BENGALS POSTGAME QUOTES, DEC. 12, 2021, SAN FRANCISCO AT CINCINNATI
ZAC TAYLOR, Head coach
How disappointed were you to see the special teams miscues that took place today?
"We've got to do a better job of protecting the football all around. It's kind of been our Achilles heel in a lot of our losses. They've all happened different ways, and today that's just the way that it happened. But we know that's unacceptable and we've got to be better taking care of the football, period."
What are your overall thoughts after a game like that?
"Very mixed. We did a lot of great things defensively to keep ourselves in that game to give us a shot in the second half, and then the offense came to life there in the second half. The defense kept getting us the ball back, and then we had the momentum in overtime. It's a tough feeling, especially in December. I told the guys that's a really good football team. That's a team that very well could find themselves in the mix in their side of the conference. They've been there and done that, and we want to be there and do that too. And we're going to play a lot of these games coming up. This is December. We put ourselves in position for these games to mean something, and it's going to be this style of football — definitely next week — the next four weeks. We've got to be ready for that."
What's your thought process on the run calls at the 26 yard line in overtime?
"There were some things we packaged based on what they were giving up. They gave us a lot of 'two-high' (coverage) over the course of that game. There were a lot of 'cover-two' looks, and we wanted to take advantage of that with the run. Some of those were just mixed calls."
Is that something where they're kind of trying to dare you to run it at that point?
"It was like that the whole game. That wasn't a new thing. That was every snap of the football game. We saw a lot of 'two-high' looks."
Was that kind of a chess match where you don't want to take the bait of what they're doing? Can you not really throw it then?
"No. We've got a lot of faith in our run game and our pass game. I felt like we had a lot of momentum at that point, and we had some good stuff going. They got a stop that put us in third-and-five, and just got to stay in that third-and-five call."
A critical call was the taunting penalty on Vonn Bell at the end of the first half, which gave them a first down and led to a TD on the next play. What was your view of that? Did you get an explanation? Was that a lack of discipline?
"I didn't personally see it, but it sounds like it was probably what's been called this season with taunting. I've got to be careful because I haven't seen it yet, but some of the feedback was that's kind of what's been called."
Why do you think you guys struggled to run the ball today?
"That's a good football team. They got healthy at linebacker. Fred Warner is one of the premier linebackers in this game. That's one of the best defensive fronts that we've played. I've got a ton of respect for No. 97 (Nick Bosa), 91 (Arik Armstead) and 93 (D.J. Jones). They've got linebackers that do a heck of a job — that nickel triggers, and fills, and does a great job in the run game. So it's tough sledding. They present like it's a light box, and then they do a good job of filling it fast. And they've got a really good front that helped stop the run."
In the first three quarters, what could you have done differently to find more shots in the passing game?
"We've just got to be smart. We lost two possessions on those two fumbled punts, and I think we had a couple three-and-outs. And then we had the two possessions where we scored just six points. So we didn't score enough, but I think one thing we didn't want to get stuck in was just throwing the ball down the field against those looks, so we managed it appropriately."
What did you say to Joe Burrow before he took the field with 2:40 remaining in the game, and what did you think of that play for him to take you guys down the field?
"I didn't say anything in particular to him. We've got a lot of faith in Joe. I think this team's got a lot of faith in themselves. The defense gave us a shot to get back out there on offense to put us in the two-minute (drill), and that's when we're at our finest. Everybody stepped up and made big plays on that drive. I think we had one run by Joe (Mixon). I remember TB (Tyler Boyd) had a big catch on the double move down the sideline. Ja'Marr (Chase) had the double move on the touchdown. Tee had a monster catch to maybe start that drive off. So everybody that we expect to step up, stepped up.
"The offensive line did a really good job too. There was a lot that I could see from the sideline where those guys were just right there, and our line fought their tails off. Joe (Burrow) pushed up (in the pocket) just enough to get that extra half-second to make those throws. That really showed up because those guys were starting to tee off, particularly on that drive."
What, if anything, could you have done differently in defending 49ers TE George Kittle?
"We tried everything. He's one of the best tight ends out there. We've known that for a long time. He had similar production last week — he had almost 200 yards receiving — so it's not like he surprises people. You saw the catch he made that almost won them the game in regulation and put them in field goal range. When a guy is that explosive, and has that big of hands with that kind of catch radius, he makes a lot of plays. And I promise we tried like hell to take him away, and he just finds a way to make those plays."
WR Trenton Irwin returned punts last week, but was inactive today. Why did you make the change to Darius Phillips?
"There were a lot of roster issues that we just had to manage. Overall, we were dealing with some injuries to where we structured it the way we structured it just to get the guys on the field that needed to get on the field."
After what you said about the offensive line, why do you think you guys gave up five sacks today?
"Some of them were unblocked, some of them were 'empty,' some had a free rusher, and sometimes they just bring more than you've got. And they did a good job with the disguises. The one where we were backed up, (Nick) Bosa got us on that one. They've just got a really good front, and when they know you're in a passing situation, they can tee off. We did our best to avoid that. They've produced sacks against every tackle they've faced. But I thought our guys really fought hard. I'll have to look to see what the five sacks were. Maybe a couple of them were on the offensive line, maybe a couple of them were just on the scheme and the lack of protection, but it's hard for me to say. But those guys really stepped up and gave Joe some time."
After Darius Phillips muffed that first punt and he went back in the game, as a coach, what goes into the thought process of putting him back in from a personnel standpoint?
"Yeah, we just need our guys to step up and make some plays and put that one behind us. And unfortunately it happened twice."
There's already a report out about Trey Hendrickson's back. Do you know anything more about the severity of it?
To go back to the play calls inside the 25 in overtime, is there ever a thought with a hot quarterback to stick with the hot hand and say, 'Let's ride him?'
"You know ... yep. Yep. I agree with you. That's one that will keep you up at night. We have a quarterback that can win us a lot of games, and there's maybe one more pass instead of a run there. Sure, if we hit that run, I feel great about it. But we didn't. And so then you go back to hindsight, and I'm sure I'll feel a lot of that tonight."
Do you feel like you let an opportunity slip away these last two weeks?
"Yeah. I mean every loss we've had, they all feel very equal. We feel like we should have won all of them — every game we played in. Some of them maybe don't look that way because of the score, but you just look at one play that snowballs. But I think that's the NFL right now. Trust me, I say that all the time — 'I can't believe we lost.' But that's what every team feels about every other week right now. And the key is just there's nothing we can do about it right now. We've got to fix the things we can fix and be able to quickly put it behind us, because we only have four games left, and the next one is a huge one in Denver. They're in a very similar spot that we are, and it's going to be the same style of football game — there's no doubt about that. So we've got to find a way to go win that one."
Can we get your thought process on the two fourth downs in the first half where you did not go for it?
"Yeah. One in particular, we were going to go for it. We got a look that was kind of an unsettled look — it was just not going to be a good play call. Then we called the timeout, and it was a little further than we thought — fourth-and-one, almost fourth-and-two — so we just thought to take the points there. Our defense was playing really good, and we had a lot of faith in them. The turnovers gave up 10 points, so there were a lot of decisions that were like, 'OK, our defense is doing well, let's be smart and take the points.' Similar to the other one — I think it was fourth-and-two, fourth-and-three on the other side. Kind of the same thought process there."
What does this offense need to do to be more consistent?
"Today we played a pretty good defense. Last week, we had four turnovers. The turnovers really have been what's hurt our consistency. Aside from that, it feels like we've scored about 30 points a game and been one of the more explosive offenses. And we've got a lot of faith in that. We've stressed that we've got to protect the football. And that's everybody, because everybody's been involved in that. And then today, we essentially had two turnovers with those two punts, so we lost two possessions that normally we'd have in the first half. So, going into halftime we just felt like we didn't have the ball much. But that's because we had a couple three-and-outs that were on us, and we just didn't finish with touchdowns on two of those possessions that led to field goals. And then we lost two possessions on fumbled punts."
Do you feel like right now with the way things stand that you guys are good enough to be a playoff team?
"Absolutely. I don't think anybody wants to play us, quite frankly. And we haven't won all the games that we felt like we should've won. But I think our guys have a ton of confidence, and people see what they're about, see the talent we've got in all three phases, and see that we're going to fight to the last second. We've had plenty of games where we've been down two or three scores, and it hasn't phased our guys for one second. They fight like hell to get back in it and give themselves a chance to win. That speaks volumes about this team, and it's going to serve us well these next couple weeks as we fight to do what you're talking about."
JOE BURROW, Quarterback
How did your pinky feel today?
How challenging was the chess match with the light box versus trying to make you throw it more? It was almost like they were trying to bait you into running ...
"They were playing two-high the whole game. Teams are daring us to run the ball lately — one high on one snap the whole game, and we threw it over their head for what was close to a touchdown. They had a good play; they did. They were able to maintain their two-high shells and put a guy in the box to defend the run. And in that second half, we began to figure it out a little bit and were able to throw the ball all second half. We weren't able to pull it out."
What was the adjustment that you made in the game that allowed you to do that?
"We just made a change (with) what we were doing. The O-line was checking when they were playing two-high, and you've got to take what's underneath. You do that enough, then they're going to close that shell a little closer to the line of scrimmage and you can take those aerial shots."
Were your throws to Tee Higgins part of that two-high shell, throwing the ball in the middle of the field?
"Yeah, we hit Tee a couple times in the middle, we got T.B. (Tyler Boyd) a couple times in the middle, and then you can also take advantage of those outside areas between corner and safety that we hit a couple times."
Would you have liked to have taken a shot or two or three there at the end in overtime?
"Whatever play call is called, we're going to execute to the best of our ability. We made a good drive there, we just weren't able to open up."
When you're running against two-high, how much of the decisions are you at the line of scrimmage and how much of that is the play call coming in?
"Some plays we go to the line with two plays and get us to the best one depending on the look, so it really depends on the play that's called and the coverage that you get."
Describe the touchdown at the end of regulation. That was against shell?
"They played quarters. They were clouding the boundary the whole game, so we started taking advantage of a few throws a little bit, and Ja'Marr made a great route and got the cornerback to bite, so I threw to that side."
As the leader of the team and offense, how do you feel you can get the group to start games faster?
"We've kind of been a second-half team the whole season. We figure out what we're seeing, and then go attack it. It's a four-quarter game. You're going to have ups and downs throughout the game, whether it's in the first half or second half. We've just got to finish strong and try to find wins."
You had a chance to double up them up there at the end of the first half, getting the ball to start the second, and had the fumble. How deflating was the fumble right before half?
"There are different circumstances in every game that you have to adjust to, and then take advantage of the opportunities that you get. Stuff like that's going to happen — that's part of football. It's how you respond to that (is) really (what) determines if you're going to win or lose."
Do you regret not being more aggressive when you had first-and-10 at the 26 in overtime?
"It's hard to say. Like I said before, whatever plays are called you've got to execute. Every play is a chance of scoring a touchdown. It's just how you execute."
Does the feeling you're a playoff team still exist?
"Yeah, we're still right there. We've got to find ways to win these games down the stretch and stop beating ourselves, but we're right there."
Describe the fourth-and-five touchdown to Ja'Marr Chase. What did you see there?
"We had a fourth of the field, and we had ran a slant on them a couple times throughout the game, and we knew if we called a slant-and-go, we probably (would) have a good chance. And we got the right coverage, ran a good route and (threw a) good pass."
Why did you do well in the second half?
"We made great adjustments at halftime. Our coaches do a great job of seeing what they're giving us and taking advantage of it. We've really been able to do that really well in just about every game we've played."
Seems like Ja'Marr Chase had 10 different games out there. Did you say anything to him after the first quarter? You kept going back to him ...
"Ja'Marr is one of the best players in the league already. I felt with him we had a really good chance."
Did the touchdown to Chase in the back of the end zone feel like back in the LSU days — just find a spot?
"That was such a great play by him. I started to throw out left and so he, being Ja'Marr, he loves catching touchdowns and is great in the scrambler drill, so I started rolling out left and then reversed field and he did a great job of adjusting to the to the ball in the air. That was one of my favorite touchdowns that we've thrown together. That's one you really have to be on the same page almost immediately, and it worked."
What made it one of your favorite touchdown passes? Was it the difficulty of the catch?
"When I threw it he was still running left and he did a great job. We were just on the same page. I knew exactly what he was seeing and he knew exactly what I was seeing. He's running left and I threw it right he put his foot in the ground and went and got it."
What percentage would you say you were putting on everything on your throws today?
"I felt like I was able to do what I needed to do. Velocity was probably not as high as I wanted, maybe 80-85 percent. I was able to do everything I needed to."
The throw you're talking about, that fourth-and-five had to have something on it ...
"Yeah, sure did."
Did seeing Baltimore lose their last two games when you guys lost, does that mitigate the losses, or does it feel like opportunities lost?
"When you lose you feel the same. Obviously, when one of the teams you're fighting for in the division with loses, you've got to take advantage of that and we haven't been able to the last two weeks, so like you said, missed opportunities."
MIKE HILTON, Cornerback
What was the emotion like in the locker room after the game and what is it like in there right now?
"It's frustrating. These last two weeks, we've kind of dug ourselves in some deep holes that we weren't able to get out of. (These are) two losses where we feel like we didn't played to our standard in those games and we know as a team, we've got to start faster and we've got to finish. We didn't finish today. We've got to come out with more energy and more fight."
The lack of urgency seems like a common theme in the losses this year. Why do you think that hasn't been there, especially knowing what the stakes are?
"It's a multitude of things. Guys are just not coming prepared, we're not making plays as we should and as a team, we've got to count on each other. If the defense is struggling, the offense has to bail us out and vice-versa, so we've just got to find ways to win games."
What was it like for you on the sideline watching quarterback Joe Burrow drive down the field? Did it feel like something special was happening at that point?
"Absolutely. We (have) all the confidence in Joe. We know that he has a chance to win us the game or put us in a position to tie like we did. We know he's the guy that can get it done. He did that today and defensively, we could have put him in better positions to close the game out and put some points on the board, but we didn't do that and we took a tough loss."
Zac Taylor said you guys tried everything to stop George Kittle today. Outside of him being a very good player, what was being done scheme-wise to get him open? What was behind him having such a big day?
"To start with, (49ers Head) Coach (Kyle) Shanahan is an offensive mastermind. His record speaks for itself. He's a guy that can get playmakers the ball in different positions and do what he does. Today, he did that with George and we just couldn't stop him. He was making a lot of plays over the middle of the field and running after the catch; we feel like we take those plays away and we're in a better position."
What was different in the overtime drive as opposed to most of the second half?
"(There) wasn't too much (that was) different. They were pretty much running the same plays that they were doing the first four quarters and they made plays when they needed to make plays and we didn't."
As someone who plays the same position as Darius Phillips, what can you say to him after a tough day like he had today?
"Just don't lose confidence. That's one of the hardest jobs, to be a punt returner. You've got guys screaming down on you and you've just got to catch the ball. He didn't do it, but we're not losing confidence in him. We know if he gets the ball in his hands in space, he's going to make plays for us."
You said guys were not coming in prepared earlier. Last week after the game, we had guys saying the energy wasn't there to start the game. How can that happen in December?
"It's a roller coaster of a season. There's going to be highs and lows, especially this deep in the season. Teams are fighting for position, so every game counts at this point. We took a tough loss, but we can't dwell on it. They're in the same boat as we (are) and we have to go out there and win."
Check out some of the best images from the Bengals vs. 49ers in Week 14 of the 2021 NFL season.
SAM HUBBARD, Defensive end
The defense had done such a good job all day. How disappointing was it that they were able to drive down the field on you in overtime?
"They made some amazing plays. George Kittle had some amazing catches. It's really disappointing; we felt like we were going to win that game. The momentum shifted, we kept getting stops, but it's a playoff game, basically. Games going forward are going to be that intense — we've got to find a way to win."
You guys got a lot of pressure on the quarterback despite losing Trey Hendrickson today. What was going through your mind with Hendrickson out of the game?
"It hurts. Trey is such a huge part of our defensive line. We rallied together for him. Cam (Sample) did a good job stepping in. Wyatt (Ray) did a good job. Our interior did a good job with B.J. (Hill) and D.J. (Reader) stepping up. It's a collective effort to get pressure on the quarterback and we kind of rallied for Trey and hope he's doing well."
How do you feel the defense played as a whole?
"I think we got some good stops but obviously not enough to win the game. That drive at the end, you've got to stop them there and we didn't. I'm proud of (and) I love the guys on my team. We went out there and battled. I don't even know what we were down at one point, but we just kept getting stops and kept climbing back into it (with) no one pointing fingers (at each other). Yeah, it's tough. It's tough to win in this league."
Why do you think you've lost these last two games?
"I don't have a great answer for you. I think we've just got to watch the film, find what we can do individually to do better and take care of the football; you can't beat yourself. That's really what it comes down to, the good teams don't beat themselves. They don't make those mistakes.
"We want to be a good team. We do a lot of good things in great moments, but when it comes down to it, there are situations where we can't make mistakes we've been making the last two weeks to win games."
How frustrating is it you're doing that this late in the season despite how well you've played at times?
"Yeah, it's frustrating. It's football, though. We've got a chance to win and go to the playoffs. I don't even know what the situation is, but I think we control our own destiny. We've got some big division games coming up. We got to ride together and next week's a big game in Denver and that's what we're focusing on."
What gives you confidence you guys can right the ship?
"Everyone was counting us out of the game today. I think the character of the guys we have on the team, the fight we had to crawl back into it against a very good football team that's won a lot of games recently and probably going to go to the playoffs, I have all the confidence in the world (because of that)."
What goes through your head watching Joe Burrow move the team up and down the field at the end of the game?
"That's Joe. That's who he's always been and we have the utmost confidence in him. I love being on his team and having him as my quarterback. He's still a young player and I'm excited to be on the team with him for a very long time and win a lot of football games. I'm just proud of the way he battles. He never bats an eye and he's just an incredible leader and a teammate."
Is Kittle better than people think?
"I don't know who doesn't think he's good, but he's obviously at the top of his position. The thing that separates him is he can block and catch. He's an incredible blocker and the things they do in the run game center around him and (Kyle) Juszczyk. He's kind of set a standard for the tight end position."
What was different on that last drive for you guys on defense?
"They made plays. They made some big plays. I couldn't put my finger on it right now."
Could you feel the energy at the end of the game from the crowd? Was it a big difference compared to earlier in the game?
"Yeah, always. The fans were a little upset with us (and) rightfully so. We weren't playing up to our standard, but we kind of turned things around and took control on defense and they had a huge impact with how loud they were. You saw that offside penalty, you saw myself and other guys' ability to jump the snap with the silent count because of the fan noise. That's such a huge part (of the game). I'm thankful for our fans and that home-field advantage. We've just got to win games like this at home because that's what's going to be important, winning games at home and in your division."
As players, what can you guys do to get a better home-field advantage and have more fans show up given the lower numbers in attendance over the last two weeks?
"I didn't even notice that. The fans have been awesome this year. Last year, not having any (fans in the stands), just seeing them there is why we love playing. They've been awesome this year."
JA'MARR CHASE, Wide receiver
Joe Burrow mentioned that they were playing a 'shell' defense most of the day. What did you see on your second touchdown?
"I had to make sure I sold the slant route. We called that play early in the series. The third time we called it, I had to sell the slant. The guy played off. I thought they were going to be in 'quarters' coverage — the two touchdowns I did score, they ended up not being in quarters. I just took advantage of the defender, and I made the route."
You had a drop early in the game. What happened, and how were you able to bounce back from it?
"I didn't look it in. After I dropped it, I left it alone because it was too early to get (angry) like that."
After your first touchdown, it seemed like you had a little extra celebration. Were you trying to send a message with that?
"I was just excited about the catch. I dove for it and made a great attempt. I thought I caught it, so I came up with the energy and excitement. I was feeling good."
Can you describe why it's hard to take deep shots when the defense is playing with two high safeties?
"The safety isn't supposed to let anyone past him — that's why they're playing in quarters. The corners usually bounce the receiver and try to make him slow down on the route — lose balance, fall, something like that. It slows down the ball, slows the quarterback and makes the quarterback look the opposite way. It's all about timing. We just played a team with a great D-line, so we have to be able to handle that too. You've got to be able to get the ball out faster and you don't have a lot of time when they bring pressure."
What can you do to turn the offense on before the second half?
"You have to makes the plays. You have to come out on fire. You can't come out too (sluggish). You have to come out firing and punch them in the mouth on the first play. You have to try to score on the first possession. When everyone does their job, you execute."
Was it disappointing that the passing game wasn't heavily involved late in overtime?
"We have to take advantage of the defenses they show us. You have to capitalize and find quicker routes. That's not up to me though."
Did you feel like there was an answer though — in regard to the passing game — through the fourth quarter and as overtime progressed?
"I'm just out there trying to get the ball."
In terms of slow starts — are defenses confusing you, or is it lack of execution?
"It's a little bit of both. Not executing all the way and turnovers."
You went over 1000 receiving yards in your rookie season. What kind of impact will this have on you as you close out the year?
"It can only get worse. I'm getting clouded this whole time. I'll have to adjust on the fly. I'll be a team player and try to provide."
Are you encouraged with your two touchdowns today?
On your first touchdown, Burrow said that when he threw the ball, you were still running to your left ...
"It was a scramble drill. I was running to the left — and while I was still running left, he threw it to the right. I wasn't sure why he did that, but then he said it was because of the way the defender would have to turn his hips in order to get to the ball. And I thought, 'That's kind of smart.'" That was a really good play by him."
Where did that catch rank in terms of your favorite connections with Burrow?
"Joe told me that one was his favorite."
Where does it rank for you?
"I'll go with the Green Bay one."
Did you think you caught the touchdown that got called back?
"I still think it's a catch. My hands were under the ball if you ask me."
With four games to go, are you looking forward to carrying more on your shoulders to help this team win?
"If that's what they want me to do, I'll do it. Whatever the team needs me to do, I'll do."