CINCINNATI — I heard you Zac.
In fact, I wrote a column on Sept. 30 that stated I still believe the Cincinnati Bengals will make it back to the Super Bowl on the wings of its defense.
After the Bengals romped Atlanta 35-17 on Sunday at Paycor Stadium, Taylor got his “I-told-you-so” moment with the media.
“I hope you all listened to me when I got up here at 0-2 and said, ‘just be patient, this season is very young, we know what type of team we have, I know the faith that I have in these players and coaches,’ and that what they’ve done.”
But he wasn’t cocky or arrogant.
That’s not Zac.
He was simply pleased with the way the team performed, especially after the slow start on the heels of a Super Bowl appearance in February.
When the Bengals were 0-2, the media did what it does best.
It created chaos.
Doomsday had arrived.
But the players in the locker room feel confident after the win.
And here’s why.
The defense stifled the Falcons on Sunday and only gave up two big plays while the Bengals’ offense was unstoppable.
Quarterback Joe Burrow picked the Atlanta defense apart, and finished the game with 481 yards passing with three touchdowns and completed 34-of-42 passes.
And oh yeah, he added one running touchdown to add insult to defeat.
“I like passing touchdowns better,” Burrow said with a chuckle.
The offense clicked and Burrow spread the wealth and the football around.
Wide receivers Tyler Boyd hauled in eight catches for 155 yards and one TD while Ja’Marr Chase had eight receptions for 130 yards and two scores.
Tee Higgins pulled down five catches and was seven yards shy of 100.
“I whispered and told Joe I needed seven,” he said with a laugh after the game. “But it’s cool. We got that win and that’s all that matters.”
Burrow said he knew Higgins was close to the milestone that would have put the Bengals with three receivers at more than 100 yards receiving in one game.
“We were trying to get it to Tee but couldn’t make it happen in the end,” Burrow said. “Hopefully we can get one with all three of them over 100.”
The Cincy QB exploded for 196 yards passing in the first quarter, and led the Bengals to a 14-0 lead.
His first TD was a 60-yard bomb to Boyd on the fourth play of the game.
He started the second quarter in the same fashion, and connected with Chase for a perfectly thrown 27-yard scoring strike.
For Joey Franchise, it was his second-straight contest with a 300-plus passing yards and three touchdowns.
But the big takeaway from Sunday’s clobbering of Atlanta was the defense.
This was the seventh week in a row the Bengals ‘defense has not allowed a touchdown in the second half.
“(I’m) just very pleased with the job they are doing,” Taylor said of his defense. These guys have stepped up to the plate.”
The Falcons threatened to score in the second half, but were shut down by the stingy Who Dey defense.
“Really, they played well,” Taylor added. “They gave up the long, 10-minute drive for a touchdown, and the one-strike play in the two-minutes (before halftime.) Aside from that, I thought they did a great job in the first half. It really gives us the momentum and gave the offense the opportunity to regain our footing because we went there and had a turnover on downs there. The defense really stepped up and gave us great opportunities.”
Those opportunities were often and early.
After the Burrow-to-Boyd 60-yard TD on the opening drive, defensive safety Jessie Bates and defensive end Trey Hendrickson stifled Atlanta’s opening drive.
That momentum, as Taylor said, was crucial throughout Sunday’s win.
The Bengals have won the last four of five games.
“This season is still in its infancy stages,” he said. “Today gave us a chance to separate a little bit, and that’s what we need, but we know what’s on task next week: Monday Night Football at Cleveland — that’s a big game for us. Guys will be amped up and ready to go. It gives us an extra day to get healthy, and our guys are ready for the challenge.”
Things appear to be headed in the right direction for now, but it’s not perfect.
The rushing game is not where it needs to be.
Joe Mixon is an All-Pro running back, but has had a tough start to the season.
On Sunday, he carried the ball 17 times for only 58 yards and one TD.
He can catch the ball and hauled in three receptions for 33 yards.
But that will come in time.
For now, the defense is getting better, and the offense is starting to gel and click.
Burrow said he feels comfortable and safe behind the O-line, and believes he is also playing well.
“We’re getting our timing down,” he said. “We’re finding a rhythm and the defense will keep doing what it does. We’re finding our stride.”
The Bengals take on the Browns on Oct. 31 on Monday Night Football at the “Mistake on the Lake”.
Then, they come home to Paycor Stadium against Carolina on Nov. 6.
Two more wins before the bye week, and prior to the trip to the Steel City on Nov. 20, would put the Bengals at 6-3.
I’m still holding on to my preseason pick of 12-5.
The schedule favors my early prognostication and leaves some wiggle room when the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills come to town.
“It’s still a long season” Burrow said. “We have a big one this week, Monday night. We’re excited to get our first divisional win and keep this momentum going.
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