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Taylor-Made Takes: One Final, 25-Day Push

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor works his team along the sideline in an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor works his team along the sideline in an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

With four games left and his 7-6 Bengals within one game of the AFC North lead heading to Denver this Sunday, head coach Zac Taylor huddled with senior writer Geoff Hobson to talk about balancing December ball with Joe Burrow's "Hall of Fame" potential. Plus, how the running game needs possessions and more.

GH: On Monday you said you met with your captains. Do you also have a leadership council?

ZT: Just the captains. But I talk to other guys. There is plenty of leadership on the team that's not captains that you circle back through from time to time.

GH: Is it a weekly thing or just when you think it's a good time?

ZT: It's not necessarily a weekly thing. It's just whenever needed. You just want to make sure we're on the same page. It was good. We've got (25) days in the regular season left. Every one of them matters.

GH: When you talked to those guys, what was your take on how they came out of the game on Sunday?

ZT: I think everybody is still optimistic. They all know we have a good team. We have to find ways to handle our business and get some wins here. But it's not doom or gloom. I know Sunday night we were all dejected and disappointed when you come back like that and you've got a lead in overtime and come away with a loss. That can briefly be demoralizing. That's human nature, but I was happy with where we all were on the clock and how we've picked ourselves up and have to get ready for the Broncos this week.

It just means everybody cares. We all care. There's occasionally over ten years you're on a team where guys start to check out. But when you look in the eyes of these guys, you can see it's important to them. And it's important that they put their best foot forward to help the team and that's the kind of team we want to be.

GH: How do you view it? No margin of error for the next four games?

ZT: They all matter. It's really however you want to phrase it. We know the importance of starting with this one and we feel like we play good football on the road. We like our routine. We feel like we played well the last time we traveled to that approximate time zone. Our guys have the right mentality when we go on the road and we're going to need that Sunday.

GH: Tough to lose to two straight at home against West Coast teams. You had to think that was an advantage when the schedule came out.

ZT: We know those were good football teams. Talk about margin of error. You can't give up the turnovers like we have the last two weeks and expect to win when you're playing good teams that are in the playoff hunt and that has held true the last two weeks.

You look at the 10 points we lost on turnovers and that's where we have to get better so we can put ourselves in better position to play the style of football we want to play over the course of a game. That's leaning more on the run in the fourth quarter and we just took that opportunity away from ourselves to play that way. With the turnovers, it's hard to make up for lost possessions. I was proud of the way the guys fought back. But there are some things we still have to learn and we have to find a way to close these games out.

GH: It seemed like you responded to what happened the week before against the Chargers. I don't want to say you played more conservatively against the 49ers, but you played it differently than you did the week before.

ZT: Every game is a little different. We make our adjustments as we see fit over the course of the game. We have an idea of the kind of style the game is going to be played and some of the decisions we have to make. We try to be proactive before and talk through what can come up and then you make the adjustments over the course of the game as you see how it plays out.

GH: In this last game you were taking the points and not going for it like you had been on fourth and short.

ZT: We had a play we liked (on fourth down) and then when we lined up we were going to be banging our head against the wall. It was not a good look for what we had schemed up and been prepared for, so then you bang the timeout and you get a chance to think, OK, that's what we wanted. Don't feel great about it. Let's take the points. I still think it put us in good position down the stretch to be able to win the game. I feel very comfortable with what the decision was and how it played out.

GH: You didn't even have to wait to see the tape. You felt right after the game you should have been more aggressive with Joe at the end of the drive in overtime.

ZT: Yeah, that's what I did. When they scored the touchdown to win it and I think back, starting with the offense, our guys just made every play imaginable that second half. OK, well if they did that, how did we not win? What could I have done differently? There were a lot of really good moments where you feel like you put the guys in really good position. And even then, that's not a bad position to be in. That's a good run. It's gotten us six yards in the game already. At the end of the day we just have tremendous belief in our quarterback in those moments where he's at his best and win us those games, you have to take advantage of that.

GH: This is your first playoff run as a head coach. You certainly played a December brand of ball on Sunday.

ZT: The game's over. You have to learn from it. And just make sure we're always putting ourselves in the best position to go win. That's just how to look at it.

I think it's all, the game is on the line. That guy has proven a lot of people to be good coaches when you put the ball in his hand with the game on the line and he finds a way to win it. Give him as many opportunities as you possibly can.

GH: You said on Monday Burrow has Hall of Fame potential.

ZT: That's a very bombastic statement there. That's just how we feel about him. I think you being in the building, everyone feels that we've got something special with that guy and he's going to lead us to some really good things.

GH: You look at what he did in the fourth quarter and OT and you hate to say Montana-esque or Elwayish, but after playing the 49ers and going to Denver, those are two guys that come to mind.

ZT: Yeah, it's a shame we didn't come away with a win because you certainly felt like the momentum was in our favor when (Ja'Marr) Chase caught that touchdown.

GH: Did you tell Joe the same thing you told us?

ZT: I'll just keep that between us. You're always feeling down after a loss. It's good to kind of talk through it.

GH: It also looked like Joe reacted a bit to what happened the week before. He really managed a December game well and was patient against the cover two and didn't take some of the chances he did against the Chargers.

ZT: I thought he was patient because there was a change in some of the structures we had seen from them. I thought he did a really solid job being patient and when they gave us one high (safety), he pushed it down field and we had the touchdown that wasn't. We had the final double move touchdown to Ja'Marr. So Joe did a really good job that when the coverage gave him an opportunity he took advantage of it. And when it didn't, he was really smart with it and checked it down for some good completions.

GH: That shows progress on his part.

ZT: He's aggressive, but not overly greedy. He knows the situations that call for it and he knows when he needs to move on and just find us a completion.

GH: Vonn Bell is so conscientious and so passionate and such a team guy. How tough was that taunting call for you against him? We know what he means to the team.

ZT: Yeah. And I think he's accountable for that. He understands he put us in a tough spot. That's what they're looking for.

GH: I don't think it was your overtime play calling or the muffed punts. I'd have to say to only get 58 yards rushing on the 18 carries you gave Joe Mixon against a cover two, that might have decided the game more than anything.

ZT: But if you're able to be within a possession earlier or tied or have a lead, he's going to get eight or nine more carries in the fourth quarter and that's the difference between this performance and the Vegas performance. If you take those last eight carries in the Vegas game out of his hands, it probably looks like this. But if you can play a tighter game or play with a lead, you give him eight more carries, he's got 26, 27 carries and finishes with 100 yards and now all of a sudden it's this great rushing performance. That's just the difference. Its how you're able to control the game in the fourth quarter often times reflects on what the procession of your running game was.

GH: Your defense basically gave up ten points in regulation.

ZT: Yeah, you felt like the defense played well and then you go back and watch the tape and you realize they played really well. There were a lot of positives to draw from and I think it's important for our players to see that as a whole. That was kind of one of the focuses on Monday. Because you're playing on your side of the ball and, yeah, you're seeing glimpses of what the other side is doing. But it's important for them to see a lot of the really good things we did so there's always that belief in the other unit going forward. I think we have a really strong bond as a team and that was only re-emphasized (Monday).