Taylor, a fifth-round draft pick of the 49ers in 2017, joined the Bengals as a free agent in May and will be headed to Super Bowl LVI next week as the Bengals play the L.A. Rams on Feb. 13.
“It means a lot,” Taylor said. “It’s a huge deal for me personally because you know guys in this league who have played. Guys will play 12, 15 years and never get an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl so once I missed that first opportunity I didn’t know if it would ever come back. Just being here and being on this team with that next opportunity and actually playing in the game, it’s gonna be a huge deal for me. I’m 100% looking forward to it and just like so thankful for another opportunity at it.”
Taylor didn’t get his first action with the Bengals until Dec. 19 at Denver. He cleanly returned three punts a week after Phillips fumbled away two returns in an overtime loss to San Francisco the week prior. Taylor has remained in that role since then.
The slot receiver also was counted on in a key situation in the AFC Championship when he caught a two-point conversion pass to tie the game at 21 late in the third quarter.
“It’s been good,” Taylor said. “Finally getting some opportunities, just starting on the practice squad for the whole first half of the season, and once I got on the punt return team it felt great to be back out there and I feel like I’ve slowly earned more and more trust with the coaches. Enough trust for them to put me out there on a 2-point conversion. I think that’s a pretty big deal. It’s something that I was extremely thankful for that opportunity and thankful that they have that trust in me to go in there and get the job done.”
Taylor said the conversion play worked out exactly how the coaches drew it up, hoping the safety would match up with him in the corner and drift off to follow Ja’Marr Chase behind him.
“It was like a relief honestly because it’s been a few years before (that) I’ve seen the end zone,” Taylor said. “I think it was like, 2018 was my last touchdown. Yeah, so it was like more of a relief than anything because you put so much work in and so much effort to be able to get an opportunity like that and like actually see it happen again. And knowing how much work I put in to try to get back into that situation. And I finally got to feel that feeling again. It was a pretty cool moment for me.”
Right tackle Isaiah Prince is similar to Taylor in that he thought he might be blowing an opportunity early in his career last year when he opted out of the season because of COVID concerns. Now he’s grateful to be making an impact with the Bengals in his second season. The former Ohio State player had been claimed off waivers from Miami as a rookie in December 2019 and said Friday he second-guessed himself opting out, worried he would fall behind with his new team.
“During that time I went back to school, finished my undergrad at Ohio State, I did some boxing and I trained in Arizona with LeCharles Bentley,” Prince said. “I would say that time definitely helped prepare me for this moment and stay in focus, regardless of what’s going on around me. That was a very challenging time in my life, but I still had to wake up every day and stay focused on the things that really needed my attention. I think that definitely plays a key part and right now with everything that’s going on it’s just staying focused and controlling what you can control.”
The Bengals saw some positive signs Thursday when defensive end Cam Sample returned to limited participation in practice after not practicing at all last week because of a groin injury. The only player not practicing Thursday in the first session of the week was tight end C.J. Uzomah.
Wide receiver Stanley Morgan (hamstring) and defensive tackle Josh Tupou (knee) were both limited Thursday, and defensive end Trey Hendrickson was back to work following illness.
The Bengals practiced for a second day in a row Friday at the University of Cincinnati’s football bubble so the team could replicate the indoor atmosphere at SoFi Stadium and avoid the cold and snowy weather.