Taylor on aggressive approach in opener: ‘You’ve got to go take it’

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor pleads to an official in the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
Caption
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor pleads to an official in the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Credit: Jeff Dean

Credit: Jeff Dean

CINCINNATI -- Zac Taylor says if the Cincinnati Bengals want to win this year, they are going to have to be a little more aggressive than the past two seasons.

That includes his play calling. Sometimes it will work out, sometimes it won’t, but Taylor believes that is the team’s best chance to be successful.

On Sunday in the team’s 27-24 overtime win over Minnesota, the Bengals were 2-for-3 on fourth down conversions – all three attempts somewhat gutsy in either the play design or decision.

“If we want to do great things here, we’ve got to go get them,” Taylor said Monday before the team turned focus toward this Sunday’s matchup at Chicago. “We’ve got to be aggressive. We can’t let them fall in our lap and come to us. You’ve got to go take it.”

After the Bengals took a 14-7 lead into halftime, they got the ball to start the second half and wanted to take advantage of the chance to widen the gap and keep momentum after finishing the first half on a 14-0 run over the final two minutes.

On fourth-and-1 from the Minnesota 25-yard line the opening drive of the third quarter, a field goal would have been the easier choice, but Joe Burrow scrambled for a 2-yard gain and three plays later, Joe Mixon ran it in for a touchdown.

That was the fourth-down play least talked about, though. The final one in overtime, when Burrow needed a centimeter and lobbed a pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah for a 32-yard gain to set up the game-winning field goal was deemed the best play call of the week by EdjSports.com.

It was the fourth down attempt following the first one in the third quarter that sparked controversy – when the Bengals went for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 30-yard line. Mixon slipped and was stuffed at the line of scrimmage for no gain, and Minnesota took advantage of the short field to cut its deficit to 21-14.

“If you specifically look at that play in our minus territory, to me, the side of it I Iook at is we scored three touchdowns on three consecutive possessions, let’s go get a fourth touchdown and make this thing 28-7,” Taylor said. “Let’s go win this thing 42-7 and blow it wide open. And it didn’t happen. And yeah, in that moment they regained momentum. Thankfully our guys were able to get their feet back under them and win the game for us. But that’s how I look at it. And again, that’s not just having faith that our offense is going to convert our fourth and one, but faith in our defense, to give them the ball right there in field goal range that they’re going to get a stop. Because we’ve got a great defense this year, and we’re gonna lean on them a lot. Again, that’s just having faith in our players that we’re gonna make it work. We’re going to be aggressive and we’re going to have that mindset and we’re not gonna let other teams dictate what happens in the game.”

Mixon, Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Uzomah all said after the game how much they appreciated the fact the coaches trust them enough to make plays and be aggressive. The defense maybe felt a little differently.

“I was (upset) when we went for it on fourth down and they go down and score,” free safety Jessie Bates said Monday. “It was a whole different ball game then when we were up 14, that’s a whole completely different ball game. But Coach Taylor did a really good job of bringing us to the sideline after they scored on us and said, ‘Hey, this is who we are going to be this year. We’re going to be aggressive. We’re going to go for it on fourth down. We’re going to call cover zeros.’ And that kind of gives us as a defense the ‘Well, it is what it is. We’re going to go out there, whatever the situation is, we’re going to play it out.’ I don’t think a lot of people were happy with the fourth down call but it is what it is. That’s football.”

Taylor spoke to the team after the game about that call and noted everyone is “on the same page” about it now. There was another time in the fourth quarter when the Bengals had a fourth-and-3 near midfield and could have gone for it, leading 24-21, but decided to trust the defense to make a stop. Cincinnati held Minnesota to a 53-yard field goal as time expired.

When it comes to making those decisions, Taylor said he factors in analytics, flow of the game and what the situation is.

“We wanted to start the season strong,” Taylor said. “You got to start 1-0 in front of our fans and start with the momentum. Every game is going to be different but this is a team I really believe in. It allows you to be aggressive in certain moments knowing it’s going to work out more times than not, but when it doesn’t they are going to hold the fort down and be able to rally and create some wins. We are not going to fear failure. We are going to be aggressive. We are going to go get some wins. Our team responded the right way.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Bears, 1 p.m, Fox, 1530, 102.7, 104.7