ZAC TAYLOR, Head coach
Initial comments ...
Does Joe Mixon get the game ball today?
"Yep, sure did. That's the tone we want to set with the run game on offense. And again, I've said it in here before, it's all the guys. It's not just Joe, but Joe certainly finished off those runs the right way. It was certainly good to see. A lot of good things happened.
"Joe Burrow was 20 of 24 (passing). He was efficient with the ball. He made great decisions and was very efficient that way. On offense, they set the tone and then defensively, to create all those turnovers starting with Eli (Bengals CB Eli Apple) right off the bat. That pick led to three points. Mike Hilton really recaptured the moment at the end of the half, because we had a lot of it on offense and then had the turnover. And then again, our defense responded after a sudden change. Our motto (on defense) is, 'We don't give up points,' and then we start scoring points (on offense). And then Trey (DE Trey Hendrickson) and Sam (DE Sam Hubbard) on the sack-fumble recovery. It was just an all-around team effort for four quarters. I thought they did a really good job. We challenged them at halftime to go win the third quarter, and they did that. We challenged them to win the turnover battle in the third quarter and win on the scoreboard in the third quarter, and they did that. That was the message we sent at halftime, and I'm proud of the way the guys came out and responded."
So it was, Hilton, Hubbard, Hendrickson and Mixon that shined today?
"All the (guys with) turnovers, and Mixon."
Was today a testament to the defensive overhaul on that side of the ball and why you brought the free agents in that the team has?
"I think so. They've just got a lot of confidence right now in how they're playing and what we're asking them to do. Playing next to each other, the communication's been really good and different guys are stepping up and making big plays for us. That's really good to see at this point in the year."
Sweeping Pittsburgh and being 3-1 in the division, what does it say about your team right now?
"We've kind of got that momentum back that we had earlier in the season that we knew we could have. We had that little stumble, but these guys have a ton of confidence. The standard is really high for them. They can handle these wins responsibly. We put them behind us, and we're going to move on to the next one. We're on to the Chargers. But again, it's just a group that's good to be around because this is really the expectation right now. It's not always to win 41-10 — that's a good football team on the other side of the ball — but we're going to win these games. The bigger the ones they are, the guys may step up and play their best football. That's really encouraging for me to see right now."
This is two weeks in a row you've relied heavily on the run. Was that a conscious decision made over the bye week, or just the game plan the last two weeks?
"Every game's a little bit different, so that's the part of the plan. Obviously in the first quarter today, if that's as efficient as it is, you want to keep feeding that guy. We certainly ran a lot of things off of that. We certainly feel great about the passing game as well. But if it's not broke, we're certainly going to keep sticking with it. It's certainly good to see."
What is it about Mixon's energy that when he gets going, it seems to spread throughout the team?
"There's no question about that. That's something he and I have talked about for three years now. I feed off of that energy, too. Sometimes it's not always going to be there in the first half like you want it to be. It's been proven that in the second half things get going pretty good. Today was the opposite of that. It was rolling in the first half, and then we just had to grind it out there in the second half. But you're right — he's a guy that this team feeds off of in all three phases."
What did you think of Tee Higgins' first TD reception and his overall performance today?
"Awesome. When the question keeps getting asked of me what people are doing to take away Ja'Marr (WR Ja'Marr Chase), that's not an issue for us because we've got Tee on the other side and Tyler Boyd in the middle. That's never really been a concern, because we feel we've got so many weapons that we trust that can make those types of plays and on that particular example, Minkah (Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick) leaned toward Ja'Marr. Tee had the one-on-one, and he had to go make the play, and he did. That was just an awesome moment for Tee and a great throw for Joe. We really needed that."
You've beaten Pittsburgh twice this season and three times in a row. In the overall bigger picture, is that important to you?
"Our goal is to go through this division. We have to be better than we ever have been in this division if you want to go to the playoffs and be ready for all the things that that brings. Really just the way I look at it right now, to be 3-1 (in the division), that's the position we wanted to be in. It's not about dominating anybody, we just have to win all these divisional games to create that separation we're going to need. But certainly it feels pretty dang good to go 2-0 against a team in our division."
Every time you start a game with a drive like that and the way Burrow finished the drive with his legs, what does it tell you about his will to score?
"That he's seeing everything really good. You kind of saw that on tape last week, with Herbert (Chargers QB Justin Herbert) seeing that opening and going with it. This was more of a scramble by Joe to his left, and then he was able to finish it and make a guy miss and finish at the end of the play. That's a great tone setter for your quarterback to run it in — and not just effortless, not just easy and 'run it in there,.' But for the guys to see that, it's a great momentum boost for the whole team."
On Burrow's INT, there was a little skirmish with T.J. Watt and Burrow. It seemed like everyone was upset with that. And then Mike Hilton came up with the perfect answer with a pick-six ...
"Yeah, I would agree with that. That was a great opportunity for us to regain the momentum there. Of course, any time you see your quarterback on the ground, we're always going to take issue with that. I haven't actually seen a replay to see if it was bad or not; they probably just got tangled up. Watt is a tremendous, tremendous player, and we have a ton of respect for him in the way that we game plan. But it was good to see Mike Hilton do that. It was a big moment, it was an emotional moment, and for Mike to turn around and go the other way with it really kind of catapulted us to what we wanted to do the rest of the day."
You talked about the game plan — is there something about the game plans you're creating now that are better than they have been previously?
"I'd like to think we're allowed to improve as coaches over time. I think we have done that, and I also think our players have. You look at year three in the system and just the confidence and how different it is, compared to year one and year two. We continue to add players that help us win as well. In this league, you've got to have great players, or else you're not going to have a chance. We've got great players, our coaching staff has tremendous cohesion right now and chemistry, and there's just so much belief back and forth between the players and coaches that this is the type of thing we're capable of."
You've almost taken dynamic edge rushers out of the game the last few games. But with more of those pass-rushers coming down the stretch, is this the blueprint on offense for something you can repeat regardless of matchup?
"There's always window dressing, but you're right — it's never-ending rushers coming at us, it feels like. I think Jonah (Bengals OT Jonah Williams) is playing tremendous right now, and Reilly (Bengals OT Riley Reiff) is doing a great job. Riley had the ankle injury that kept him out a little bit today. But we just have so much confidence in those guys because of their preparation, with Frank (Bengals offensive line coach/run game coordinator Frank Pollack) and his coaching and just how they handle it. There's not an offensive tackle in this league you want to leave on an island with some of these guys, so we're always going to lend that presence to them. Burrow has a great understanding of where that's going to come from and how we're going to neutralize it. Somebody asked me, 'Why aren't draws run?' Well, we ran two of them pretty efficiently today. You've got to use some screens and draws to minimize some of that. Sometimes those are one-yard and two-yard gains, but we know what the effect is: Those rushers feel that and they can't just tee off every snap, so there's a lot of things that just go into it in the course of the game plan."
What has Hilton added to this team?
"That's a good question. Mike Hilton is a winner. Mike Hilton brings constant energy. We talk about guys who are consistent every single day, and we know what to expect from them when they walk in the building: That's Mike Hilton to a T. He's just awesome to be around. He brings a high standard to everybody, and guys just respect the heck out of him."
Do you have injury updates on Reiff and C Trey Hopkins?
"Trey was fine. He was just slow to get up one time, and we were at a point in the game where it's like, 'Hey, let's get some of the younger guys in.' With Riley, it's just an ankle. I haven't heard the details of it. He maybe could have played in an emergency situation. I didn't talk to him about it yet. But he's a tough guy. I saw him hobbling out there before me in the tunnel in the second half ready to play. So we'll just see where it goes this week."
In trying to get the offense to where you want it, is this what you envisioned with it being so based on the run that Burrow can play off of that? Was today an example of what you had in your head earlier?
"That's usually the best way to approach it, especially this late in the season. But we also feel a ton of confidence to spread you out with all the weapons we have. Again, we have a lot of confidence right now. We feel we can play a lot of different ways with whatever the game plan dictates over the course of the week, and then however we have to react over the course of the game. We feel we can do that in a hurry and really help ourselves evolve the game plan as we need to."
How important is it to get the home field advantage back after the Cleveland game with a win like the one you had here today?
"I agree with that. For me, we need the energy of this crowd. These people pay good money to watch us play, and we need to win it at home. It's fun to win on the road and go shut up some other crowds, but for us, our fans need to be rewarded. They've supported us through some really difficult times, so we need to go put a winner out there that they can cheer on and be proud of. To send a divisional rival home with a loss and let our fans enjoy that, that's important to us. It's important for us as players and coaches to get this win and feel it in the locker room, it's just as important for our fan base to feel this and get to enjoy this from week to week."
JOE BURROW, Quarterback
Was that the best collective offensive performance so far this season?
"Yeah, I would say so. It felt like we were rolling the whole day. We started to get up by a bunch and started to play more conservative, but at the beginning we were rolling."
What happened on the touchdown pass to Tee Higgins?
"I knew exactly what was going to happen; we had talked about that all week. I was going to give him shots down the field, and it's great to see Tee make that play. He's a big time player for us."
Was there anything schematic that allowed Tee Higgins to become a focal point of the offense today?
"Like I've always said, I'd throw it to him when the defense tells me to. It just depends on the play. Today, Tee was the guy."
Do you take any exception with your interaction with T.J. Watt?
"No, he was just blocking me. I wasn't too worried about it. It's football."
Did you talk to T.J. Watt about the block when you spoke to him in the third quarter?
"Yeah, I just told him 'nice block.'"
What does Joe Mixon mean to you beyond his ability to run the ball?
"He's a big burst of energy for us as a team and as an offense. He brings the energy every single day in practice. I think that's just who he is, he's an energy kind of guy."
What's the significance of beating the Steelers twice in a season?
"We're 2-0 against them. We have higher aspirations than beating the Steelers right now."
How were you so accurate today, and how were you able to neutralize the Steelers' pass rush?
"Our preparation all week, and the last two weeks, has been great. I knew exactly what I was seeing. Zac (Taylor) called a great game, put me in good positions to just make completions. Our guys were getting open when they got chances against one-on-one coverage. It starts with the run game. When you run the ball for one hundred and ninety-something yards, they're going to be focused on that. So when you drop back there is going to be a lot of zones back there."
How does it feel to be on track to complete the goals you've set?
"We're right where we want to be. We have high aspirations this year. We can't let up now. We started out strong, then we kind of skidded a little bit there in the middle of the season. Now, coming down the stretch, I think we're really hitting our stride so we've got to keep having great weeks of practice. I think we have guys that are excited about where we're at, but not satisfied."
How did the interception by Eli Apple set the tone for the rest of the game?
"It's what we talked about in the locker room. We got the ball, went down and scored. Then Eli got the big interception and all of a sudden we're up ten-nothing with only really having one good drive. And from there, we never looked back."
Why did the sideline erupt after the pick-six by Mike Hilton?
"I think everybody knows why."
What does it mean to be in this spot in the division?
"It means a lot right now, but it also means nothing to go out and lose the rest of them and be seven-and-whatever. So we've still got to keep our nose to the grindstone. We're happy, we're going to celebrate the win, but we're going to come back tomorrow ready to go."
What happened on your touchdown run against Minkah Fitzpatrick?
"We had a play call that I was confident in. (Alex) Highsmith got some pressure on me and I was able to get outside and have a little boogie right there. My knee's feeling good. My knee was feeling great all day, I was excited."
Did that juke move surprise Minkah Fitzpatrick?
"Yeah, I'm sure it did. I'm sure he (was surprised). Most quarterbacks run out of bounds right there. I saw a little something that I thought I could take advantage of."
Was that run important to set the tone for the game?
"I think when you have a chance to score a touchdown you've got to take it. It's hard to score two touchdowns in a row, and nothing is easy, nothing is given, so you've got to take your chances when they're there."
After the first drive, did you sense what kind of game this could be?
"I think going into every game we feel like it should be that kind of day. Obviously, not every day is like that. Some days are harder than others, but when we're running the ball like we have in the last two weeks, things open for us."
Was there a reason you were out there for the coin toss today?
"We rotate it every week."
How much fun are you having?
"I'm having a lot of fun. It's fun to be back playing football with a bunch of great guys in the locker room. When you have the kind of team we have, the kind of players we have, and the kind of people we have in the locker room and upstairs, you really can't ask for a better situation when you've got great people in there that are fun to be around every day."
Do you sense the offensive line is getting more confident each week?
"Yeah, they're getting better and better each week. It really starts in practice; they're working their technique before and after practice. I think what Frank (Pollack) has brought to us this year has really payed off. I'm excited about where they're at and where we're at and they're just going to keep getting better."
Was your touchdown run extra meaningful, due to it being your first since the knee injury?
"I wouldn't say 'extra meaningful.' I would say it's very meaningful because it's the first touchdown of the game and it kind of propelled us to where we were going the rest of the day."
How does it feel to hand the game over to Brandon Allen?
"I feel great when I go to the sideline. I love giving Brandon some reps, getting some player performance checks for him, so that's fun."
What can propel this team to win the division?
"We're just going to have to keep beating our divisional opponents. We've got Baltimore coming up in a couple of weeks. Obviously, we've got to go out and win every week because when you play in our division, everyone's going to be over .500, everyone's going to be in it at the end. So no breaks, no days off, just got to keep our nose to the grindstone."
TREY HENDRICKSON, Defensive end
You've have a sack now in seven straight games. How do you feel you're playing right now?
"That's my job. I got a lot of great coverage in the back end, and a lot of great coaching, with Coach (Marion) Hobby, and Coach Lou (Anarumo) and Coach (Mark) Duffner, that are putting me in the right places to have success."
What was the point of emphasis last night, or in the final meeting before the game?
"Yeah, we've got to stop the run if we want to get after Ben (Roethlisberger). If you make him one-dimensional. He'll know tendencies and things, so stopping the run is an emphasis that seems like it's every week, but there was a heightened sense this week."
What was it like seeing Mike Hilton get that pick-six, and the reaction that ensued?
"Oh yeah, everybody loves that guy. Our locker room is — I keep saying it every week — it's special. We're rooting for guys, but we were able to sign him from Pittsburgh. It was a big deal to us, it's a big deal to him, and he feels at home, and we've got a brotherhood going that I'm fortunate to be a part of."
When you signed back in March, I've got to feel like this is something you had in mind with a team like this and you contributing to it, and that's why you thought you'd be comfortable here ...
"Yeah, you've got a talented quarterback in Joe Burrow, a talented back in Joe Mixon, and a great O-line — you can't ask for more from me. And then I can't say enough about the weapons he has outside. That offense is exciting for a defensive player to come into this building. And then even the defense, and the pieces they have — rushing with Sam (Hubbard), Larry (Ogunjobi), and D.J. (Reader), the linebackers are fitting holes in the run game, and the coverage is amazing. And even the coaches — they're a part of the group, they're a part of the chemistry, and they care a lot about these players, and you can feel that. What we have is special, and that's what we've been planning on doing since I walked in the door."
A point of emphasis from Zac Taylor with the defense has been creating turnovers, and you got those today. What do you think is leading to those turnovers?
"Yeah, just affecting the quarterback is one emphasis. If we have good coverage, we get sacks. If we have a good rush, they get interceptions. It's complimentary football. We trust our guys on the back end, and if we make them throw it a little (irregular), that they'll come up with that pick, and they did their job today, and we got a sack too — Sam and I — so it's complimentary ball, and we trust each other."
MIKE HILTON, Cornerback
How did that pick-six feel?
"You really want to know? Best feeling in the world, man. That was my first career pick-six in my whole football career, so to do it against those guys in a big division game, it couldn't be any sweeter."
So you mean like pee wee ...
"Pee wee, high school, college, first four years in the league, that's my first one."
There was a moment there where T.J. Watt was tangled up with Burrow, and tempers were kind of flaring. Do you think that played into it?
"I mean, I don't think it really played into it — it was a rivalry game — there's going to be some heated moments. Guys just have to keep a level head, and that next possession I was able to make a big play, and how quickly everyone forgot about what happened on the offensive side."
What did you see on the play?
"It was an empty formation, so you know the ball's going to come out quick. We were in a certain zone, and I saw three go up field, so I knew two were either coming in or going out, and I was shaded inside, so I protected myself inside, and he broke out, and I was able to undercut it and take it to the house."
When you were with the Steelers, the whole time there the Steelers had the edge in this rivalry. Do you feel like the Bengals now have the edge?
"Absolutely, no question about it. Beating these guys, for me twice, and for some of these other guys three times straight, it's a big change in the guard in our opinion. It's giving us a lot of confidence, and guys are excited to see how the rest of the season plays out."
Do you think your time in Pittsburgh helped at all with knowing their tendencies were on that play or anything like that?
"Absolutely. Being a former player, you know those guys, you know what they like to run in certain situations, you know who they want to get the ball to, so me having that little insight definitely put me in position to make a play, and I just had to go make it, and I did."
JOE MIXON, Halfback
How did it feel to get the game ball and set a new career high for rushing?
"It felt great. At the same time, without my o-line, without my tight ends, without my receivers all being bought into the run game, it wouldn't have happened. As much as it is an award for me, and a career thing for me, it's the same thing for them. I'm excited for everybody in the building, but at the same time we just have to keep building on top of that."
Do you get the sense that it's all coming together offensively for this team?
"I think (it is) more collectively as a team. We've been playing great complimentary football, we've been playing physical making plays at the point of attack offensively, defensively, and also on special teams. I'm just excited about how everybody's been playing — just doing things the right way, reaping the benefits of going to work, doing things the right way, and coming away with Ws."
Do you think you're playing the best ball of your career?
"Probably a little bit. To be honest, I feel like I'm starting to reach that point, and I'm starting to get there. I know what type of speed the defense is coming with, and I know how to slow the game down myself. At the same time, as much as me making plays, it has everything to do with my teammates, man. Everybody is bought in to what we're doing right now, to what Zac has us doing. The linemen are doing a hell of a job blocking and opening holes, our receivers are digging out guys and just doing things the right way with everybody bought in. But when it comes to finishing, In terms of finishing and doing the small things that we don't really see much and getting to that second level, it's definitely coming about. I'm excited for everybody."
What does it say about the team that you've now swept the Steelers this season?
"I mean, I guess it's cool. But at the same time, that's just another team in our way to where we need to be and where we want to go. Everybody knows that it's in front of us. Our work is cut out for us. We've just got to do all the things the right way, come in each and every week to get better and keep building on the great things. The stuff that we need to work on, we just try to improve on that. Like I said, I'm just happy for everybody reaping the benefits around here. It's a new thing for Cincinnati. Well, it's not a new thing, but at the same time, they haven't had it as much. At least since I've been here. It's a great feeling, but at the same time, we just have to keep building each and every week."
TEE HIGGINS, Wide receiver
You think your catch is going to be on the ESPN segment, 'You Got Mossed?'
"(Laughs) I hope so. I feel like it was a Moss-type of play."
On that touchdown catch, when did you think you had a chance to get it? Did you see it all the way and think you'd get a chance to high point it over him?
"No. Before the play, with pre-snap recognition and looking at the defense, I saw that it was 'one high' coverage. And I saw that the safety was cheating toward Chase, so I knew I was about to get single-coverage — one-on-one. Joe gave me a chance, and I came down with it."
How would you describe the offensive evolution over the course of the season for you guys?
"We're progressing and getting better and better each and every day. As you can see, we're scoring now. It feels good to go out there on the first drive and score. That's one thing we really focus on is just getting better each and every day."
How big was that first drive?
"Yeah, it was very big. It showed that we can go out there and dominate. And once our defense went out there and got that pick, I was like, 'Oh yeah, we ready today.'"
How hard has this season been for you personally, with the injury and getting off to maybe not the start you wanted to?
"I come to work every single day with the same mindset — come in, do my work, get in a little extra work after practice, and come into the games thinking I'm about to go off. Even if I don't, I'm happy for my teammates that do. My mindset doesn't change."