What Joe Burrow, Zac Taylor And The Bengals Said After Winning The AFC North

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Quarterback Joe Burrow smiles following the Bengals 34-31 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

BENGALS POSTGAME QUOTES, JAN. 2, 2022, KANSAS CITY AT CINCINNATI

ZAC TAYLOR, Head coach

Overall thoughts? You just won the AFC North ...

       "Very proud."

Why is it so emotional for you?

       "You guys have sat in here and seen what we've been through."

What did you think of Ja'Marr Chase's performance today?

       "That's why we picked him. The chemistry that he and Joe (Burrow) have together has probably helped accelerate his performance. He's a great player for any team, but I think that certainly helps. The plays he made today, I cannot wait to watch them. A lot of them happened on the opposite sideline, so I didn't really get to see how it played out. But I thought all of our guys stepped up and made the plays we needed today. Not just on offense, but defense — we held them to only three points in the second half. Just tremendous effort by this entire football team."

There was almost zero separation on most of the catches that Ja'Marr Chase had. Almost every catch was contested...

       "One thing we came to realize this week was how much respect we had for the Kansas City Chiefs defense. Their offense is the one that scores all the points and gets all the attention, but what they've done with their defense is really good. Those corners have a lot of confidence — they play really tight. So the message to our offense was that our receivers are going to have to step up and make these plays. And we issued a similar challenge the first time we played Baltimore, and you saw what the result was with Ja'Marr (Chase), and Tee (Higgins), and TB (Tyler Boyd), and very similar today. We challenged those guys, and they stepped up and made the plays that they needed to."

Why did you decide to go for it on fourth-and-one there?

       "To take this division. It's not just kick a field goal, and let Patrick Mahomes do something. I've got a ton of faith in our defense to come up there, but the things worth having, you've got to go get them, and not wait for someone to give them to you, and I thought that's what our guys did today."

After the offsetting penalties on that fourth down, did you have any thought of kicking it there?

       "No. If we're going to go for it on the one, then we're definitely going to go for it on the one inch line. We tried to run it in, but No. 95 Chris Jones is one of the best players we've ever played against, and I think he stepped up there, and their whole defense did. It's an inch you've got to get — we couldn't get it — so we went with the pass game on those last two plays. Fortunately, we got the call there at the end that allowed us to kick the field goal."

Can you describe what it was like there in the locker room with the team?

       "It was a lot of earned emotions. You don't want a playoff berth or a division championship to be handed to you — that's something you go take yourself — and we wanted to go do it with a victory. And our guys did that in unbelievable fashion today — it took everybody. Some guys just got there, and they've worked their tails off this last year. Some guys have been here two, three, five, 10 years, and I think there's just a lot of emotion on this team coming together to be the 2021 Bengals. And you hear it — that's what we're about this year — love each other, believe in each other, and now we're division champs together."

What happened to Burrow on the last play that he needed to come out?

       "He just got his knee twisted up. I don't want to make any predictions, but I think he would've been okay. He knew we were just taking a knee, so he just said Brandon (Allen) come in there and take the knee and move on."

Can you describe the decision and how you landed on those play calls on fourth down?

       "Well, it's two quarterback sneaks to start. You try to get in from the one, and then we ran a little duo play, and tried to get in again, and didn't get it. I can't even remember the first DPI (defensive pass interference) to be honest with you. It was kind of an out, and back in for Ja'Marr (Chase). They got called for a DPI, or holding, whichever it was. The last play was a little bit of a variation of a play we've had a ton of success with this year that we've repped a lot, but haven't called in a game yet. So it's something we've gotten reps on the last four-five weeks, so those are the kind of plays you want in that critical moment. You've got your three receivers that you believe in that really helped us get to this point, and having a chance to go win it, get separated from what we anticipated to be Cover 0, which we got, and ultimately we got another chance at it. It didn't go the way we initially planned it, but it doesn't matter."

You installed those plays in May, so how many times do you think you've run those plays?

       "That particular play we put in a couple weeks ago, because we were having success with a variation of it so we needed a complement to it. Troy Walters heads up our red zone, and Troy has done an outstanding job in collaboration with Brian (Callahan) to really get things started. That touchdown to TB (Tyler Boyd) was a brand new play that Troy thought would work, and we got the coverage that we were hoping to get, and did a great job executing. Both of those guys are doing a great job with the red zone package."

You guys were down 14 points three times, and then you turn around and hold the Chiefs to three points in the second half. Characterize how you guys were able to do that ...

       "We weathered the storm. We didn't think this was going to be easy. You probably don't think you're going to shut the Chiefs out — they're going to make plays, and they've got some of the premier guys at their positions. A lot of the plays they made in the first half, (Mahomes) created some time and made some plays downfield. That was kind of our message at halftime is they've made some great plays, we've been in pretty good position, but they've made some outstanding plays, so our time's going to come. We've just got to calm down, keep putting the pressure on them on offense scoring points, and let our defense kind of get settled down a bit. That's what we did, and ultimately that's how we won the game."

You were confident about turning things around here after the past couple of years, but did you think you would turn it around into a monster like this who beats a team who has been in the Super Bowl the last two years?

       "There's no better way to draw it up, to be honest with you. Winning the division championship, and going to the playoffs, and doing great things, but we didn't skip any steps to get to this point. And I don't want to talk like it's over — this is just the beginning for us, to be quite frank with you. We have a huge game this week against Cleveland, and we've yet to beat these guys in a good bit, and our players know that, and they're going to be ready for that. It's going to be nice to just go up there and let loose, and go play good football, and then we go on from there. But just really proud of the position our guys have put us in with one week left to play. Just couldn't be prouder of the group of, not only the players, but the coaches who had been with us over the last few years. It's been hard, it's been hard, but when you build something the right way, you build something you believe in, and I'm just really proud of the job that they've done."

Did you say you got "zero" looks on both of those fourth down plays?

       "We got zero looks on every snap of the game it felt like (laughs)."

But certainly on those last two fourths?

       "Yeah, I think the play before the last play, if I remember correctly. But yeah, I think there were zero blitzes on those last two plays."

After throwing for 525 yards, Joe Burrow follows that up with another performance with 446 yards. Can you put into words what Joe Burrow has meant to this franchise and you personally?

       "No, you can't. I don't think anybody can. We had expectations for him, and so far he's exceeded those expectations. And of course he's got championships on his brain — he's not just a guy winning big regular season games. I know that's why he's here — he's always playing for championships. He's playing for championships in high school, he played for championships in college, and his expectation has always been to compete for championships here. And it's not going to be easy — we've got a lot to work to do — we're not even close yet to doing all these great things. Certainly a big step in the right direction today, and there's no question that Joe is at the forefront of leadership on this team, and this team jumps on his back, and he'll carry us as far as we let him."

Was Ja'Marr Chase's first touchdown the most significant from the standpoint of being down 14-0 and about to be run out of your own stadium and he has that play that changed the momentum?

       "I would agree with you there, because it was just a standard third-down play. He ran what we call a pressure route — a 10-12 yard speed out — it was more of a Cover 2 inside blitz shot, and he split the crowd and outran their whole defense for a touchdown. You can't coach that — that's just Ja'Marr Chase being Ja'Marr Chase. And it really did catapult us, because the momentum really was not in our favor — we had three-and-outs early on. I also thought that the first one to start the third quarter jumpstarted that second half. We were in a third down, and that was a play we worked early in the week, and Joe did a great job seeing the coverage, and he laid it out there for Ja'Marr, and Ja'Marr finished the play off. But yeah, those two plays really got us going in the game."

On that third-and-27 at the end there, are you thinking that they might try and prevent you from getting the field goal? When you've got Ja'Marr out there one-on-one, what are you thinking with that call?

       "I can't remember what the call was, but I'm pretty sure he reacts based on the technique of the DB. If they press off, then he's not going to go down field, and if they press tight then he is going to go down field, and I think he and Joe were on the same page there. These receivers allow us to call a lot of routes like this where they can read the coverage, and be on the same page with Joe, so you can capitalize on the different looks you've been getting, and I don't always have to be right (laughs). You can call it, and you kind of get the best of both worlds, and we've had a lot of success with stuff like that."

With your first three-game winning streak of the season, and beating the Chiefs like this, what do you think is the ceiling for this team?

       "We need to take it one game at a time right now — I think that's the key. We've always had big goals for this team and this franchise, but you've got to take care of the task at hand. Cleveland has been no easy task for us, but I think what's important is you've got to play your best football at the end of the season going into the playoffs, and I think right now we're playing pretty good football. The confidence is really high in the locker room. You don't want to take a team into the playoffs that's feeling like they hit a lull, and I think we're in a really good spot right now."

Does beating the Chiefs kind of give you a baseline for what this team is capable of going forward?

       "Yes, we'll believe in anything. We've always felt like we can play with any team in this league, and the Chiefs have been the standard. They have — and they're still the standard. They've done it with consistency. And we've won a big game here, but we've got to prove that we can do it consistently. And starting with next week, it continues to be a playoff mindset for us, and we've got to continue to prove ourselves. Again, it's not going to be easy, but our guys are going to step up to the challenge."

JOE BURROW, Quarterback

Initial comments ...

       "Well, that was fun."

How does your knee feel?

       "Good enough."

Is it the same knee you hurt last year?

       "No. It's my right knee that was a little sore after the Chargers game, I think it was. I just re-aggravated it a little bit. Nothing serious."

Zac Taylor said you could have stayed in and played the rest of the game. Was that the case if there had been more time?

       "Yeah, I would have come back in. But it was just a knee. I just knew we were going to kneel it in the pocket. so I figured to take myself out of the risk and let Brandon (QB Brandon Allen) go in there and do that."

You've always been confident in Ja'Marr Chase. Were there any plays he made today that surprised you?

       "No. If you're going to play him one-on-one, a lot of times it's going to be a long day for you. He's a great player, and he's going to be a great player for a long time. Great person, too. He doesn't care if he gets 260 yards and three touchdowns, or if he gets zero yards and everyone else makes all the yards. Great guy to have."

The Bengals were the worst team in the NFL when you were drafted. Did you think winning a division was possible this quickly?

       "Yeah. I said it in the preseason. We were talking about playoffs, and I said that if we were going to go to the playoffs, the easiest way to do that was to win the division. Everyone kind of laughed at us a little bit, but we knew what kind of team we had and the kind of guys in the locker room we had. We knew we could go out and do it."

Do you feel the playing the best football you've played in your career right now?

       "Yeah, I do. I'm seeing the field really well. You've got to give their defense credit. They're a good defense — a really, really good defense. They made it hard on us today. They have a great defensive coordinator and had a great plan. They had some great blitzes that were able to get home, but Zac and Brian (offensive coordinator Brian Callahan) made some great adjustments for us and we were able to get ball out quickly and get the ball in our playmakers' hands."

How many different looks did Kansas City give you? Were there a lot of things they tried to confuse you with?

       "They were bringing four strong this way, four strong this way, and they were dropping a linebacker in the A-gap and then bringing "Saw" off both sides. So they definitely had a good plan for us. I'm proud of the way we fought."

Why have you hit it off so much with Ja'Marr Chase?

       "He knows exactly where the ball is going to be, depending on the look the corner is presenting. He made a bunch of great plays today, but the first touchdown was the best. It was 'cloud' (coverage) to the field, and he had the out route. He felt the cloud corner out there who was going to be able to intercept the ball, and he settled right in the zone. So I was able to stop him with the ball, and he did the rest."

Zac said almost every snap was 'zero blitz.' How much of that did you see?

       "We saw quite a bit. We could tell that was their plan when we would get into empty, and I thought we made them pay when we could. They got home sometimes, too. You've got to give them credit."

On the third-and-27 conversion, were you thinking about a throw just to get to field goal range?

       "We knew we were going have to go score a touchdown. You guys know the guy on the other sideline. We were going to have to punch that ball in. We got a little lucky with the calls at the end, but we've been unlucky for two years. We'll take a little luck on our side."

Can you speak to the way Zac Taylor has led this group to where you are now?

       "When I had my first meeting with Zac at the combine, I knew exactly what kind of coach we had, and I knew exactly where I wanted to be. He's a great offensive mind and a great leader of men. He does a great job. I couldn't have asked for a better situation."

When you went for it on fourth-and-one, what was your reaction?

       "I knew we were going to go for it. Like I said, you've got Patrick Mahomes on the other side of the ball, and he's going to go down and win the game if you give him a chance. Unfortunately, we weren't able to finish the game the way we wanted to, but we still got it done."

Talk about the plays on the goal line?

       "We did a great job running the ball to get that first down on the one-yard line. It was first-and-10 from like the 10-and-a-half-yard-line, so Joe Mixon did a great job of understanding the situation and understanding that we could get the first down — he doesn't have to reach the ball up to the goal line and try to score. He was able to get us the first down. And like I said, a little luck with the calls."

When you said earlier about winning the division and people laughed, does that strengthen your resolve? What does that do for you?

       "I wouldn't say it does really anything. I've always kind of played with a chip on my shoulder, whether people are saying good things about me or bad things about me. I've been overlooked for a long time. It is what it is. People are going to say what they're going to say, and that's the spot that I'm in as quarterback. There is going to be a lot of criticism and there is going to be a lot of praise, and you just have to maintain your level-headedness and keep going."

Does it make it any more meaningful after what people said before the Bengals drafted you — that it would be a failure — but you win the division in your second year?

       "I would say it means more because I'm from Ohio than it has to do with the Bengals. I know the ownership that we have has taken a lot of heat, but they do a great job, and they've done a great job building this team. A lot of credit to the Brown family for doing that. They did a great job hiring Zac. I couldn't ask for a better situation from ownership all the way down."

Were you under pressure the two throws to Chase?

       "They were both zero blitzes. You're one-on-one with Ja'Marr, more power to you and good luck."

Does winning this game against Kansas City tell you about this team's ceiling that you didn't already know?

       "I knew exactly what we were. I knew it was going to be a hard-fought game for us, and I knew we could go out and win though. I know the kind of guys we have in the locker room. The defense, they get as much credit for today, but they held that team to three points in the second half. That's unbelievable, so credit to those guys."

Does this win change what it could be the rest of the way?

       "I don't think it changes. I knew exactly what we could do (and) could be, all the way from OTAs."

Did you know your name plate was ripped off?

       "Well, I saw it kind of hanging on by a thread going into halftime, but I didn't know it got ripped off in the middle of the game."

From a fan perspective, this was as good as it gets. But what about for you versus Patrick Mahomes? Is it the same for you?

       "Yeah, I think so. We played great on offense. The O-line did a great job. I'm just excited that my name can even be mentioned in his presence. He's been a great player since he's been the starter. He's been basically the best quarterback in the league, so if you can even mention my name with his name in the same sentence, that's exciting for me."

With Ja'Marr Chase not needing a ton of separation, is it really that simple with him?

       "Yeah, it is. If you get one-on-one, I'm going to give him a chance. It doesn't matter the point of the game, situation, third-and-one ... If he gets one-on-one, I'm going to give him a shot."

When you went for it on fourth down earlier this year against Minnesota, Zac talked about going out there and taking it. Did you feel that mentality today?

       "Yeah. I think he was just trusting us with the game on the line with the ball in our hands. Like I said, it didn't work out exactly the way we thought it would, but it did end up working out for us."

Is it time for a cigar? Was this a cigar game?

       "Don't worry. I smoked one in there."

Quick smoke. Was it a small one?

       "It's still in there. Don't worry."

What were you thinking when Evan McPherson went out to kick the winning field goal?

       "Obviously, don't miss it."

Did you watch it?

       "I watched it on the big board. It's kind of tough to see the field goals from the sideline where it goes in or out so I always try to watch it on the big board."

What kind of cigar was it?

       "Whatever Joe Mixon gave me?"

Did he give it to you before or after the game?

       "He actually gave it to me a couple weeks ago. I came in and it was sitting on my chess board, and I didn't know who gave it to me until today. He said, 'I gave it a couple weeks ago,' and I said, 'Thanks. Perfect timing.'"

Did he give it to you with the intention after you won it?

       "I don't know. We'll have to ask him on that one. It just kind of appeared one day."

JA'MARR CHASE, Wide receiver

You made a lot of catches with tight coverage ...

       "It's about being consistent with your quarterback and making sure you have the right timing. It's on me to get open. They're always out there holding or pulling on you, but it's my job to get separation and catch the ball."

You set the franchise record today for most receiving yards in a single game ...

       "Everything is overwhelming right now. I'm excited, but overwhelmed."

You made a big play on third-and-27. What did you do there?

       "The defensive back was pressing me all game and trying to slow me down at the line of scrimmage. My official release was supposed to be inside, but I took the outside release to make things a little faster. I was able to separate and make the catch."

Did you think the ball was coming your way?

       "I knew it was coming."

How about the catch where you were trying to hold the ball out and away from the defender?

       "They were playing man coverage. I was just trying to make sure the defender didn't knock the ball out of my hands, so I was just moving it away from him."

It has been six years since the Bengals made the playoffs. What's the emotion like in the locker room?

       "You can hear the music in here. It's an unbelievable experience right now. I thank God for this opportunity. We still have a lot to do."

What have you seen in Joe Burrow over the last few weeks?

       "I feel like he's even smarter than he used to be when it comes to blitz pickups and coverages. He just reads it so well. That's how you stay in the league as a quarterback."

Did the Chiefs play man coverage more than you thought they would?

       "I assumed they'd play man coverage. That's who they are. They're one of the best defenses in the AFC."

I think the Griddy dance was used quite a bit by both you and the Chiefs. Were they trying to send a message?

       "I think they were just doing that because Griddy — the person who made the dance — is here today."

Who invited him?

       "I did."

What did you think when you saw Joe Burrow limp off the field?

       "I just told him to sit down — ride the bike — try to keep moving, but not too much."

Does this feel similar to the roll you were on at LSU?

       "Yeah. Having him as my quarterback feels similar. We're getting older and smarter, and things are working out."

You had more receiving yards than Patrick Mahomes had passing yards ...

       "I did? Ahh, (jeez)."

You need 12 more yards to break Chad Johnson's single season record for receiving yards. How does that feel?

       "I knew I could do it. It's something I wrote down before the season, and came in here with that plan, and I'm going to stick with it. I still have a long way to go."

How far can this team go?

       "We can go as far as we want to."

Did your first touchdown breathe life into the stadium?

       "Yeah, I think it did. They got loud and started chanting. That woke them up a little bit. We needed to get the fans involved."

TREY HENDRICKSON, Defensive end

How does it feel to win this game against a great Chiefs team?

       "It means more to us because of the city we represent, the organization we represent, and all of the players and coaches. This is what we talked about back in camp and this is special."

What did you do differently to hold the Chiefs to three points in the second half?

       "We have a lot of faith in Joe (Burrow) and knew we needed to get him the ball back. All of the coaches implemented some great adjustments up front. We had to stop the run and pressure the quarterback. Making those halftime adjustments are what it is to be a professional, and I think we did it well."

What makes Patrick Mahomes so tough to play against?

       "He's a talented quarterback. He knew the O-line was banged up and we would bring pressure, so he had to get the ball out quickly. That was one of the tendencies that we knew he had, so we just had to stop him up front."

When you played in New Orleans, excellence was expected. To come here and make an impact and help this team win the division — does it make this that much sweeter?

       "Excellence is expected here too. I told a lot of people this was where I wanted to be. To wear this shirt and this hat — it's emotional. It's a tough city, a tough organization, and they have great people here. They were just a few pieces away. We wanted to help change this place. We have bigger goals and aspirations, and we're glad we're putting our hat in the ring."

What does it show you when Zac Taylor goes for it on fourth-and-one in the red zone — and what does it mean to be part of a team with that mentality?

       "He's got a lot of confidence in both the offense and the defense, and that's what we need to go where we want to go."

It seems like sometimes the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins the football game ...

       "Every game is different and like a fingerprint. We had to execute as a defense. I can't speak for what they did. We have to control what we can control, and I think that's how we attack every game."

What impact did Jamarr Chase's first touchdown have on the defense?

       "Any touchdown is uplifting — but I believe our defense has a tendency to not look at the scoreboard. We go out there and execute. We got it rolling."

You were down by 14 on three different occasions. What's the talk like on the sideline at that point?

       "We have a lot of faith in the guy running the offense. We have a lot of faith that they'll score points. We needed to stop them, and limit some of the explosive plays we gave up."

What does this win do for the team going into the playoffs?

       "The win is the most important thing. Winning consistently is something we need to do going into the playoffs. You don't get another try. It's good to see us execute under pressure. Our defense doesn't waiver. There are a lot of good, positive things. There's still a lot to correct though, so we're looking forward to getting back after it."

SAM HUBBARD

Defensive end

How does it feel to be wearing that hat that says 'AFC North Champs'?

       "It feels amazing. I was just sitting in there with guys like Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd who have been here a long time with me. It means a lot to us, and it's a special feeling."

As a Cincinnati native, what does it mean to you personally to have this moment?

       "We've gotten to this point so many times and failed to capitalize, and that's kind of the narrative that's been the Cincinnati Bengals. To get an opportunity to clinch the division and actually take advantage of it and have this momentum going into the playoffs, it's something that's uncharacteristic of the Bengals, and it signifies what we've been talking about for awhile — about how things are changing and the direction we're heading as a franchise and as a team, so it's really special.

What changed defensively in the second half?

       "I think we just settled in. They presented a lot of challenges that you don't (usually) face and can't replicate in practice, and don't face (with) any other teams. We just settled in and did our thing, I don't want to talk scheme too much, but I think we just settled in and played our game and stopped overthinking everything that we were trying to defend — just played hard defense, and really did a good job of just doing our job individually. And that was what we needed to do."

Can you describe the level that Joe Burrow is playing at?

       "It's hard to describe. I mean, he's a second-year player, but (you can) still kind of consider him a rookie because he didn't finish last year. Just to see him out there doing these things, I think it speaks for itself. I don't need to say much. You guys all watched it."

How much has Trey Hendrickson impacted you personally, and this defense overall?

       "It's hard to describe up here talking about it, because it's an everyday thing where we're talking and pushing each other. Every situation that comes up, I talk about it with Trey. (And if) he has a situation, he talks about it with me. We just meshed well together from Day 1, and we elevate each other's game. We each have our weaknesses (and strengths), and we work through it together and bring each other's level of play up. That's what you look for in a great partner on the other side, so it's been amazing, and I'm really thankful for it."

You won a lot of games at Archbishop Moeller High School and Ohio State. What did you use as motivation to remind yourself that winning would happen here, too?

       "Early in my career, I had someone tell me that it's tough to win in this league, and the only thing you can do is not let it affect you. So (during) the years of losing, I just focused on not letting it change me and how I go about my business, and what I did to get me to winning programs and winning championships in the past, and have faith in the front office, the coaches, the guys in here, the scheme. One day it would eventually flip, and I would just try to be a consistent force in how I went about my business. Getting this feeling today, it's really just amazing."

You and Joe Burrow mentioned that this franchise has taken some heat. What does it show that the franchise is now at this point?

       "I just had one of the people involved in the organization tell me how happy Mike Brown was, that he was on the verge of tears, and that's just a really special feeling because this really is a great, family-run organization. They take care of us. To get this win for the city and this team, it means a lot."

How much credit does Zac Taylor deserve for getting the team to this point?

       "He gets an incredible amount of credit. Anytime something goes wrong or there's an issue, it seems like people are calling for Zac's job or whatever. He's done nothing but be a great leader and consistent force in this whole turnaround, and I really love Zac as a coach, and I'm thankful that he's here. Like you said, he was young. We're all young, we all grow and learn, and we all just wanted to be better, and it's just a consistent effort to be better for this team. It's what we've all done, and done together."

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