Initial Comments ...
"Crushing. Guys fought tooth and nail until the last whistle, and for that not to go in our favor kills the guys in our locker room. We felt like we could win this game. We felt like that was the style of game it would be, to be quite frank, and that's how it turned out. At the end of the day, we knew it would come down to a turnover battle, and we lost 2-1. That's been the story of the year. We have yet to win the turnover battle. We were leading at halftime, and we didn't get it done in the second half. It's killer. You can't win games in this league doing that. Ultimately, that's what got us. So, that's where we're at."
How much concern is there over Ryan Finley's pocket presence with him losing the ball?
"We had two or three in this game. The one he lost, I know for sure. It's a concern. We have to be strong in the pocket. They had a great front. They have really good edge rushers. They push the pocket, the interior, they pressure a lot with 28 (CB Mike Hilton) and 26 (LB Mark Barron). We knew that going into this game. We had to be strong with the ball in the pocket, and we put it on the ground too many times."
Have you ever thought of going back to Andy Dalton at quarterback?
"No. Ryan Finley was going to be our quarterback in this game. With all personnel things, we get through the game, and think about it as the week goes. But, I don't have anything with personnel after the game."
What can you say to the players now that would resonate with them?
"That we love them, and we're still fighting for each other. We have to be as tight as we ever have, because that's where we're at right now. They're giving them all we got, and they're giving us all they got. Two weeks in a row now, we've come down to a chance with our last possession and we haven't gotten it done. That's what we told them."
Finley is under 50 percent with his passes, does that concern you?
"Obviously, we want it to be higher than that. There's no doubt. There a lot of things that factor into it. This wasn't a game where we wanted to live with the past. We wanted to get as many runs off as possible. When you look at where they came up, the passes were mostly in known passing situations. We called a lot of runs on first and ten and second and manageable. That's the kind of game we wanted to play. And we knew it was going to come down to the end of the game, and we knew it was going to come down to the turnover battle. If we'd won this turnover battle, I feel confident that we would've won the game. But, we didn't and that's just how it ended up for us."
The second to the last drive, you started on your seven-yard line, with five wide. Were you thinking you needed to pass there?
"No, we needed to get out of there. Then, we were going to have runs at our disposal. But, we felt good about a couple of those passes out of the empty sets that were going to get us our first first down, and get us moving. Then, we can get back into our normal offense. It wasn't going to be a huddle up and change personnel. But, we would have some runs at our disposal. When you start out incomplete on the first one, then second and 10, we wanted to stay out of third and longs. We felt good about the second and 10 play, it just didn't work out for us. So, we were trying to get ourselves back there."
When you made the switch at quarterback, you said the priority was to win. Do you feel satisfied with your evaluation of Finley now?
"When you look across the league at any young quarterbacks playing, look at their first three games. There's struggles. We always have to look at all our personnel, but you also have to understand, at the same time, that there's some challenges. We're down two starting receivers right now. That's hard for a rookie quarterback. Those other guys are playing their tails off. But, we have to give him a chance. That's where we're at right now. If you pulled every rookie quarterback after the first three games, there's no future of quarterback in this league because they're all on the bench. So, you just have to have that understanding as we go through it."
In hindsight, do you think you went to Finley too soon?
"I think there's a lot things in hindsight you can look at over the course of the season. You have to be confident with the decisions you're making and go forward."
How many more games do you need to evaluate Finley?
"I think with any quarterback, you'd like to see 50. So, we're just going to keep taking it one week at a time right now. You want to see as many games as you can possibly get. I go back to the statement that if you evaluated every rookie quarterback after three games, there'd be no quarterbacks playing right now. It'd be a bunch of old guys like (Kansas City Chiefs QB) Matt Moore out there, 38 years old, picked up off the street. That's where we'd be with the quarterback position."
Could you go back to Dalton now that's he been benched?
"Cause of health? I mean, right now, Ryan's our quarterback. It's not something I even think about."
There are a lot of fans that want the team to tank to get the number one pick. Have you experienced a season so unique as this?
"No. I really haven't. And, I can't speak for the fans. I know they're frustrated. No one is more frustrated than the people who have to deal with it in that locker room. It's hard because those guys go out there and give it their all. So, we need the support right now. For the fans, it is going to pay off. Those who show up at the stadium, come and cheer for us, they're going to be the ones that when we're playing for championships, they can say that they stuck with them through thick and thin. I know it's easy to be negative right now. It's a fun thing to do, take shots at us when we're down. But, they have to enjoy it now, because it's going to turn and we're all looking forward to that day. Trust me, I understand the frustration. We have to win games and have a good product on the field. I continue to believe in the guys we've got and that we're going to get things turned around and get things headed in a positive direction."
The 0-11 start is the worst in franchise history. How does it feel to be a part of that history?
"It's just defeating to lose. Period. I don't really care about the stats or the records. When you're competitive, and you've put everything you've got into it, to lose is the worst feeling there is. And, if you don't feel that, then you shouldn't be playing or coaching, to be honest with you. The moment that feeling goes away, then you need to find something else to do. That feeling hasn't gone away for us. You don't see a team in the last two weeks compete like they've done against some good teams, down to that last whistle, if it still doesn't hurt and they're not giving you everything that they've got. That's what we've seen from this group."
Tyler Boyd was outspoken about wanting more targets. We saw that this week. Was that in the plans?
"Yeah, he made some big plays for us. But, ultimately, the ball security issues, whoever it is, we can't have it. He makes plays for us. You do have to get the ball to your playmakers. There was a point of emphasis to get that done, especially on the touchdown drive. He made two back-to-back plays, and Finley gave him some good balls to go make plays. He has to continue to be a big part of this offense.
Without Dalton and A.J. Green, is there a lack of leadership at all?
"Gio (HB Giovani Bernard) is one. You've got some veteran tight ends, some linemen who've stepped up. I feel like we've got enough guys who speak up and lead by example. And, people listen to them."
Does the message change after the losses?
"Our message is specific to each week. Every single week. We're going to keep preaching the things we believe in, knowing that we're building a foundation for something better. We expected more wins, but they haven't come. But, we're not going to change our identity or who we are just because we face some adversity. We'll get through it. All of the things we've been preaching since April will come true. All of the guys who are committed to this organization, and the way we want to do it, there's a payoff for everybody. Good things are to come. I know they're not visible on the field, necessarily. But, we believe that we'll get there."
Do you get frustrated answering all of the questions?
"No. I speak everyday with everybody in the building and we're all on the same page."
Obviously you're frustrated with the loss, but did you see any growth in your play?
"I thought we did some good things, just not enough to win. I've got to play better. I thought we got the running game going a little bit and made a couple big plays down the field, but just not enough to win. We had a chance at the end to drive down and score a touchdown, but we weren't able to do it. We have to be better."
Is pocket awareness instinctive or something you can work on?
"I think it's absolutely something I can work on, and I will work on it."
When you're facing a pass rush like the Steelers, how do you manage when you haven't had a lot of snaps?
"I thought the coaches had me very prepared. (The Steelers) got me a couple of times on some good looks; hats off to them. We've got Trey (Bengals center Trey Hopkins) up there, and Trey is really good at that stuff. Outside of a couple times, they didn't get us too many times. I thought we protected well for most of the game. There were a couple plays where I've got to be better with ball security, and that was kind of at a premium this game. That was on me. I have to be better in the pocket for sure."
Do you feel there's chemistry growing between you and WR Tyler Boyd?
"Absolutely. That was awesome. We talked all week about giving TB (Boyd) a chance downfield, and that was going to be a win for us. It was perfect execution on TB's part — such a good catch. And then to follow it up with another one-one-one, fifty-fifty catch for a touchdown. That was an awesome series of events for us. I thought we got some juice. It was a much-needed touchdown. TB is going to make plays for us. Any chance where we can keep doing that, just keep giving him opportunities to make plays one-on-one. That's going to be good for us."
Talk about your one-handed 47-yard reception ...
"We dialed up the play. I was one of the only receivers out on the play. I wanted them to give me a chance. I believe I can win any one-on-one battle. That's what I've been preaching. I was able to make a great play for Ryan (QB Ryan Finley)."
Talk about the ensuing 15-yard touchdown catch ...
"It was a double move against Haden (CB Joe Haden). He played great defense. He was on it. I was surprised (Finley) threw it. At the end of the day, when it's one-on-one, he gave me a chance. I came down with it. I believe each and every time the ball is around me, I can come down with it. I want to make as many plays as I can for my quarterback."
You made five catches for 101 yards, but talk about the 22-yard catch and fumble ...
"Our coaches called a great game — out-scheming the Steelers defense. Again, I won, but I've got to do a better job of protecting the football. I need to secure the ball. I gave the game away; I felt I was in control. I felt I could have brought a win. I'm putting a lot on myself, but I can take it."
Talk about how this loss feels ...
"We're 0-11. That's the ninth time in a row the Steelers have beaten us. It hurts even more. We're not an '0-for team'. We have great talent on this team. Nobody is pointing fingers. If anyone wants to point any fingers, they can point at me. At the end of the day, I'm a man about it. I'm going to come back and make sure it doesn't happen again."
Talk about the frustration of losing a close football game ...
"It's the National Football League. We don't get blown out, except by two very good teams. Everyone knew we had this game — from the fans to the owner. We all believed. The defense was doing a great job. It came down to whoever won the turnover battle. I let one get away from me, and it really cost us."
Talk about losing the turnover battle ...
"It's very costly. You're very limited on drives due to time of possession. If I make that last play, we aren't having this conversation. We're talking about how it feels to get our first win."
Is it frustrating to play 'winning defense' — allowing 17 points last week and 16 this week — and not come out with a win?
"Yes. But it's not (winning football). We haven't won this season. We need to do a better job on defense. We need to make more stops and allow fewer points."
Does it add pressure? Do you feel you need to play perfect football?
"No. We gave up one big play. Other than that, we played pretty good football."
Talk about the minus-one turnover margin today ...
"We have been emphasizing creating turnovers the last couple of weeks. We need to keep working at it. They will come, the more we work on it."
View some of the best images from the Bengals Week 12 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Who Dey!
Do you feel the Steelers emphasize forcing turnovers more than other teams?
"I feel a lot of teams in the league this year are taking more chances to try to take the ball out. Not just making a tackle, but stripping the ball, even it that means giving up a few more yards. It's showing throughout the league. There have been a lot of strip-sacks. There are fumbles on plays down the field. Ball security isn't an issue, until you start fumbling. It sounds stupid. You don't think about it, until you start fumbling the ball. Now you need to secure the football and put two hands on it when you're in traffic — and really secure it — knowing that they're going to come after the ball and try to punch at it."
Talk about the overthrow that just missed you ...
"It was a double-move. Haden bit on it. I was able to get separation. Ryan had pressure on him. He had to pick a spot and throw it there hoping it worked out. We were not able to connect."
Talk about how hard is it to hear that Tyler Boyd is taking this loss on himself ...
"He's one of the leaders on this team. He takes responsibility for plays. It's obviously not on him. It's a team game. We had plays all throughout the game that could have changed the outcome and put us in position to win. It's never one guy. It's never one play. It's frustrating. You want to make every play and do everything you can. That's what happens when you're struggling."
Do you feel your early season situation is behind you?
"Yes. I am trying to help the team. That's all I can worry about."
How did you feel about your performance today?
"I played every (offensive) snap. I felt I was doing well. Obviously, I gave up the one (sack) at the end. I've got to finish. But I felt it was good. I haven't played in so long. I've got to finish games."
How was your physical conditioning?
"You work out, train and try to do everything you can to get in to football shape. Nothing can really do that, until you are out there."
Did Steelers LB Bud DuPree do anything different on the final play to create the sack?
"He was working different things. Trying to set up different moves in the game. I will need to look at it. It was a good play by him."
What's your goal for the rest of the season?
"Finish the season strong. Help this team win some games. Really, that's all we can worry about."
Do you feel you have something to prove in these last five games?
"As a football player, you always have something to prove. You always have something you want to accomplish."
What makes the Steelers' defensive front so tough?
"They've been doing things a long time. They go to the sidelines and make changes each quarter. You really have to be disciplined. You have to be on your game every time you play them."
Was it meaningful for you to play again?
"Yes. I haven't played football in so long. It felt great to be out there, especially when you don't know if you can continue to play football or how your career is going to go."
Did you think your career was in jeopardy?
"You don't know. With certain types of injuries, you question everything."
Do you feel like the things said about you have been unfair?
"Honestly, I don't try to read too much into that. Stuff is going to be said about anybody — good or bad. At the end of the day, all I can control are the thoughts in my head. That's how I live life."
Have you reached a point to let bygones be bygones?
"Yes. It's been like that for a while. As soon as the incident happened, I let it go then. I try to press forward every day. I don't try to hold on to things for long. I try to help the team. That's all I think about, not so much worrying about things that happened and drag it on. I try to move forward and let it go."
You have a year left on your contract. Could you see yourself staying here beyond next season?
"I see a lot of different scenarios. I'm trying to play as hard as I can these last couple of games. Whatever happens, happens. I can't control that."
What are your thoughts on the current status of the team, and what seems to be holding the team back?
"You know, we play the game to win. We come here each week and prepare to win, and we haven't yet won. We're just not making enough plays to win the games. Defensively, we seem to be getting better as the season progresses, but as a team, we are struggling. This is a team game, and the outcome of the team is what matters. We must continue to make strides towards winning."
What's been the difference the last couple of games regarding sack production?
"On third-and-long we seem to be doing a good job."
Is it embarrassing to have the worst start in franchise history?
"Yes. We're not thinking about going 0-16. We think only about the opponent that we will face this week. Not having a win right now doesn't feel good."
As a player, do you take notice of the outside noise and the future of the franchise?
"I don't pay attention to the noise, or those signs in the stadium. However, I do appreciate the fans' honesty. Shoot me straight. That's how I roll. If they feel we're out there stinking it up, be honest with me. You know, everyone around here needs to step up. That goes for young and veteran players. Veterans need to make all the plays that they can, so it takes some of the burden off of the young guys."
With a young QB, is there extra pressure on this defense to go out there and make plays?
"If we can apply pressure to the opponent's offense and create turnovers, that will provide more opportunities with better field position for our offense to score. We cannot have penalties or turnovers if we're going to put ourselves in position to win the game. Those are all keys to team success, and I didn't feel we did everything we needed to in order to win. The result is that we lost. We prepare every week to come in here and win. We don't prepare to lose. We're now going to turn our focus and preparation towards beating the Jets."
Did you notice a change in the Steelers today when they made the quarterback change to Devlin Hodges?
"He threw a nice deep ball when he entered the game, and that gave them some instant momentum. He made one great play."
The Steelers are down some significant starters for a number of reasons, did that change your approach entering the game today?
"We watched the film. It doesn't seem that their schematics changed very much. You know, it's tough to lose any game. Especially, when the score is close near the end of the game. For now, our focus turns to the Jets.
Thoughts on today's game ...
"It's crazy. We did a good job keeping the game close today. It just seemed to get away from us there at the end."
Were you on the field when Tyler Boyd made the great one-handed catch?
"It looked like his right hand was being held, and he did a great job of making the catch with his left one. It's amazing that he was able to pull that one in."
Are you starting to become numb to how this whole season is playing out?
"No. We put so much work in every week, and we come into every game expecting to win. We have confidence in the game plan, and we had a good week of practice. The goal is to win the game, and every one of these losses hurts. The guys play hard, and they're still playing for each other. Obviously, now we're not going to the playoffs, but we are still playing for our teammates. No, we're playing for pride. Every one of these defeats hurts."
A lot of fans think the team is tanking the season to get the No. 1 pick. Do you believe this to be true?
"Look at the way we play, we're still out there playing hard. All year, it just seems like one or two big plays seem to go the other team's way. We need to create those same types of opportunities on our ends."
Do you think it's time to go back to Andy Dalton to give this team a spark?
"I have no idea. That is above my pay grade. I just worry about my contribution to this team and my tight end position group."
Do you still have confidence in Ryan (Finley)?
"Yes. He works hard, and seems to know what he's doing back there. Whoever the guy is back there, that's our teammate, and we are going to do what we can to help support him."