Bengals’ Bates: ‘I have to play better for us to win games’

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) tries to break away from Cincinnati Bengals free safety Jessie Bates (30) during the first half an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) tries to break away from Cincinnati Bengals free safety Jessie Bates (30) during the first half an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Credit: Gene J. Puskar

Credit: Gene J. Puskar

CINCINNATI -- Jessie Bates said he has used the bye week during each of his four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals to do some extra self-scouting. He knows there is always room for improvement, but this time around he was a little more critical of his performances.

Before last week’s break, Bates asked safeties coach Rob Livingston his thoughts on what he has done well and what areas weren’t as strong, then took some time over the weekend to reflect on that. The 2018 second-round draft pick is adamant he has to be better for his team to get to where it wants to be.

The Bengals (5-4) went into the bye week with back-to-back losses to the Jets and Browns, and arguably their worst played games defensively, but are looking to make a second-half run to stay in contention with a tightly packed AFC. Bates, normally a strong tackler, even struggled the past two games and hopes to be a part of helping the team get back on track.

“I haven’t played as well as I wanted to,” Bates said Monday after the first practice since last Tuesday. “I’m just happy that we’re in a situation to win ball games, honestly. This is the best situation we’ve been in going into a bye weekend so it’s not more about the personal level. Obviously, like I said I have to play better for us to win games and I know that. I haven’t played up to that level, but I think I can.”

“I feel like my mind, honestly, it was on other things throughout the first part of the season and for me to be able to accept that and talk to former coaches at Wake Forest and former players and talk to other guys, my former teammates about their situation, it [those conversations] really put it in perspective. Like ‘hey, bro. Nobody’s feeling sorry for you. You gotta go out there and perform whether things have gone your way the first half of the season or not.’ I can’t be thankful enough for this bye weekend because it’s really helped me mentally going into the second part of the season and I hope my teammates can see it as well.”

Bates admitted he was maybe pressing too hard and thinking too much about his contract situation after he was unable to secure an extension with the Bengals during training camp when most of those deals typically get done.

Defensive end Sam Hubbard got a four-year, $40 million deal done before camp and it seemed the Bengals were wanting to reward Bates in similar fashion. Bates was ProFootballFocus.com’s top-graded safety in the league last year. He’s currently ranked 75th of 92 safeties in 2021 with a grade of 55.6.

Bates is in the final year of his rookie contract.

“I think it kinda goes into everything,” Bates said. “I feel like I’m at a better head space now than I was at the beginning of the season, so caught on proving the wrong people right and the main thing I should be focusing on is proving the right people right as far as my coaches, my teammates, my family and not worry about all of the other stuff. I know that’s gonna work out. I know what type of player I am, that stuff’s gonna work out regardless, but like I said I gotta be better for this team so I’m excited for it.”

Bates said he spoke with some former Wake Forest teammates about life, not just football, and they helped put into perspective there are worse situations to be in right now. He also had a chance to be inspired by other elite athletes like Steph Curry and LaMelo Ball while attending an NBA game between the Warriors and Hornets on Sunday in Charlotte. He had courtside seats, courtesy of teammate D.J. Reader, and flew back to Cincinnati that night feeling energized and ready to get back to work Monday.

The Bengals have eight games left, including at Las Vegas on Sunday, and Bates has typically played his best football during the second half of seasons.

“Obviously, you get better throughout the season, and I think that’s why I probably play better in the second half of the season because you kind of see the same things over and over,” Bates said. “It’s a copycat league. We’ve given up four posts for touchdowns and stuff like that, so we’ll see that. And hopefully not just me can play better in the second half of the season. Our whole team can. We have really smart guys, really intelligent guys. So I’m sure we’ll be fine in the second part of the season.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Raiders, 4:05 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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