With celebration over, Bengals turn to next decisions

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Cincinnati Bengals: Five things to know about AFC North champs

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor said he got a little bit more attention than he normally would have Sunday evening when he walked into the church gym to watch his son’s basketball game.

Taylor rushed to the game and arrived at the end of halftime. He went to the bench and placed an AFC North Champions hat on his son’s head, and then he watched another victory for the Taylor family — a nice ending to a day that began with the Bengals clinching the AFC North in a 34-31 win over the Chiefs.

By Monday afternoon, the Bengals had ended celebrations and turned the page to Cleveland, but the coaching staff still needs to figure out how they want to attack the finale and whether they want to rest some starters or throw everything at the Browns. Though they’ve already clinched a home game in the playoffs, they can still improve their seed. They sit in the No. 3 spot with Tennessee and Kansas City ahead of them.

“Those are things we’ll have to talk through,” Taylor said Monday. “It’s still early in the week so we haven’t had to have those conversations yet, but you know, certainly things we need to (consider), guys that have some bumps and bruises. It’s better off making sure that they get healthy. That’s something we have to talk through what our approach is going to be.”

ExploreA look at playoff seeding, possible opponents for Bengals

Quarterback Joe Burrow is one of those who surely will be discussed in-depth. He came off the field for the final downs Sunday because of some soreness in his right knee and watched as Brandon Allen finished with a kneel and spike before Evan McPherson came on for the game-winning field goal as time expired.

Burrow said “it’s nothing serious” and he would have been able to play if there had been more time left, but he’s already been the most sacked quarterback in the league while playing on a surgically repaired left knee, a banged-up right knee and a dislocated pinky on his throwing hand.

Taylor said he wouldn’t be able to answer whether Burrow or any other player could be rested, and it isn’t likely that Saturday’s game between the Chiefs and Broncos would impact the staff’s thinking. If the Chiefs lose, the Bengals could still be playing for the top seed or at least the No. 2 spot.

“I think any anytime you’re getting ready to play you want to make sure your players that are going to play in a game have that mindset all week and are preparing themselves to play so a Saturday night game and then making that decision that night or the next morning it seems a little too close to kickoff,” Taylor said.

Taylor did say that left guard Quinton Spain isn’t expected to be available after coming out of Sunday’s game with an ankle injury and missing the entire second half. He doesn’t expect him to be out much longer than this week, though.

The Bengals should have linebacker Germaine Pratt back, as he cleared COVID protocols Monday. Taylor said he had to be activated Saturday from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday to have a chance to test out Sunday; however, his COVID test Sunday was positive so he couldn’t play. He would have needed two negative tests within an hour of each other Sunday to be cleared.

Evan McPherson had a bit of “tightness,” Taylor said, but will be ready to go Sunday as well and is expected to play.

Wide receiver Tyler Boyd said he isn’t worried about injury and thinks everyone will want to play Sunday. The Browns beat the Bengals 41-16 in the first matchup at Paul Brown Stadium and that accounts for the team’s only divisional loss. Cincinnati hasn’t beaten Cleveland since 2019.

“I’m trying to get 1000 (yards),” Boyd said. “I think I still need 160, somewhere around there. I still believe in myself, and I believe in our team to get the win. Regardless if they’re eliminated and we’re in, we want to go out there and beat them because they humiliated us last time. They put a whooping on us, and we didn’t like that. So, I think every guy is going to want to play.”

The wins this season have meant a little more to Boyd and other players that have been through all the lows of the past six years. Boyd arrived via the draft in 2016, right after the Bengals won the AFC North in 2015, and they haven’t been to the playoffs since.

Boyd said he and Joe Mixon, the team’s second-round pick in 2017, were the last two to leave the stadium Sunday night as they wanted to soak it in a little longer.

“I dreamed about this since I first arrived,” Boyd said. “I never really had a feeling like this in I can’t really tell you how long, so for me it hit me a little bit more, probably different than a lot of guys because it’s been a long wait for me so it meant everything.”

Safety Jessie Bates, a 2018 draft pick, shared similar sentiments and looks forward to even greater standards now.

“It’s a special feeling for sure, but, you know, that’s not the only thing that we’re trying to do here,” Bates said. :We’re not just trying to win the AFC North. We’re trying to actually be contenders and kind of take that next step. I think as you have success, you kind of have to re-evaluate stuff and set the standards a little bit higher, so hopefully we can do that.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Browns, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1290, 95.7, 102.7, 104.7

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