BENGALS POSTGAME QUOTES | DEC. 21, 2020
PITTSBURGH AT CINCINNATI
ZAC TAYLOR, Head coach
The quarterback run package you drew up for the game plan was very good to you tonight ...
"Yeah, I thought everybody did a good job executing it. (Ryan) Finley had some big runs for us. The big touchdown run was huge. It was a good job by those guys adjusting over the course of the game offensively. Our guys were able to handle a lot of things that we adjusted as the game went (on), and I'm really proud of the way they handled it. We were going to have to establish the run to win the game, and I thought those guys up front really did a great job, and the (half) backs — (Giovani Bernard and Samaje Perine) — ran hard."
You have to be really proud of how your defense handled the Steelers offense, too ...
"Yes. And you know, it came down to the turnover battle. We got three of them and we gave none of them up. We knew that was going to be a big emphasis going in, and those guys did a great job. Vonn Bell had a huge hit (on Juju Smith-Schuster), Jordan Evans had a (fumble) recovery, Mackensie Alexander had one (as well). So that was a big part of the game there."
You were down to your third string quarterback, you were missing running backs and offensive linemen. How big of a win is this for you and your team?
"These are things I've been talking about all week that just haven't shown up, and it's as resilient of a group as I've ever been around. They never stop believing in each other — never stopped believing in what we're asking them to do — and it showed up on a huge stage tonight against a division rival. Again, I can't say enough about how proud I am of the coaches, the players, the staff — everyone who has hung in there together. We're on week 15, and what a great night for those guys."
You've had third-quarter troubles on offense essentially since the bye week. What clicked on Finley's touchdown drive?
"We had some opportunities there in the third (quarter), but we didn't quite connect on them for some big plays. We finally got flowing there in the running game, to answer your question. I think it was the first drive of the fourth quarter — we got the run game going. We had a couple of those zone-read looks where Ryan was able to keep the ball and get some big plays. We were just able to finish the drive the right way with the touchdown. That was critical at that point time, because they were starting to grab some of the momentum with the points they scored in the third quarter, so that was a great response there by the offense."
It looked like Finley had the "keep" option to keep the ball all night, and they used it as he got close to the goal line. Was that by design, to wait until the right moment for him to keep the ball?
"They weren't all reads by design. During the course of the week, you know, that was something we just had to adjust (to), sometimes during the series, sometimes on the sidelines, and Finley did a great job handling it. So again, you're proud of the way that he was able to handle that adjustment over the course of the game. He did a great job."
You mentioned Bell's hit on Smith-Schuster. How do you feel that adjusted both the energy and attitude of your team tonight?
"(It) absolutely (did) and really, our defense was doing that all night. Aside from those first two drives of the third quarter, I felt our defense was playing with a ton of energy. They were getting guys on the ground, and I didn't see many missed tackles. They made some big one-on-one plays down the field — that was going to be a big part of the game. They the Steelers do a great job of finding those one-on-ones and getting those big plays, and I thought our DBs really stepped up and made those plays when their number was called."
What can you say about the toughness of Giovani Bernard tonight? The franchise is 12-1-1 when he has 15 rushes or more in a game ...
"That's a stat I did not know, but that's good to know now. Thanks for waiting until week 16 to throw that one out there (laughing). Gio, he was a workhorse for us today, (and) in the passing game too. He had to he had a choice route there in the end zone that he scored on (and) did a great job on. I just can't say enough about his leadership and the way he's led this offense. As guys have gotten injured — we've had a lot of leaders get injured; a lot of energy guys — and Gio has just been that steady guy for us. I thought he ran hard today. There was a bunch of extra yards he got there, and it was fun to watch him go."
It looked like Finley took some hard hits and almost might not finish the game ...
"He made it. You know, he hung in there. He took some shots. And it he made it through, and I'm proud of him for that."
It feels like you beat Pittsburgh at their own game with strong defense and a lot of running plays. I don't think a lot of people thought you could do that ...
"I thought our coaches put together a really good plan that players were able to execute, and it led to a fun ending."
What made you think running the ball two times more than you threw it would be the right game plan for today?
"It was just the decision we made earlier in the week. You've got a long week to think about it, and we played them before. And, really, I thought we had a good plan the first time we played them —we just struggled on third down and with the turnovers. But again, our guys just did a good job executing and played with a ton of energy. You know, it was just fun to watch them go."
Pittsburgh usually makes teams pay for giving up turnovers, and tonight you seemed to flip that on them ...
"I thought our guys controlled the energy throughout the entire game. And a divisional game. That's important."
Is this the biggest win of your head coaching career?
"I don't really worry about that. We just needed a divisional win against a team that we've struggled with for a while now. There's no surprise (there). Just to see the response of our players in the locker room after the game ... they earned that. They've been working hard every week, (and) we haven't gotten these wins. It's just fun to watch them enjoy themselves, and they will carry that energy over this week. We're going go on the road on a short week to Houston. (It's) just fun to watch our guys celebrate and have fun."
Could you sense a different feeling or tone in the locker room this week?
"I really don't think so, because I really feel that each week. The result hasn't always been what we thought it was going to be. But to be quite honest with you, I'm always waiting, I'm always observing every practice, every interaction we have with them, waiting for that lull, waiting for that lack of energy, waiting for them to take a day off. And I haven't found it. I'm ready to call them out on it, and I haven't found it yet. And so, again, (I'm) just thankful for all those guys that keep working every single day."
How inspiring was it to see one phase of the team picking up another when one might have a struggle for a series tonight?
"Yeah, that's key. You know, it's really just all three phases playing off each other, and I oftentimes say that after a loss. We just haven't been able to respond when the other unit needs the other one, and I thought today it was really good, just all-around team football by all three phases."
Who gets a game ball today?
"We gave everybody a game ball today. It's been a long five weeks, really, since the bye. And again, for these guys to have this type of energy every single day they come in the building, waiting for a moment like this — that's not something we do often — but all these guys they come to work every day. I'm proud of them, and everyone deserves to cherish this night."
So, it's all 60 guys getting a game ball?
"However many, (yes)."
You've been asked about your optimism; how do you feel right now? Does it feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders?
"No, because this has been the expectation. Every Sunday, when you walk on the field, you expect this result. It's obviously been disappointing when it hasn't been that way, but I don't feel any different. I'm excited obviously, for all the guys in the locker room that put in the work, like I said. But this is been the expectation for us, and this is going to continue to be the expectation. It just feels like we knew we were going to win, and we won. That's just how I feel right now."
Even though you didn't win the first meeting against Pittsburgh this season, you ran the ball well, rushing more than 100 yards. Was that the genesis for tonight's plan, thinking you could run on these guys, so you should emphasize the run in this game?
"In the first half of the first game, we didn't get enough first downs to allow us to get into a flow and get some of these runs called. So, just converting early on some of the third downs — I think we were 0-for-3 to start, then we converted a couple there to get the drives extended — then you get a chance to call the game how you want to call it, and you get a lot of different run looks, getting off the ground. And so, again, the early third down conversions ended up helping us there in the first half."
RYAN FINLEY, Quarterback
You took some big hits in the running game tonight. How do you feel?
"I'm sure I'll be sore tomorrow. We ran the ball so well throughout the entire game. It opened up everything for us. I thought our defense played tremendous. They gave us turnovers, short fields, and so many chances to get the ball back. All around, it was an outstanding team win."
Your running game was a one-two punch with you and HB Giovani Bernard getting physical yards. Was that part of the plan?
"I wouldn't say it was as heavy as you saw tonight, but it's a big thing when you can eliminate one guy out of the box that you don't have to block and read. It just kind of came about. I thought Zac Taylor called an unbelievable game. It was the type of game we were expecting — gritty at times with a lot of running the ball. It was really well done from everyone involved."
How much of a relief was it that the defense had three takeaways in the first half?
"We preached that all week — 'Win the turnover battle.' When you get three takeaways on defense, the offense owes it to you to win that football game. I'm happy we could do enough to get the defense the win because they deserved it."
What does a win like tonight do for your confidence in your career?
"This is a special one for me, and for all of us. We needed this, to have this feeling. We needed to share that in the locker room. It feels really good."
Describe your rushing touchdown, and what made you believe you can have success running running there...
"That's kind of how the game unfolded, with what they were giving us with 11 personnel. Zac, Brian (Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan), and Jimmy (Bengals offensive line coach Jim Turner) did a really good job of seeing what personnel groupings they were giving us, because the Steelers like to change it up. We had a good menu of runs versus all those personnels. We executed them really well."
On the touchdown run specifically, why did it work?
"(Taylor) tagged 'read' on it. That's not even a play that normally is a read, but he just tagged the word 'read' on it. He said if everything crashes, just pull it. That's pretty much what happened, and I walked it in."
Did you think you could have so much success as a mobile quarterback?
"It helps when you have a 30-yard touchdown and don't get touched (laughs). That helps with the average. It's always been a part of my game, to use my athleticism to get out of issues. It's not heavy with what I do, but it's something I can definitely do on occasion, and this was a game that called for it."
Had you run that play during the week at all?
"We had not run that play. That was Zac just being really headsy and tagging it on there. Why not?"
You hit a lull to start the second half, and then strung something together late in the third quarter. Was there a play that got the offense going?
"We stayed true. We had talked about how we were going to win this game, and that was to not turn the ball over and to get takeaways on defense. That was the formula we came into the game with to execute, and that's exactly what we did. And to run the ball — if you run the ball like that and your defense gets three takeaways, that's the formula to beat good football teams. That's what we did tonight, and we beat a very good football team."
You've been thrown into some tough positions this year. Did that shake your confidence at all? And how confident were you going into tonight's game?
"Everyone goes through ups and downs with their confidence. It was really good for me to just get a good week of work and reps. Getting reps is a big deal, with the walk-throughs and seeing things unfold behind center. That was really important for me. We had such a good game plan, and I thought we executed it perfectly."
You've been through a lot this year, and got bumped down the depth chart. What's it like to have this performance and beat the Steelers for the first time in five years?
"It's exciting. I'm obviously very happy, but very happy for everyone involved too. The faces of everyone after in the locker room postgame — it's fun. We hadn't had too many postgame locker rooms like that recently, and it's always fun to get a win. Even better beating the Steelers on Monday night. I'm just happy for everyone involved."