In a short practice week with Saturday's Christmas Eve game looming (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in New England, head coach Zac Taylor spoke with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson.
GH: After Sunday's win, you and the team seemed to have a business-like approach. Not very boisterous. Everyone seemed to realize a lot left to play for with three games left.
ZT: Yeah, kind of like I told this team, we haven't clinched a playoff spot, we haven't won the division. It's a tough, tough conference this year, tough division, so you've just got to keep winning. You've got to do it all the way through the season, just keep winning and keep finding a way. I know what's on the horizon, I've been to New England many times and know how challenging it can be up there. We just want to make sure our guys have the right mindset before we get on that plane.
GH: There is kind of a mystique to playing in New England, isn't there?
ZT: You've just got to play really sound football in all three phases. They take a lot of pride and they play really good, complementary football. They feed off the other phases, and so you've got to be on top of it. Of course, they've got the greatest coach to ever do it. I know that our guys will be ready. They're prepared for teams like this, but I know that the environment is difficult when you go up there and the weather is not going to be great, which we love. We take great pride in that, so we're just excited for the opportunity this weekend.
GH: It sounds like one of those 'cyclone bombs' could be coming through New England, and it might be 18 degrees on Saturday which would make for the coldest game since you've been with the Bengals. And maybe some snow.
ZT: That's great. I've never gotten to play in a storm bomb before, so there's a first time for everything and I'm excited if that's the opportunity we get, we'll embrace it and be happy about it.
GH: It looked like Germaine Pratt gave you the ball after his interception. And then you gave it back to him when you gave out game balls.
ZT: Yeah, that was just at halftime, we said we need some turnovers. We need someone to step up and make some plays. First, it was Tre Flowers who got that one, and then we poked some balls out on fumbles and then Germaine got the pick, so that was good to see. We needed that.
GH: Has anyone ever come over to you and given you a ball like that right after an interception?
ZT: I think it's just an initial reaction right there. I said we need some turnovers and then we moved onto the next play.
GH: It has been said that Germaine wakes up each morning thinking about the ball, and look at the plays he made recently on Travis Kelce and Tom Brady.
ZT: He's really done a great job leading the charge in our turnover conversations and always trying to get it out. Knowing that you can chip away at it 100 times and it's that 101st time you knock it out, it's all worth it. That's kind of the mentality he's subscribed to, and he's come up big over the last couple years for us with that mindset.
GH: Did you notice during the week that the defense seemed to have a chip on their shoulder after the 'fairly good' comment from Tom Brady?
ZT: Sometimes you'll take any information you can get and try to run with it and try to create fuel for yourself. That's one of the things our defense did this week, and I'm not going to stop them. If that's what they want to do, I'll let them keep feeding into that. If it makes them play great in the second half, so be it. We'll take whatever we can get.
GH: Tyler Boyd said after Sunday's game he couldn't remember a defense playing so many coverages and that it was challenging.
ZT: It was. They really did. All the things that you prepare for that they've shown over a pretty good length of time, sometimes you get bits and pieces of it, we felt like we got all of it. Whether it was low red zone or third down or even normal downs, empty, just getting some really funky looks. I thought our guys did a good job managing it. We didn't have great rhythm in the first half, but in the second half (we did) once we started getting better field position to run the ball.
They threw a lot at us, but our guys did a good job handling it and giving ourselves some opportunities and doing a good job adjusting when we needed them to with some of the screens that we threw. It was just a good response from our guys but yes, it was very challenging. They have a really good defense. I've got a lot of respect for their defensive coaches, defensive players. They played at a very high level. They've got smart guys that allow them to do all that stuff and it creates a real challenge for the offense.
GH: Obviously they didn't give you the big play, but Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase seemed to keep their cool.
ZT: Yeah, they know their opportunities are going to come and we knew No. 24 (Carlton Davis III) is a good corner. So, it was just part of every play is not perfect in that game but we kind of just bought our time and took advantage of the other opportunities that we got, put points on the board and took control of the game there in the second half.
GH: Have you ever been a part of a defensive effort like that? Four straight turnovers on their side of the field.
ZT: No, that's pretty rare. I can't think of a time off the top of my head that I've been involved in something like that.
GH: DJ Reader is just the man.
ZT: DJ Reader is one of the best players in pro football right now. He probably doesn't get enough credit, you know I'm not out there in the world to know what people are saying about him but I can't imagine that people understand what kind of force he is inside there, and just the value he brings off the field and in the locker room as well. Just that killer instinct that he's got. He's always got a championship mindset, the way that he prepares, the way that he plays, the way that he rallies guys around him. He is one of the best to do it.
GH: And if he's not the most underrated guy in the league, B.J. Hill is.
ZT: Yeah, I think we've just got a bunch of guys that probably don't get enough credit because we've got so many of them. It's hard to just nail down one or two because that's just what our whole defense is built off of. Guys that just play beyond what people thought their potential was and they step up and they're just so dang smart and they complement each other really well with their play styles.
GH: The six-game winning streak has just been marked by the depth. Early in the streak on offense, you had to replace running back Joe Mixon and had to replace two receivers and now you're replacing your two defensive ends. But now you've got Joseph Ossai and Cam Sample contributing. Time for the scouts to take a bow.
ZT: Yeah. There's no question. They've done a great job of bringing in the right people that fit our needs and that fit our play styles. No one wants to be the weak link here. Everyone just wants to rise to the challenge each week.
GH: Lou Anarumo seems to be dominant in the second half. That speaks to him and what you guys do as a staff defensively.
ZT: Everybody. Lou, the defensive staff. Putting the guys in great positions and then the players all take a deep breath, kind of settling into the game and playing their best football in the second half which is encouraging to see.
GH: It's an interesting dynamic going from playing the greatest quarterback of all time to the playing the greatest coach the next week. And you guys don't seem to blink.
ZT: We're playing the New England Patriots. We're not playing any one person. We've got to have everybody on board and ready to go and have a great week of work. It's a shorter week than normal, and so our guys have got to be able to handle that the right way. I trust that this team will be able to do that.
GH: I'm sure going to New England and playing in that aura presents its own challenge.
ZT: Yeah, we need a win. We're in a position now where we've got to keep winning. We've got good confidence that stems from these wins that we've had, but just because you won last week doesn't mean that you're just going to roll the ball out there and win again this week. We've got to put in the work. Just getting our leadership to make sure that that message is said soundly through the locker room. It's the key this week.