CINCINNATI (AP) — Cincinnati owner Mike Brown stuck with Zac Taylor through two dreadful seasons as the first-time head coach compiled a 6-25-1 record and much of the shrinking fanbase yawned.
Different coach, same old Bungles.
Before the 2021 season, Brown voiced unwavering support for Taylor, but also made it clear he wanted to see results now.
The patience of the 86-year-old owner and his family was rewarded with an AFC North title and two playoff wins that have the Bengals one game from their first Super Bowl in 33 years.
Taylor thanked Brown for his trust by presenting him with a game ball after the first playoff win.
“If I coach in any other organization, I would not be here in the third year,” the 38-year-old Taylor said. “That’s the truth.”
For Taylor it was about getting the right confident, team-first players together at the right time. He got the first-round draft picks he wanted in quarterback Joe Burrow in 2020 and receiver Ja'Marr Chase in 2021. Both became superstars and the new faces of the re-energized franchise.
Taylor will match wits Sunday with Andy Reid, who's led Kansas City to a fourth straight AFC title game.
“What a great job he's done," Reid said. “That says it all. Things didn't look great last year and he hung in there, made some changes, did some things and kept on keeping on. I thought he did a great job this year.”
Cincinnati won a postseason game for the first time in three decades in the wild-card round, and then won its first road playoff game in team history last Saturday in Nashville on Evan McPherson's field goal as time ran out.
The Bengals (12-7) now go to Kansas City to face a team that's been to the Super Bowl in each of the past two seasons and won it two years ago.
Taylor was a 35-year-old quarterbacks coach for the Los Angeles Rams when he was summoned to Cincinnati to get the house in order again after the firing of Marvin Lewis after 16 seasons. Some of the team's familiar faces — Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Giovani Bernard — began to be moved out.
Safety Jessie Bates was a second-year player when Taylor was hired in 2019.
“He wanted a locker room that’s connected, a team that’s connected,” Bates said. “We have really good coaches that put us in great position, but he really wants the players to take it over. Just thankful to have a coach like that that can say ‘this is the standard and I want the players to take it over.’ That’s what he’s done. He’s a hell of a coach.”
The Bengals went 2-14 in Taylor's first season, and then 2020 was morass of injuries — including Burrow, the rookie quarterback — and coronavirus issues as the Bengals played in empty or near-empty stadiums on the way to a 4-11-1 finish.
“We certainly went into training camp (and) the early part of this season with the understanding we could achieve anything we set our mind to this year because we have the talent, we have the chemistry and we have the character,” Taylor said.
“It’s about getting hot at the right time and we got hot at the right time. In December we were playing good football, and it’s carried us to this point. Our guys have a lot of confidence.”
After the Bengals' playoff win over Las Vegas on Jan. 15, Taylor gathered some players and took game balls to three Cincinnati sports bars as a way of thanking the fans for their patience. Taylor was carded at one bar, which was the source of much delight among his players.
“I know there’s a lot of tremendous energy in the city,” Taylor said. "I do feel that. It hasn’t changed anything about me. I still come in here every single morning, and I’m in the basement of the stadium and we get our work done and we go home when it’s dark outside and see our families.
“You do feel that, you do appreciate that because there’s a lot of people that are supporting us, that are along for this ride and I’m happy for them,” he said. "But it doesn’t change what our approach is. Those are all things that we’ll reflect on weeks from now at the end of the season. Right now we’re in the thick of it, and we still got a lot of work to be done.”
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