Bengals lean on Super Bowl experience

Three years ago, Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor was preparing for a Super Bowl with the L.A. Rams. Now he is game planning for his first one as a head coach against his former team.

The Bengals play the Rams in Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

Cincinnati secured its first Super Bowl trip since the 1988 season on Sunday when they rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat the two-time defending conference champion Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Rams lost to the New England Patriots to end the 2018 season when Taylor was a quarterbacks coach for them, and they punched their ticket back by rallying in the fourth quarter Sunday to beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship. Taylor was hired by the Bengals the week after the Super Bowl, ending his two years with L.A.

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“I think just kind of be aware of the timing of everything and the media and what all happens there,” Taylor said of how his past experience helps him. “Certainly after the Super Bowl (in 2019) was an interesting time for me because I never got a chance to talk through with the staff what we would have done differently, what we would have kept the same. It was such a sudden change for me. But just the experience of being there. We’ve got a lot of coaches (who have). Brian Callahan has been there twice. Frank Pollack has been there. We’ve got so many guys that have been there, kind of been through it. We lean on everybody… to navigate these next two weeks.”

Taylor on Monday downplayed the significance of facing his old team, noting how much the roster has turned over since he left for Cincinnati. However, he acknowledged how important those two seasons in L.A. were for his own coaching career.

Sean McVay, a Dayton native and Miami University grad, was considered an up-and-coming coach when he was hired by the Rams in 2017 at the age of 30, making him the youngest head coach in the NFL’s modern era. His quick success drew attention to his assistant coaches, and that’s how the Bengals ended up with Taylor.

“I know Aaron Donald’s back, but aside from that probably not a lot of other guys that were there when I was there,” Taylor said. “Offensively, they’ve had quite a bit of turnover as well. There are a lot of changes that have been made by them and us, but I will say this, working with Sean were two of the best years of my life. It was fun. You loved coming into the building every single day. That’s a lot of our messaging to our building and our staff and our players is we want guys who are willing to come in here and work, but they enjoy the process of walking into this building with a smile on their face every day.

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“That was how I felt every day I worked for him. I felt strongly that the other players and coaches in L.A. felt that way as well. Those two years had a significant impact on me and how I go about my daily job and how you game plan and how you run a team. I owe a lot to Sean.”

Cincinnati has benefited from whatever Taylor learned from McVay.

Taylor said after the game Sunday he hopes there are many more Super Bowl trips to come with the Bengals, but his first time making it will always be most special to him.

The Bengals got back to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday night to find fans waiting outside the gates to welcome them back with cheers and applause. Taylor then went to Gametime, a sports bar in Mount Healthy, where he passed out another game ball.

By the time Taylor arrived back home, his kids were asleep but he had seen his sons, wife, parents, sister and brother at the game in Kansas City. Some of his neighbors were waiting out on the lawn, still celebrating the victory but waiting to congratulate him in person.

“I was just ready to get to bed,” Taylor said with a laugh. “It was a pretty cool scene to come home to.”

“It was overall a great night,” Taylor added. “I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep yet, still taking it all in, but we’re going to quickly turn our focus to the L.A. Rams.”

The Bengals also got some positive news on tight end C.J. Uzomah on Monday. After he went up for a high pass from Joe Burrow that went off his fingers in the first half Sunday, Uzomah seemed to bend his knee backward as he fell to the ground with a swarm of defenders on him. However, Taylor said it appears to be just an MCL sprain and his prognosis is “encouraging initially.”

The Bengals are finalizing their travel plans for Los Angeles. The NFL tentatively planned on them arriving in L.A. on Thursday, but Cincinnati is hoping to take advantage of the warm weather for as many practices as possible next week.

“You’ve got a good plan in place to allow people to take care of their travel plans in the families, but at the same time be focused on the game,” Taylor said. “And so I think all the teams have done differently over the years, we’re going to do what’s best for our guys, to make sure that we can get the prep work done here in town that we need to try to keep things as business as usual this week, and then figure out what we’re going to do next week, to get into warmer weather and kind of get a routine out there in California. So, you know, we feel like we’ve got the structure of a good point in place. And we’ll finalize that stuff today or early (Tuesday) morning.”

SUPER BOWL LVI

Sunday, Feb. 13

SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles

Bengals vs. Rams, 6:30 p.m., NBC, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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