As he prepares for Sunday's AFC Divisional in Buffalo (3 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) as the winningest postseason coach in Bengals history, head coach Zac Taylor spoke with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson.
GH: What do wins in back-to-back postseasons mean for your program?
ZT: I think for our own team, our players certainly believe that we're capable of doing anything, but it does confirm, when you're able to win back-to-back division titles, back-to-back years in playoff wins, it's important. It confirms things that you worked for so the players can see those results. Just proud of the way they've approached everything and believed in each other and believed in what we're asking them to do. We'll have these seasons that are really special.
GH: It has to raise the profile of what's going on here in Cincinnati with players and coaches around the league. Media. No flash in the pan.
ZT: I know that this is a first-class organization and first-class fan base. It is nice for other people to see and recognize that, but it's not why we do it. We do it to make those who are part of this team proud. Anything that comes along with that is a nice cherry on top. We do it for our organization, we do it for our fan base and anything that's a byproduct of that is just icing on the cake.
GH: You not only have the most wins for a head coach in Bengals postseason history (four), you have more than Matt LaFleur and Mike Vrabel, as well as the same as Bills head coach Sean McDermott. Any reaction to that?
ZT: We just want to keep it going. Obviously, we've got a tough road one this week and that's all we really pay attention to.
GH: Joe Burrow said last week and he said it again this week that he wants to stay here and that he's got high regard for you, and the window is always open as long as he's here …
ZT: We want to have great relationships with our players. We want them to feel respected and valued and want to be a part of what we're doing here. Joe is obviously an enormous part of what we're doing here. He puts in the work and when players put in the work and see the game a certain way, I've always said this, it's an extension of the coaching staff and the quarterback needs to be that. He's been that for us. He's privy to more in-depth conversations about schemes and how we want to attack opponents than a lot of players are. He's earned all that and wants to be a part of that for the long haul.
GH: When someone was called a 'players coach' back in the day, it was sort of a kiss of death. But is it more important now with today's athletes? Or is that the wrong term?
ZT: I don't pay attention much to that phrase. We've got a lot of players that have earned our respect as coaches, so when they say things, I listen to them, and our coaches listen to them. When they've got feedback about schedule, I usually know it comes from a place of not trying to get out of something, it comes from a place of we want to go win a Super Bowl.
If we think that moving the schedule back an hour or changing how we do this period, that's why we've got captains to provide that feedback and I ask them for that feedback. We've just got so much respect for these guys for obvious reasons. When they talk, we listen. Whatever that label ("players' coach") provides us, it doesn't matter to me. That's just the way we operate.
GH: Ted Karras and Lou Anarumo gave us a good primer on how tough it is to play in Buffalo.
ZT: This will be my sixth trip to Buffalo but there's no playoff road that's easy. That's just the nature of it. You've got to earn it all and we've got a team that wants to earn it all. It's always going to be a challenge, but this team has never turned down a challenge.
GH: You could be down three starters on the offensive line in Buffalo. What did you take away from last year's group in your run to the Super Bowl? Does it impact what you do now?
ZT: Not really. These guys are all here for a reason. Jackson (Carman) was a second-round pick, D'Ante (Smith) has been in our organization for a while, along with Isaiah (Prince). Max Scharping, we claimed for a reason, he's a veteran that we thought highly of for these types of moments. Cordell's (Volson) been a day-one starter for us for obvious reasons and Ted's (Karras) been brought in to lead the charge in the middle. And Hakeem (Adeniji) is a guy who played a lot of games in a lot of key positions for us.
These are all guys that we've got here for a reason and now they're just all doing it together. That's the way it is. These guys are going to be ready for the challenge and (offensive line coach) Frank (Pollack) does a great job of getting them ready and getting their mindset right. I'm excited to watch them go operate. We're a different team. It's a year later. We've played a lot of games since then. These guys will be ready for their opportunity.
GH: It seems like you have Hakeem Adeniji and Jackson Carman playing in their natural spots at tackle.
ZT: Yeah, I thought both those guys fought against a good front and handled (last Sunday's game) really well, what we asked them to do. But they're going to have to do that again this week.
GH: Is there any concern about your offense, or have you just simply run into some defensive buzzsaws in the last month? Baltimore twice. The Patriots.
ZT: You've got to find a way. You've got to find a way. You're playing good teams at this point in the year; really good teams. That's just kind of the way it's fallen for us. We've faced some really high-end defenses, and we feel like we're a high-end offense. We've got to continue to find ways to score points.
We'll take the scores from our defense when we can get them. But we do pride ourselves on scoring on more possessions than we have. There's no lack of confidence by any stretch from our offense. We're just going to keep plugging away and find ways to score against Buffalo.
GH: Joe Burrow took what he could get in the Wild Card game. The Ravens weren't going to give you anything more than 20 yards, so he was literally hitting guys for 17-19 yards. He seems to just be able to evolve with the game.
ZT: He's always looking for ways to attack. He knows he'll take what they give him when they give it to him, but if there's a vulnerability in the defense that he knows he can attack that as well, then he'll do it. He plays really smart and that's what you need from your quarterback.
GH: Are you trying not to watch what your brother (Jacksonville offensive coordinator) Press does with the Jaguars in the playoffs? Or is it hard enough just to take care of yourself?
ZT: They played on Saturday night, so I was at home after our meetings. I got to watch the end of the game, I was happy for them, and then my family flew in (from Jacksonville) the next morning to watch us play. They'll repeat the process this weekend, which is fun. They've always supported us and we've always supported each other. There's obviously the doomsday situation with the Taylor family that could potentially be on the horizon, but that's nothing to Press and I. We do not care. It's for all the rest of the family at home.
GH: After a playoff win you're able to personally deliver a game ball to local bars, but regarding Bengals bars that are out of town, those are kind of out of your hands, right?
ZT: I film video messages for them. I have never been to a Bengals bar outside of Cincinnati. We have people that have done a great job identifying some places, and it'll open it up so people will have some awareness that's a possibility. Hopefully, that'll invite more Bengals bars to start popping up and more videos of them celebrating these fun wins getting out. I think that's good for the entire Bengals fan base to see far and wide where our fans are and how they're celebrating, and to all know that they're appreciated and that they all have an opportunity to share in the experience.
Like I've said many times, this isn't a one-year deal or two-year deal. I anticipate this being a forever deal. For people that maybe don't get a game ball this year or next year or last year, whatever it is, this thing's going to go on forever and there's going to be a lot of great opportunities for people to be involved.
GH: Have you been surprised to find out there's a Bengals bar in any particular place or city?
ZT: Nah, I don't have any good stories about that. That hasn't really come up for me.
GH: Have you noticed the atmosphere at these big games becoming more and more electric?
ZT: Yeah, it is. I feel like we've played a lot of big games here in the stadium since the end of last season, and our fans show up every single time. It's a really difficult environment for other teams to walk into now, and we appreciate that. I know how critical that is for our guys to be able feed off that energy, and they've been feeding off of it.
It's so much fun to win a home playoff game and let our fans enjoy the night, let the night carry on. I go pick up my kids on Friday and they're playing the fight song on their loudspeakers. It's really cool to see the city really rally around the team.