave up their fewest rush yards of the season (62), their fewest total yards (271) since the opener in Seattle and tied a season-high four sacks to match the opener.
But it was a little-known defensive end that made the play of the day. First-year Andrew Brown. Otherwise known as "AB." In the previous three games he had three, three and two snaps. On his first snap Sunday he hauled down running back Le’Veon Bell for a two-yard gain at the Jets 3. On the next snap, he forced left tackle Kelvin Beachum to hold him while Darnold was in the end zone throwing pass to Bell.
Safety. Bengals go up, 19-6, and then use the field position to extend the lead to 22-19.
“That was a really productive first two snaps,” said Brown with a laugh as he figured he took about 10 plays Sunday. “I gave him a little bit of a power move and I dipped because I knew he was going to keep that arm on me once I dipped. Once I dipped, I came back up with the rip to draw the holding call. I flailed a little bit, trying to sell it that he was holding me. I got the call.”
Brown got another one later in the game. His locker mate, end Carl Lawson, who had a few good rushes himself, smiled when he heard someone ask Brown how many snaps he had Sunday.
“Enough to make an impact,” Lawson said.
- The man who made it all possible was punter Kevin Huber. He dropped a 48-yard punt on the Jets 2 to set up the safety and highlight another bell-weather day by the NFL’s No. 1 special teams unit. The Bengals won the hidden yards in return yards by 56-32. Huber’s 170th game made him the Bengals’ longest tenured punter, passing Lee Johnson. He becomes the 11th Bengal to hit 170 and ties all-time sack leader Eddie Edwards.
- Speaking of Edwards, Dunlap’s three sacks give him 78, 5.5 shy of Edwards’ club sack record and 2.5 ahead of teammate Geno Atkins.
- Wide receiver A.J. Green, who has caught 60 of Dalton's 198 TD passes (30 percent). was happy for everyone as he watched in sweats again. No, he said. Not bittersweet.
"It's always sweet. No bitterness at all," Green said. "I'm doing my part trying to get ready and that's all I can do."
Nothing new on the ankle.
"When my ankle is feeling good enough to play, I'll play, it's as simple as that," Green said.
Asked if he'll play this season he offered, "I don't know, it depends on the ankle."
He said he hasn't had swelling recently and did say the ankle is trending up