Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor said the wine his wife picked out to celebrate his first win tasted especially good Sunday night. It was a good feeling to finally be able to unwind a bit.
He didn’t take too much time to enjoy the moment, though, after the Bengals ended their 13-game losing streak with a 22-6 win over the New York Jets on Sunday.
The pressure is off now that they have their first win under Taylor, but the first-year head coach doesn’t want the Bengals to take the foot off the gas as they prepare to play the Cleveland Browns on the road Sunday for the first of two matchups between the AFC North rivals this month.
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“It’s nice to come in on Monday after a win,” Taylor said. “Kind of forgot what that feeling felt like, so it’s good to get back in that vibe, but now we have to put that game behind us and move on. We’ve got a big divisional game. We haven’t played Cleveland this year. They’ve got a really good team, tons of talent, so it’s a good chance to go get our first divisional win.
“I think the biggest thing now we’ve got to learn how to handle winning and find a way to be consistent with this because although that was our first win, it’s a good step in the right direction, but now the key is you’ve got to be consistent. You can’t change your approach and you can’t just wash away some of the things we did poorly yesterday, ‘Oh, yeah, we won. That’s OK.’ No, we’ve got to maintain that standard and find that consistency that’s going to lead to more wins.”
The workload was a little lighter Monday as the Bengals’ film review sessions were shorter following a game in which they had no turnovers, two penalties, including a delay of game taken on purpose, and the defense didn’t give up a touchdown or allow the opponent into the red zone. Special teams did its part to help with the field position, and Andy Dalton led the offense to its highest points total since Week 5.
Taylor said that doesn’t change the approach this week, though.
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“The guys want to be held accountable,” Taylor said. “They see there were even more plays we could have made that could have helped us in a lot of ways. That play didn’t come down to the last possession necessarily, but we are going to be in some here down the stretch that are. We can’t let anything slide at this point.”
Taylor has been seeing progress since a Week 8 loss to the L.A. Rams and kept waiting for the results to show it. During the Week 9 bye, he told the players it was “a new season” and to forget about the first half of the year.
The running game had its best output of the season in the two weeks after that, and the defense that had allowed 460 yards or more for four straight games tightened up to limit opponents under 380 yards each week since, while allowing 17 points or less in three consecutive games now – following a 49-13 loss to Baltimore.
Finally, everything came together Sunday and the Bengals never trailed after taking a 7-3 lead in the first quarter.
“We made the points after the bye: Let’s throw away the first eight weeks and just continue to work on getting better and the wins will come because of it,” Taylor said. “And you have seen it, outside of that Baltimore game where everything got away from us — you’ve seen improvement, especially on the defense, in all the other games. It was going to lead to a game like this where we held them under 10 points and offensively we were able to score more points than we have in the last couple weeks. It was just a total team effort.”
Taylor and his staff have been trying new wrinkles for weeks now, seeking to figure out what works best with the current personnel. Players who were expected to be a big part of the team, particularly on offense, haven’t been on the field together much, if at all this season, and Taylor said it’s taken some time to adjust their original plans to fit the personnel. They felt like they were finally getting on the same page during that Rams game.
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said there are pieces to their playbook that have been on the shelf because of players like A.J. Green and John Ross being unavailable. They also have been shuffling around the offensive line all season and just got left tackle Cordy Glenn back two weeks ago. Ross is expected to be active Sunday for the first time since going on injured/reserve following a Week 4 loss at Pittsburgh. He returned to practice Nov. 13 and is eligible to return to play for the first time this week.
“There’s an element of those things, playbook wise, that are probably unique to those two players (Green and Ross), but we’ve also found things that kind of unique to Auden Tate and found ways to use to TB (Tyler Boyd) in a variety of roles,” Callahan said. “We’ve kind of adapted and adjusted as it goes and found ways to use those guys strengths.”
The biggest piece to the puzzle, though, was a trust factor Taylor managed to build and keep with the players despite an 0-11 start. He hopes to keep building on that for the future.
“This goes back to April and the relationships we started building with the players because when you face some tough times, it’s easier to point fingers and blame and if there’s no relationship there, that’s easy to do,” Taylor said. “But when the players know you’ve got their best interest in mind and you are working your tail off to make them a better player and putting them in position to win, when things do go tough, they trust you and there’s love in that relationship. Everybody felt good for everybody else. No one felt good for themselves. They felt good for everybody else.”
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