"I hope everyone had a good Christmas. Our guys are ready to go and ready to attack this last one. Like I said, it's a big one. It's a home divisional game and a chance to finish off the season the right way, so there's a lot of reasons to have some energy today as we come back to work."
From an injury standpoint, is there anything to report?
"William Jackson will not play. We'll likely put him on IR (Reserve/Injured) at some point this week. Stanley Morgan is the one who is still in the concussion protocol. We expect Tony McRae and John Miller to play. Other than that, the guys that aren't on IR, everyone is relatively healthy."
CB Darius Phillips has 38 pass coverage snaps this year, and he has two interceptions and two passes defensed. It's a small sample size, but do you feel like he has shown he can take on a larger role?
"It's a step in the right direction. When the ball is in the air to his side, he has a great knack for making plays on the ball. I watched him in the walkthrough just now catching balls with one hand, so he has that natural feel to him. He's still a young player. There are a lot of areas he needs to detail and improve to earn that next big step, but we're certainly glad we have him because he's a good weapon in a lot of different areas."
Can you teach ball skills to a cornerback?
"That's a natural feel. There are certainly drills you can do, just like in any position. Some guys just have a natural awareness and great feel for playing the ball."
Do you think that refining CB William Jackson III's ball skills are the next step in his development?
"For all of our DBs, we don't have enough turnovers that we've created this year. There have been enough opportunities with the ball in the air to your side to go make that play. That's the next big step. There were several examples in the last game where we could have had more pass breakups and more plays on the ball. There were plenty of man coverage and one-on-one situations where we just weren't quite good enough."
It seems like defensive backs have had troubles locating the ball when it's in the air. Is that something you can refine in drills?
"The first step of it is the details of the technique you need to be playing. Once you hammer that down and do that the right way, then the next part comes a little more natural to you. That's something we're still striving for every day."
How much turnover do you anticipate having on your coaching staff following the season?
"Those are things we'll talk about after the season."
How much do you plan on overhauling the roster?
"Again, as soon as the season is over, there are plenty of offseason topics that we'll sit down and discuss and make sure we're all on the same page with before moving forward. Fortunately, we have a few more days before we have to deal with all of that."
Your defense struggled early in the season, but has shown improvement the second half of the year. Have you liked what defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has done with the defense this season?
"The season started off poorly for the whole team. You come back after the bye, and you get the chance to focus on a lot of things. The defense has made a lot of progress in a lot of different areas. On Sunday, we didn't play well enough on either side. Leading up to that point, we had seen some things that were really positive. I believe that we're heading in the right direction there with Lou."
OT Fred Johnson has seen increased playing time on offense in recent weeks. How much can you learn about him over the course of a just few games?
"It's better than if he was just sitting on the sidelines. I made this statement about the quarterbacks, but really with any young player, you want a pretty decent sample size of games to really know what you have there. Leading into the offseason with the amount of snaps we've given him so far — and we'll give him more snaps this week — now you have a real chance to have a better feeling of what you have going into the spring. It's a good sample size to have. I can't put a sample size on it and say, 'All right, this guy's got 10 years here,' or whatever it is. You certainly feel better than if he was the seventh or eighth lineman sitting on the sidelines."
Has OT Isaiah Prince been indoctrinated enough to see playing time?
"Not yet with Isaiah, because he just got here a couple weeks ago. We're just looking at the traits that we liked in the draft, and he became available, so, 'Let's grab him.' Everything has been positive with him from what we can see. He hasn't gotten substantial reps running our stuff. Again, he's a guy that we're just excited to have going into the offseason. We feel like he gives us good depth there."
With the assumption that OT Jonah Williams will start at left tackle next season, would you consider moving Johnson to right tackle? Johnson has played mostly left tackle in games thus far.
"That's where we're playing him right now. We're trying to find the best fits for our guys to go close out the season and play against Cleveland. Those decisions will come in the offseason, with where guys will have to move around. But right now, left tackle is the best fit."
OT Cordy Glenn has had a unique situation this season, between injuries and a suspension, but he's started each of the last five games at LOT. Are you pleased that you were able to get something out of him this year?
"Yeah. You want the guys that you penciled in to play a lot of time for us, and he's done that in the second half of the season. It's good how that has worked out."
In the event you consider trading Glenn or letting him go this offseason, is it then a positive for both sides — the Bengals and Glenn — that he has played the last five weeks and shown he's still a productive player?
"I'm happy for all of our players that have started trending in the right direction in the second half of the season. We'll see what happens in the offseason."
Can you talk about facing the Browns for a second time?
"Having played them recently, for both sides, it's still pretty fresh. You get the chance to immediately review the game. That's the first thing you do this week. We've obviously played two games since then, but there are a lot of things that are fresh. 'I can't believe we did that. Here's some good stuff we did.' You just take that and formulate a new game plan. They've played Baltimore and Arizona since then. It's fresh for our guys. They remember a lot of things that went wrong. It's something where, 'Man, if we just would have done this better, we would have had a better chance there.' But they made the plays and we did not. It's a chance to correct all that stuff this week and get another crack at them."
Do you look forward to coaching the Senior Bowl, and how can it help?
"If that does happen in the postseason, it's always good to see those guys up close and personal. You end up going to pro days and trying to get a feel, so I think any time you're put in a position to coach a guy and be with him in meetings, it's certainly a big plus."
What's the biggest thing you've learned this season?
"I don't think I've had time to reflect yet. That time will come. But once you get into a pretty good rhythm through the first couple of weeks — and you've built a staff that you believe in, and there's a reason we hired all these people — as you grow into the role a little bit, you empower them more. Sometimes you get caught up trying to do too much yourself, which isn't the smart thing to do. You hired all of these great people. Let them do their jobs, especially guys you haven't worked with before. You get a feel for them as the offseason goes and as the season goes. It really hits home that we hired the right people. Guys that I didn't have a relationship with before they came here, I've really gotten to know. I'm really pleased with the direction of our coaching staff and the guys we have here developing these players."
When a change takes place and coaches and players have to re-adjust to one another, which part of that process takes the most time?
"It's equal – us learning, seeing the players first. You spend so much time in the offseason studying them and trying to figure out who they are. When you get around their personalities and see how they work in practice, you have a much better feel for them after a season goes by. The same goes for the players. They're feeling you out and when we're in the heat of it, as this season has been for us, they see what their coaches are all about. I believe that they can trust us and trust that we're trying to get the most out of them, regardless of how we're doing it. There's a lot of good things that come together after being together for a year. You get a chance now to close this thing out the right way and hit the refresh button in the offseason and know what the expectations really are."
Do you believe there is momentum to be gained from winning the last game of the season?
"I do. There's no question. That winning feeling is the last thing you'll remember in the locker room, if you can get a win in Week 17. That can carry over to, 'OK, we did it. These are all the things that we set out to do. We closed it out the right way.' There's still a lot of work here to do this week, and we need to make sure that it happens. It would create some positive momentum going into the offseason."
Given the team's recent struggles against divisional opponents, how much do you emphasize the fact that this is a divisional game?
"To get to where we want to be, it starts with the division. That's the first thing. We have to set that standard that we're playing our best football when we're playing against these three divisional opponents. It's very important that we start to rectify the things that have gone wrong for us in the past. We need to win these divisional games when they come across our plate."
Due to injuries or other circumstances, certain players saw an expanded role this season. Which players come to mind for you as ones that stood out?
"Auden Tate. Auden Tate is a guy that really showed up big time. Brandon Wilson was getting better as the season went on as well. There are plenty of guys. There are a lot of positive things you can say. Those are two guys that, the more they've played, the more you saw from them."
Did you have a good Christmas?
"I did. I had a great time."
What are your thoughts going into this week, especially with it being Week 17?
"We want to finish this thing off the right way. We want to put good stuff out there for the last week of the season and do everything we can to get a win and finish this thing off on a good note."
Do you think about this upcoming game with context that it may be your last as Cincinnati's starting quarterback?
"I understand the possibility of it. We'll have to wait and see once the season's over and see what happens, but I definitely understand the possibility of that."
How often do you think about potentially departing Cincinnati after the season?
"It's one of those things where it's obviously not my focus right now. I understand the situation that I'm in. I'm going to try to go out and play the best game I can play.
Are you trying to bolster your resume with this game against Cleveland?
"Yeah. I don't think it comes down to just this game. I want to finish this thing off the right way. I want to finish this off with a win for this team. I'm doing everything I can to make sure we play well on Sunday."
Defensively, is Cleveland doing similar things on defense compared to your first matchup?
"Yeah. The guys are the same. There isn't new personnel in there. There are some similarities to what they've been doing. It was only a few weeks ago that we played them."
Do you anticipate needing to keep your emotions in check on Sunday, with regard to it potentially being your last game in Cincinnati?
"It won't be my focus at all. I'm just playing and trying to lead this team and play well. After the fact, we'll see what happens. During the game, I don't expect there to be anything."
What factors will play into your decision of whether you stay in Cincinnati or leave?
"We'll have to handle that when the season is over. We'll have to see what the organization is thinking and then we'll move forward from there."
Did you come into this season thinking that it could be your last in Cincinnati?
"Not at all, no."
Why do you think this season has gone the way it has for you, personally?
"There have been a lot of different factors that have gone into this year. A lot stuff has happened in each game that has been different and has caused us not to win. That's what it comes down to. It's hard to put your finger on one thing. If we would have figured that out, it obviously would have helped us out early on, but there have been a lot of different things that have gone on."
Have you allowed yourself to think about how different this season would be if WR A.J. Green hadn't gotten injured?
"Obviously we want A.J. out there. We wish he could have been healthy this year and that obviously wasn't the case. When you don't have your best player on your team, you're a little behind from the start."
You've had eight games decided by eight points or fewer, and nine games decided by 10 points or fewer. How frustrating has it been to lose close games?
"You can look back at so many games and say, 'If we would have made a play here or made a play there, it would have changed the whole game.' That's been the story of the season – not making enough plays when we've needed to."
In your last matchup with Cleveland, red-zone efficiency was an issue. Was that game a microcosm of the entire season?
"Yeah. We felt like we had control of that game. They did a good job in the red zone, and they stopped us. We weren't able to get in there. They scored touchdowns and that affected the outcome of the game. We understand that. We struggled down there, getting touchdowns and not kicking field goals. That one hurt us."
Considering your future, how much more would a win this week mean to you compared to a regular Week 17 victory?
"I try to win every time I'm out there. It would feel good to end the season off with a win and end the season on a good note. That's the whole focus – to finish this thing off the right way."
Does the opportunity to beat a division rival in the season finale make this game more meaningful?
"Yeah. (Particularly) when you feel like you could have won some of these games. Obviously, when you play in the division, you get a chance to play them again. Motivation, whatever it is, we just want to go out there and play how we know we can play for four quarters. If we can do that, we'll put ourselves in a good position to win."
You were a kid when you got here, and now you're a father of three. Is it a little overwhelming to think that this could be your last game in Cincinnati?
"It's not the end of my career. A lot of our life has been here in Cincinnati. Again, we don't know what's going to happen. I don't know what's going to happen. We'll have to wait and see until after the season for all of that to get handled. A big part of our life has been here. We've made Cincinnati our home. We've grown up and our family has grown up together. J.J. (Dalton's wife, J.J. Dalton) and I have spent our whole married life here with three kids. This city has been a big part of our life."
What is it about Cincinnati that allowed you to have a special connection here off the field?
"I wouldn't say there's one thing. There's a lot of good people here in Cincinnati, and there are a lot of people that are willing to help others. Once we started our foundation and started some of the things that we've been doing, there's been a lot of people that hopped on board because they're willing to serve and willing to give to those in need. There was an instant connection there, and we just tried to be as involved as we can and tried to help out in so many different ways. You can't do it by yourself. You have to have support from a lot of different people, and we've had support from the city."
Does it surprise you that your connection to the community has grown into what it is?
"Once you decide you're going to start a foundation or start a charity or help out in a certain way, you need people's support. Once we were starting, when we were 23 years old, we didn't understand everything. From where we're at now compared to when we started, it's night and day. We've had a lot of support along the way. It's been awesome to see all the people we've been able to help."
Is there any specific part of your foundation that you take satisfaction in?
"We've been able to meet a lot of people and hear so many different stories. With all the different programs we've done, we've tried to incorporate the whole family in everything we do. It's not just the kid that's going through it, it's the whole family. To give to parents of these kids, to give to kids, the siblings, to everyone involved, that's really how we tried to focus. The hundreds of thousands of dollars we've given, we've been able to help a ton of people. That's what we're called to do. That's the good thing about the NFL. Not only is it a sport that you love to play, but it gives you this platform that people can get behind. You can reach a lot of people that some people can't reach. That's what makes sports so special in general, because there are so many kids looking up to you, and people that can back you and support you just because of the name of the NFL, the Bengals, the position you play, whatever it is. For J.J. and I, we weren't going to take that lightly. We knew that God gave us this platform for a reason, so that's why we're trying to help and serve as many people as we can."
Given the adversity you've been through this season, how important have faith and family been to you?
"It's been huge. They've been my support system from the beginning. To be able to lean back on my faith and to realize that God's plan is way bigger than mine. You have to trust in that. Everything that's gone on this year has really tested that. At the end of the day, I know that my life, my future, my family's future, and everything is in God's hands. I'm truly believing that the best is going to come from that. Like I said, his plan is way greater than mine. We can think we know exactly how we want our life to go, know exactly how our career can go, exactly how all the different phases of your life go, but you never know what's going to happen. You have to trust that God's got you, and that's what we're living in right now. That's what we're believing and trusting in."
Did you fully expect to have a good year and then to sign a contract extension?
"Absolutely. I expected to have a good year. The contract stuff, that wasn't the focus. It was to come in and play well and to win a lot of games. When this thing got started this year, we thought we had a chance of that. There have been a lot of different things that have happened this year that have taken that away and allowed it not to happen. We still had chances this year. I fully expected to have the season go a lot differently than it has."
Do you still want to be a starting quarterback in the NFL?
Could you see a situation play out where you return to Cincinnati next season to mentor a younger quarterback?
"I'm under contract, so I don't know what they're going to be thinking. We'll figure all of this stuff out once the season is over."
In your first season in Cincinnati, you inherited a 4-12 team. Is there a lesson that this team can learn from that?
"What happens the year before doesn't determine what's going to happen the next year. That goes both ways. We've been part of teams where we haven't had a good season and we were able to follow it up with a good season, and we've had good seasons where we haven't been able to make the playoffs afterward. Next year will be a new team, and it will be a new year with new opportunities. There's definitely a lesson in that."
There were an overwhelming amount of changes made to the team this season. How much do you attribute the team's lack of success to those changes?
"That's hard to say. I wouldn't say the changes are the reason we didn't have the season we thought we were going to have. Like Lap (Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham) was saying, a lot of these games have been close and we've had chances, we just weren't able to get it done. You can't say all the changes are the reason for it. There's been so many different things that have happened in each game and every time we've been out there, so it's hard to say that change was the reason."
You've been accustomed to success and winning throughout your career, so much so that when you lost three games in a row here in recent years, that was the first time you had ever lost three games in a row at any level — peewee, high school, college and the first part of your pro career. Taking that into consideration, what has this season been like for you?
"It's obviously been tough. I haven't been used to it. You never want to get used to losing. I've never experienced it, really, in my career. Even in the losing, you still have to go to work the same way. You still have to prepare, you still have to believe you're going to get it done. You still have to find some way to get it turned around, and we haven't done that enough this year. There are definitely things I can take away from this year."
What is the most important thing you've learned throughout this season's struggles?
"You can go back to last game. To be able to have the comeback that we did with the season we've been having, you can't worry about the record. You can't worry about the score. You just have to go play and do whatever it takes to go win these games. To be able to do that in Week 16 of the season with our record, and we still hung in, it shows you a lot about this team."
Have you found any silver linings in this season?
"I've enjoyed coming to work every day. There's a lot good people in this locker room and good people in this organization. Football hasn't gone the way we wanted it to, but the friendships, relationships that you build playing this game, getting to know people on a different level, that's what makes this a lot of fun. That's why it's the best team game in sports. There's guys in that locker room that I'll be friends with for the rest of my life."
You said you expected to have a good season. If someone would have told you A.J. Green is not going to play a down, John Ross is going to miss half of the season, you're going to be using your fourth left tackle for a big chunk of time, what would you say?
"It obviously sets you back. Like I said, there have been a lot of different factors that have gone into this year. If you sit right here and say, 'We wish we would have been healthy the whole year. Things could be different.' Yeah, absolutely. We're not making any excuses for what's gone on."
How do you want to be remembered in Cincinnati?
"For more than just playing the game. Like we were saying earlier — what we were able to do in this community. That was the one thing that we wanted to do when we first got here. We wanted to make sure that we were all-in, and we've been all-in on Cincinnati since we got here. I hope the people see that. I've received a lot of support throughout my years here. We'll have to wait and see how this whole thing ends up.
You've broken records that QB Ken Anderson set, and he's in the Hall of Fame discussion every year. What does that mean to you?
"It means a lot to be able to pass Kenny, like you said. He led the league in passer rating several times, he's played in Super Bowls, won an MVP. To play in the same organization and to beat some of his records, that means a lot. He's considered for the Hall of Fame it seems like every year, and should be. That's an accomplishment that I don't' take lightly. I've been a part of some great teams and great offenses and had a lot of great players around me that have helped that happen. That's what makes it fun."