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Quick Hits With Zac Taylor Heading Into Monday Night Matchup Vs. Bills

Head Coach Zac Taylor
Head Coach Zac Taylor

With a couple of extra days to prepare for Monday night's game (8:30, Cincinnati's Channel 9 and ESPN) against the Bills at Paycor Stadium, head coach Zac Taylor spoke with senior writer Geoff Hobson:

GH: Jacksonville winning last Thursday allowed the Bengals to clinch a playoff spot before you did it yourselves on Saturday. Your brother Press happens to be the Jags offensive coordinator. Did you have any discussions about how he dialed up the winning points to get you into the playoffs?

ZT: Yeah, he asked me what I was sending him, and I said, 'We'll handle our own playoff berths. We'll win our way into it.' But I was happy for them. They've had a great turnaround this year. I'm always pulling for them. Obviously, it doesn't affect us. He's done a great job down there with Doug (Pederson).

GH: It's gone from, yeah the Jags helped us by beating the Ravens, to 'Man, now we might have to play the Jags in the playoffs.'

ZT: That's true. That's a Taylor family nightmare. It doesn't matter to me or Press, but it does to the rest of the family. So, we'll see.

GH: You've got to like what you're building here in terms of dominating the late season the past two years. Ten straight wins in December and January with the starters. Coming off the first undefeated November and December in Bengals history.

ZT: What's important is that you're playing your best ball at this point, and I feel like that's where we're heading. Certainly, sometimes there are going to be growing pains through the early part of the year as you sort out what kind of team you have, and what are your strengths and what are maybe some of your weaknesses. I feel like some of our losses early on helped us build the team that we are today.

Although we want to win them all, some of those were important turning points for us to get to where we're at here on December whatever-it-is and ready to go play Buffalo.

GH: Do any of those losses stick out where there was a learning moment?

ZT: I think you could take a little bit from all those games. The Baltimore game stands out. We didn't have a lot of possessions, we didn't maximize all the opportunities we had. Dallas, certainly, we got behind and we didn't fully handle that one the right way. Those are experiences we had to learn from, and I think we have. They're serving us well at this point.

GH: To win at New England against Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, that must be nice to add that notch to your belt to win that game in December the way you did.

ZT: I think so. I've been a part of a lot of games up there where they've gone the other way. So, for our team to just figure it out, find a way to overcome some adversity there in the second half and halt the momentum that they had built and give us the ball back, and the defense (being) able to close it out, I think that was an appropriate way to end that game and I'm happy that our guys were able to finish it off that way.

GH: What went into giving out game balls from the Nov. 27 game in Tennessee to the team's support staff? They got them the day after Christmas, which is a very nice gift by the way.

ZT: I think it was all hands on deck. We knew we were going to a team that was on a nice win streak and had been playing really good football. It was on the road, they were a tough team. We felt like we had a tough team and we just felt like everybody in the organization stepped up and had us prepared for that game, and the players on the field handled it the right way. We were able to get us what at the time was a really big win.

GH: Receiving a game ball gives a boost to some of the off-field staff members.

ZT: We can't do this without everybody. Obviously, the players on the field get all the attention, but there are a lot of people behind the scenes that make it all work and make it to where they can go out there with confidence and have everything they need to be able to perform at a high level, and so I think it's important to take time to appreciate all those people.

GH: Did the Tennessee game seem to be a takeoff point for this team? It was the third game in the winning streak and put you guys at 7-4.

ZT: It was a big moment for us at that point in the season, to be able to give us some momentum going into this back stretch of the year. I thought our guys handled it the right way and went in there with the right attitude, and we were able to come out of there with a win.

GH: The offense has been a little streaky the past couple weeks, getting shut out in second half last week and the week before that not scoring until the last play of the first half. Is there anything you're concerned about or is it just a matter of adjusting?

ZT: I think that there are easy things we can do to create more momentum for ourselves. Just kind of letting that take off here or there. But I think that this team's in a good spot right now and I've got a lot of confidence going into Monday night.

GH: With all the experience this team has in big moments, I imagine coming into this Monday night game must feel like just another day at the office.

ZT: Yeah, they're used to playing in big games. They're used to playing in all types of games, and so however this one starts out or in the middle looks like, our guys can pull from their memory banks on what's needed in that situation. So, I've got a lot of confidence that this group is battle-tested and they're ready for this next battle that's in front of us.

GH: What can you say about safety Vonn Bell and how much of a tone-setter he's been?

ZT: He steps up when he's needed most. When we need a play to be made, Vonn's usually in the picture somewhere making it happen. He's always been reliable, always been consistent. That's why he's one of our captains, that's why he's one of the best safeties in the league, and he's always just stepped up to the plate for us.

GH: One of the few miscommunications on a Burrow-Chase ball. That's bound to happen, isn't it?

ZT: Yeah, they made a play. Great learning situation for us and they hit us with Cover Zero, and they happened to win that down. That's a good one for all of us to learn from and be ready for it the next time it comes around.

GH: Burrow has a pretty good record against defenses when they play Cover Zero.

ZT: Sure. They did a great job with the moment they hit us on it, so they won that down. What was important was the next possession we were able to go down field, we didn't finish off with points, but I thought that in the pass game we did a great job attacking them and providing opportunities for us all game, but we just didn't always capitalize on them.

GH: Those first two drives, I don't think I've ever seen a Bengals offense do that to a Belichick defense.

ZT: Our guys were in a great rhythm there. Being able to attack, and they had a lot of confidence.

GH: How do you feel about your special teams unit heading into Monday night? Kicker Evan McPherson had a tough day, but punter Drue Chrisman seemed to respond in difficult conditions.

ZT: Obviously we didn't make those kicks but if you take the rest of special teams, I thought they played really well. They handled field position for us really well. They did a great job getting the most out of most of those units. And it's a good learning experience for Evan. Playing in that cold weather and taking the approach that's necessary to be successful in that environment so I think that's something he's going to file away and be better for the next time.

GH: Drue had a nice punt in the last minute. Even though he didn't get it out of bounds.

ZT: The placement in those situations is critical. Those are things as a young punter. (Special teams coordinator) Darrin Simmons will continue to make sure we do a great job there, but I think he's handled the conditions and the situations very well.

GH: When you lose a player like right tackle La'el Collins, schematically how much do you try to help the next guy coming in as a play caller?

ZT: We always try to be mindful of that on whether that's our starters or our backups. You don't want to lose the game because of some of the edge-rushers that we face week in and week out. We faced some great ones, we're going to face some really good ones this week as well. We are always mindful of that with our entire plan, with our protection plan, and what we call on third down. Trying to make sure we can help our line as much as possible.

GH: I have you for 24 different starting combinations on the O-line in your first three years here as head coach. This was your 25th and it took 16 games to get to 26. I guess you had some stability coming to you.

ZT: Yeah, we've been through quite a bit up there so it's good to see a group that's really settled in and communicating well together, playing well together. And now it's next man up at right tackle and we're excited to see him take advantage of the opportunity.

GH: Hakeem Adeniji said he's watched Super Bowl LVI many times because he feels like it will make him better.

ZT: Sure. I think that's the right approach to just embrace it and be able to learn from it.

GH: I'm sure that's the same for coaches, right? I'm sure you have watched it plenty.

ZT: No doubt. I've seen it enough to remember how that game unfolded.

GH: Now that you're gunning to get back to the Super Bowl, what have you learned from that game? Are those lessons surfacing up now as you flirt with another appearance?

ZT: It's a hard path to get there. You can't look that far ahead.

You take all those experiences you've had and learn from them. That's what we do. We've been here as a staff now for four years and been in 60-something games together and so you learn from all your experiences in year one to year three and four, so they prepare you for moments like these where you got a new tackle coming in and whether you need to help them or do things that help them. We feel like we've been in this scenario many times before.

GH: I guess one thing you take out of it, as we've seen in all of 2022, you have to go quarter-by-quarter, drive-by-drive.

ZT: Yeah, exactly. We can't take it any other way. Buffalo is the team in front of us, they're the biggest obstacle we've got to get to where we need to go and so our focus is going to be one hundred percent on Buffalo.