Savoring his first playoff win, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor's weekly discussion with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson took a peek at Saturday's AFC Divisional game (4:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in Tennessee and a look back at last week's euphoria.
GH: How did you catch up with (Bengals president) Mike Brown after the game?
ZT: I didn't find him in the office. I gave him a call. Mike's always quick to share when he's happy. So I was happy for him.
GH: What did he think about getting a game ball?
ZT: I'd like to give it to him in person. We didn't do that just yet.
GH: Mike prefers to stay in the background. But the players seem to be aware who that guy is sitting in the cart every practice, every day. OTAs or now.
ZT: They know, they know.
GH: Did you learn anything about preparing for a playoff game last week that you'll use this week and change it up?
ZT: No, this is what it will be. One game at a time. The most important thing is beating the Titans.
GH: The fact you played them last year and beat them, does that help you? That was the game you had to start four different offensive linemen.
ZT: It might. I have to look at how different they are. They had no pass rushers last year and they've added some really good ones in Bud Dupree and Denico Autry and Jeffrey Simmons is fully healthy. Last year it was kind of a perfect storm for us and our offensive line at that point.
GH: You have a long history with Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill that goes all the way back to Texas A&M.
ZT: He's a really impressive, smart quarterback who always seems to put his teams in the best position. He's a great athlete. I think he could have played wide receiver in the NFL had he not played quarterback. He can diagnose a defense and put his offense in the best position.
GH: Your pass protection had to be what you had hoped it would be against the Raiders.
ZT: It was good. It really gave us a chance to do the things we wanted to do in the passing game. I thought Joe (Burrow) played really fast. Joe played on time and was decisive with the ball. When there were a couple of instances where he needed to move around, he did. I was overall happy how that all worked out for us.
GH: Did you chip and help the tackles more or less than you thought you'd have to do?
ZT: We weren't in a lot of third downs. That's kind of where you need to hold the ball a little longer for some specialty stuff. We ran some low red zone third downs. Some third and shorts, but not as many third and four-to-10s as you normally get in a game and that's where the protection issues crop up. I thought our players did a good job keeping us out of those instances.
GH: It looked like you always tried to get something on second down to make it short.
ZT: We didn't want to be in third and long. That's where they can really tee off on you and their edge rushers are really good. It's difficult to protect both sides. But I thought (left tackle) Jonah (Williams) played outstanding. I thought we got what we really needed to get from (right tackle) Isaiah (Prince) and allowed us to function throwing the ball. I was really happy with those guys. I thought our players did a good job creating efficient plays for us so we were always in manageable situations. That was the key to that game.
GH: You guys had offensive struggles in the red zone, but what was kind of lost was how well your defense played in the red zone.
ZT: We really did a great job keeping them out of there, holding them to three points and it allowed us to keep a safe distance of a lead throughout the game.
GH: Two of your three best pass rushes went down early in the third quarter and your secondary really held up.
ZT: They did. They've got a lot of weapons that are playing really well for them right now and I thought our guys rose up to the challenge when some of those guys went out. We needed the back end guys to step up and they made plays in the crucial part of the game.
GH: Everybody was saying you guys didn't have a lot of playoff experience, but everybody in the secondary, except for free safety Jessie Bates III, had been in the playoffs. That seemed to be a factor.
ZT: The moment certainly wasn't too big for them and I thought they rose to the occasion.
GH: You like to have a theme for each game and like to reveal it to the guys when the work week begins. What was the theme of last week?
ZT: Some games are different than others. This was a game of the turnover battle and controlling the game. I think Trey Hendrickson's sack fumble that Larry (Ogunjobi) picked up really allowed us to take that 10-3 lead early and play the type of game we wanted to play and keep a one-score lead throughout the game. It just allowed us to have as much control of the game as you could have.
GH: Did you figure it would be the same type of deal like it was back on Nov. 21 in Vegas and Joe was just going to have to be patient when it came to going deep?
ZT: Yeah, you've got to pick and choose your moments there when we could push the ball down the field. At times he did. He hit some back shoulder fades and took some shots on routes and I was happy we did because you have to show them you're going to do that. At the same time Joe understood when not to push the ball down the field and just take some completions, I thought he did a really good job managing the game.
GH: I thought the best play he made was the play he didn't make on fourth-and-one when he backed off and didn't go for it.
ZT: It's a pretty clear cut system there and he did a good job of managing it and putting us in a good situation where we could take a two-score lead with that field goal.
GH: Everybody talks about the experience of the players' first playoff game. What was yours like as a head coach?
ZT: It felt a lot like the last few games we've played. They've all felt like playoff games. The atmosphere has been great. We've been playing really good opponents and our guys have risen to the challenge. It takes a lot of stress off your plate as a head coach because you feel like your guys are loose. They've put in the work, they're ready to go. The moment doesn't feel too big for them and it makes it easy for me.
GH: Do you have a moment that sticks in your mind from that night?
ZT: I think pregame. You knew our fans were up to the challenge for sure. Our players seemed focused and ready when you looked in their eyes and I just thought it was going to be a really good day for us.
GH: You said you give a lot more game balls than most. Why?
We reward turnovers. We reward great play. We try to pass it around as much as we can through the team. As a player and a coach, I always enjoyed getting a game ball. Putting it in your room and being able to look back on significant memories of things you did to help the team. It's always kind of a fun thing.
GH: What is your most satisfying game ball? The one you don't want to lose?
ZT: That's a great question. I don't know if I can answer that one. There was a year at A&M we all got a game ball because we beat Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska back-to-back-to-back weeks. That was a pretty good run there in that 2010 season.
GH: Your parents and sisters all came to the game. And your brother Press, an assistant with the Colts, drove down from Indy. That had to be tough for him.
ZT: It is what it is. They're not in it. But he's happy for us and for me.