After savoring his first AFC North title, head coach Zac Taylor's weekly discussion with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson explores experiencing the moment, the fourth-down calls, drafting Ja'Marr Chase, developing Joe Burrow and why it's special to coach pro football in Cincinnati.
GH: What is the one moment from last Sunday that sticks with you?
ZT: For me personally walking off the field felt like I was walking off the field after our first win. It was a similar emotion. How hard it was to get that first win. And then how hard it was to win the division. Emotionally it felt very similar walking to the tunnel after the game. They're very different moments, but I don't know how to describe it. They felt very much the same.
GH: There were a few more people this time.
ZT: There were a few more people this time. It was a little louder.
GH: How good the crowd was had people remembering some other big games here.
ZT: I do a terrible job of taking in a moment like that. You've got your headset on and you're thinking and talking.
GH: You must have seen your life pass in front of you twice.
ZT: Sometimes I wish there was a moment you can take off the headset and take in the moment. Maybe I'll do a better job of that the next time it comes around.
GH: There was never a doubt, right? Never in the back of your mind, 'Geez, maybe I should kick this thing?'
ZT: We allowed the conversation to occur. You talk through it. You want to hear it. You don't want to make a rash decision. There might be something missing. You want to think it through. But ultimately we just wanted to go take it. And the only way to leave no doubt was to try and get the touchdown.
GH: The analytics said go for it, right?
ZT: You kind of throw analytics out at that moment. It's just how is your team playing? How do you think it's going to play out? The ball's on the one-inch line. We needed to go get it.
GH: Jessie Bates remembers days when you guys got booed off the field.
ZT: I think it was an effort everyone could be proud of. There have been tough times recently. Probably disappointing at times for people to watch. Those that have hung with us have been rewarded for doing it and those who are back on the bandwagon we're happy to have you back on the bandwagon. We'll take everybody now as we make this last push. We're going to need our fans again. They were tremendous on Sunday and we're going to need them in two weeks.
GH: That had to be a great moment with your team in the locker room after the game. It was microcosm of the last three years. It wasn't easy right up to the last play to clinch it.
ZT: No, it wasn't easy. We earned it and we didn't want to stumble into the playoffs or the division title. You didn't want to have to pull for somebody else. You wanted to go take it and earn it against a team that's really set the standard in this league for a number of years now and they've proven be the best. To get to where we want to be we're going to have to win more games like that. It's just now our guys believe we can do it.
GH: It seemed like you filed away the Frisco game for future reference. After the overtime you wondered about not putting it in your best player's hand at the end. You certainly did Sunday.
ZT: We have to grow on our past experiences or else we're not improving anything. Very rarely do teams go 16-0 or 17-0. You may not win every game, but it's important you walk away having learned something and how to apply it later in the season or in the playoffs or the next year. There are certainly a lot things that came up in Sunday's game that our players had to learn from previous games. And our coaches had and myself included, for sure, and it helped us get a win there.
GH: That was part of the thinking. You had to get a touchdown here, right?
ZT: Yeah, there's a couple of super heroes in this league. I think we've got one and I know they've got one as well and you don't take any chances. I believe in our defense. I believe that they would have given us the stop necessary to win us the game. At the same time, if somebody told me in August you have a fourth and inch to win the division and put our team in the playoffs if you won it, I think you absolutely take it and that's what we did.
GH: As opposed to San Fran, when you ran it twice and kicked the field goal in OT and ended up getting beat?
ZT: The situations are in some ways similar. You learn from them and move on.
GH: What moments on Sunday did you think the players used their experiences?
ZT: Defensively we needed to execute a zero blitz at the end of the game. There have been times this year maybe we've been a quarter of a second late triggering the blitz or I'm sure there's been a moment when the communication hasn't been as clean as it needed to be and on that particular one, third-and-four, the defensive play of the game, they were all on it. They did a great job switching off the patterns on both sides. They did a great job triggering the pressure and made sure there was a hot right in Patrick's face and stepped up and made that play.
And offensively guys need to win some one-on-ones late in the game and guys did that and put us in position to win it.
GH: The flags you drew were because guys beat one-on-one.
ZT: We try to call routes to give guys a chance to separate and we feel good about our talent at that position and sometimes when you beat them on a route where you've separated, they're going to have to grab you. It creates an issue for them.
GH: This is why you drafted Ja'Marr Chase, right? It's hard to remember there was such a heated debate about it outside.
ZT: At critical moments, they may bring more than you can protect and you need guys that can win the one-on-one and win quickly. Sometimes it may look like they don't even win. But as along as the ball is in the proximity, they're going to find a way to make a play. It's something you have to draft pretty high to get that. And we've got couple of them.
GH: And the fact you were able to get a guy that did it with the guy. You had 20 college touchdowns on tape with Burrow and Chase.
ZT: It doesn't hurt to accelerate that process for a rookie receiver to have somebody he's had that chemistry with that can walk in the door and skip the get-to-know-your steps and able to just hit the ground running.
GH: If he comes in with say, a guy like Mahomes, he probably has a good year. But he doesn't go for 14 bills.
ZT: You never know. It's like the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Right place, right time at the right moment where you can accelerate your learning process and your growth and reach your maximum potential quicker than maybe in some other situations. I feel like Ja'Marr landed in a system with the quarterback that allowed him to accelerate faster than he might have elsewhere. But he also had the ability to do it, so it will be impossible to answer that question.
GH: Have you ever seen a quarterback have back-to-back games like Burrow has?
ZT: No. Because I don't know if it's ever been done before.
GH: He was four yards shy of Dak Prescott's record for two straight games.
ZT: Just for what it's meant. Those were two games we had to have with the season on the line. We had to beat Baltimore and Kansas City or else it's out of our control. For him to have those two performances when we needed it most, it's pretty spectacular.
GH: You can see this team's personality more and more. It's a pretty likeable, resilient bunch. They've come back from a ton of deficits.
ZT: They know how to have fun, but they also know the work that needs to happen to allow them to have fun. They don't let fun get in the way of the work. And when you know you've put in the work and you have the ability, it breeds a natural confidence that you earned. That allows you to have fun. I'm going to make the plays that come to me and I'm going to celebrate.
GH: It seems like every free agent you signed has hit or is about to hit their ceiling.
ZT: They've been a big part of what we've done. We put a lot of time and effort into making sure we're adding talented people where being a great teammate is important to them and winning is important to them. And we hit on them. They've mixed really well with the guys that were homegrown in a sense. Drafted here or been here for a number of years. It's a tremendous mixture of guys that get along really well and play off of each other. They care about each other and having the team win than individual statistics.
GH: I'm sure Bengals president Mike Brown had some nice things to say to you.
ZT: He's been so supportive of us and understood our vision. He was certainly happy as we all were. It was a great moment for everybody in the city of Cincinnati. I just wanted to give Mike congratulations because he's certainly done a lot of work to help get this team to where we're at.
GH: Mike and his director of player personnel, Duke Tobin, believed in the vision because they hired you.
ZT: I've just felt our communication has been great. We're on the same page. It's not a monthly phone call or a monthly meeting. It's constant communication with Duke and ownership. Just make sure we're always on the same page and that way the little things don't become big things out of nowhere. We all understand the strengths we have and the weaknesses we have. And we all try to come together to make sure we can put the best team on the field as possible.
GH: Coaches always say it's a great place to work and they say it after they've been here.
ZT: Absolutely. I can absolutely see that being true. Once you've been here, you understand how great this place is. How special of a place it is to wok. Those who haven't been here probably don't understand it. And don't want to understand it. Those who have been here certainly know Cincinnati is the best place you can work and wouldn't want to be anywhere else. They care about all parts of the organization. Players, coaches, support staff. (The floors) A1, A2. Whoever you are. They genuinely care who you are. That's important to me. To be around great people who stand for good things and treat people the right way. That's going to take us very far.
GH: You got two wins Sunday, right, when you went to your son's basketball game right after the game?
ZT: Brooks is the oldest. He's 11. It was cool. He didn't know I was coming. He certainly didn't expect me to be there. I almost didn't make it. I didn't realize how bad traffic is after a game. I was out of here pretty quick. I always stay. I've never been close to getting out of here that soon.
GH: He was in on the winning play.
ZT: He had an assist to our next door neighbor Graham Moore for the game winner. It was cool to see.