Head coach Zac Taylor connects with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson to reflect on last Sunday's wild overtime against the Packers, handling COVID and the dangerous Detroit Lions.
GH: None of us have ever seen a finish like that in regulation and overtime on Sunday. What was it like coaching it?
ZT: Just what I told our guys on Monday. It's a very resilient group. There are some sudden changes and we often refer to a sudden change as a turnover. But there was a lot of change after the field goals, where things really looked bleak for us and our defense bowed up and got a stop and they missed a field goal and we had to quickly respond. Our offense did a good job moving down the field and getting an opportunity and then when the field goal didn't go our way the defense turned it around with a sudden change. They went from thinking we might win the game to, shoot, we've got to go play defense again.
It was a resilient group that showed through the effort, especially in overtime. They played to that final down. Things just didn't go our way. That's life in the NFL some times. There are plenty of things we have to correct. There are some different mistakes we have not made previously that we made and there are some things to clean up. But the good news is the resiliency really showed through and that we're going to be a team that's going to be reckoned with and we're going to be in position to win a lot of games against really good teams like that.
GH: You know how this league is. A lot of it is making sure you're there at the end of games.
ZT: And our guys did that. It was a kind of a back and forth wild game and it didn't turn out in our favor.
GH: Everybody called it a measuring stick game. You have to feel like coming out of it against the two-time NFC finalist in literally a coin flip game gives you the confidence this thing is going in the right direction.
ZT: We felt that before the game and I certainly understand why people said it. But I think we felt before the game that we were going to win the game. We were going to go beat the Green Bay Packers and that was not going to surprise us when it happened. It wasn't, for us, a measuring stick game. We feel like we know where we're at and what we're capable of. We have to find ways to finish that one off.
GH: You say this team knows where it's at. Where are you at after five games?
ZT: We're a good team. We're a resilient team. We're a physical team and we're going to be a relentless team. I feel like we've got that relentlessness on defense. We've got the performers on special teams and we've got the guys that can create enough on offense where we feel really good going into every game that we have an opportunity to win.
GH: You talk about resilient. Vonn Bell missed the tackle on a blitz in the backfield, then made the tackle 57 yards down field and then comes back in overtime to make back-to-back tackles for loss in the red zone.
ZT: You're not going to make every play. We don't have a player on this team who is perfect or a coach who is perfect. You're going to have a play you don't make and you have to put it behind you. And lead by example. That's what Vonn does. He's going to keep being aggressive and being physical. They've got good players who are on scholarship, too, and they made a play there and Vonn put it behind him and made some great plays for us.
GH: You had a starter and a regular go to the COVID list on Monday. How did you respond when you heard that in the morning?
ZT: It's part of life in the NFL right now. You just have to be able to handle it and next guy up. Those two guys have played a big role for us in Samaje (Perine) and Jackson (Carman). Now D'Ante (Smith) will get an opportunity (at right guard) and we've got to get more from Chris Evans where he can help Joe Mixon (at running back).
GH: Did you send the players home at some point Monday?
ZT: Yeah, some of the bigger meetings we had we could do on Zoom. We're used to this after dealing with it last year. The guys handled it really well, they know how to react to it and we just keep moving on and getting our work done.
GH: D'Ante Smith, the rookie right guard, opened a lot of eyes early in training camp. What have you seen in his development since then?
ZT: I think (offensive line coach) Frank (Pollack) has done a really god job making sure that they understand the importance of their scout team reps. He spends a lot extra time with those guys making sure they're ready when their numbers called. I have confidence in D'Ante that he's continued to make progress over the course of the season and we'll see if he gets an opportunity on Sunday.
GH: If he can give you what Jackson has given you as another rookie, you have to like that I would think.
ZT: Yeah, he's a talented guy, a young guy. You don't know sometimes until these guys get their opportunities.
GH: Sticking to the O-line, you have plenty of big plays, but short yardage has been a problem. Is that push, technique or what? You had nine third-down plays four yards or shorter and converted three.
ZT: A lot of them were passes. It's hard to put it all on the offensive line. There are a lot different things. We've got a lot of confidence in that group. In five weeks it hasn't been up to snuff, but we're confident we'll make improvements.
GH: What have you liked from the offensive line in the first five weeks?
ZT: The chemistry. They've give us good production in the run game. I just think overall they've given us the chance to move the ball and score points. We haven't scored as many points as we want to, but I think overall we've got enough push from the line to be able to do some good things.
GH: What do you need to do to get from scoring 21-24 points to 30-34 points?
ZT: Just look at the second half. We had a turnover. We had a penalty on a fourth-down conversion that put us out of go-for-it-range. We scored a touchdown and, really, for the last two possessions you're playing for a field goal. If it wasn't the last play of the game, you're probably more aggressive to get more yardage. But we're just trying to get in position to kick a game winner. I really felt like that last possession of the first half all the way through the second half, we moved the ball. We had some self-inflicted wounds at the end of those possessions.
GH: It seemed like your call to run it on third-and-two in overtime to set up Evan McPherson's 49-yard field goal attempt was validated on the Packers' next and last possession when Aaron Rodgers got sacked momentarily out of field goal range.
ZT: The bottom line is we have confidence in Evan. We just wanted to give him a safe distance with a higher percentage to make it. We felt like running the ball there would do that for us. He's going to make a whole lot more than he's going to miss. We felt really good about him kicking that ball.
GH: With Joe Burrow's voice seemingly a question mark, do you have to go to the silent count in Detroit anyway?
ZT: We'll see how he does during the course of week. It's pretty early. We've got Tuesday off for the players. We'll see we're we at on Wednesday.
GH: How dangerous is this week's game on the road against a winless team that has come so close this year?
ZT: I've got a lot of respect for the Detroit Lions. They've been in about every game they've played. A lot of them have come down to the last second against really good teams. I know what this team is made of. They've got our respect. They've got our attention. They're going to win games this year. We just can't let it start on Sunday.