CINCINNATI — Championship teams usually reveal their character in the stretch run. The Bengals believe they are starting to show theirs.
A road win over Tennessee without Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Mixon was impressive. Beating Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs when trailing by a touchdown in the fourth quarter and overcoming self-inflicted wounds was downright eye-opening.
But Zac Taylor made it clear Monday that the joy of one win will not get in the way of preparing for the next game up. And that next game up happens to be against a team Joe Burrow has yet to conquer in four tries in the NFL.
What Taylor wants to see next from the Bengals is a type of consistency that the team they just beat has displayed in their now-four year run among the AFC elite.
“It’s not that emotional because I think we’re at the point we think we’re a great team,” Taylor said. “Yeah, it was (against Kansas City) a team who has been so consistent over the last couple of years, they’ve been at the top year after year. There’s a consistency there. We have a lot of respect for that. At the same time, nobody in our locker room is surprised. There’s not those highs and lows that come with that. We’re ready to move on to Cleveland. There’s a great opportunity right in front of us. A big challenge.”
"We're at the point where we think we are a great team." Zac Taylor on why his Bengals are not about to overlook the Browns Sunday. Insists it's all about a business approach. pic.twitter.com/icMrtGwCzd
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) December 6, 2022
The Bengals have all the ingredients. They have the experience of a Super Bowl run already. They have the leadership on the field. They have playmakers abound in all three units. There isn’t a more complete team in the NFL than the Cincinnati Bengals.
But they have to prove they can handle success and pressure. They know full well that the feel-good vibes of two terrific wins goes right down the tubes with a home loss to a Browns team that has had their number and has a quarterback playing his second game back from a two-year hiatus.
How serious are the Bengals taking Zac Taylor’s “challenge” this week?
“I was able to come back home after going into work, victory Monday,” Jessie Bates said. “Nobody has to go to work. We got a victory Monday like Zac said. I walk in there around 9:30, and you see damn near the whole team in there, getting lifts, getting treatment. So yeah, I feel really good personally. And then as a team, I think we’re really (good), as well.
“Every week kind of presents its own challenge. That’s why I always tell people like, live in the now. Live in the moment and just take care of week in and week out and in the future, we’ll be just fine setting up for the playoffs. Yeah, the whole mindset was these games are going to be playoff-type of games. We go into Tennessee. Instead of going to Arrowhead, they come to us and we beat them and then we go play in the Super Bowl.
“The weird thing is we’re not in the Super Bowl now. We still have, what is it, five, six more games left that we have to go out and continue to grow as a team and show everybody what we’re about. And then get in the playoffs and that whole thing resets. Nobody really cares about what you’ve done in the season. You go back to week in and week out and you survive and you advance when you get in the playoffs. I feel like we’ve experienced that. These games are going to continue to be playoff-type atmosphere games.”
What does that mean from Taylor’s perspective?
“I saw how they handled that, saw how they practiced last week, saw how they played the game. It’s a team that is going to operate e the right way. The season is getting long. We hope it’s much longer. The routine and consistency at this point and I’ve got a lot of trust in my guys that they know how to get ready for Wednesday’s workload,” Taylor said.
“We put in a lot of physical work, getting back to training camp and leading up to the bye week and then now it’s at the point where these players are going to put through their bodies through a lot and they’re going to continue to put their bodies through a lot. It’s about rolling out a healthy team out there on Sunday and you can do that only if you trust your guys to get the sleep, the nutrition and mentally re-focus going into the week. I probably wouldn’t operate this way if I didn’t have that belief in the team. And the older players have to help the younger players understand that as well because they haven’t done this as much. But yeah, I think we’re in a good spot there, which is why we’ve been able to be flexible in the scheduling.”
Now, the challenge. Beat Nick Chubb and the Browns for the first time since 2019, end the five-game losing streak in the Battle of Ohio and most importantly, keep that late-season momentum.
The Bengals held Patrick Mahomes to a season-low 223 yards passing on 16-of-27 attempts in Sunday’s 27-24 Bengals win. Joe Burrow and the Bengals are now 3-0 against the Chiefs, including the AFC Championship last year at Arrowhead. On his weekly appearance on “The Drive” on 610 Sportsradio Kansas City, Mahomes said he doesn’t consider it a rivalry until the Chiefs actually win a game.
“I don’t know if you call them a rival, we haven’t beat ’em yet,” Mahomes said. “Until we beat them it’s not really a rivalry, they’ve just beat us a couple of times now.”
Mahomes said his ankle was bruised from that late sack by Joseph Ossai but that’s not what forced the missed 55-yard field goal attempt.
“Not necessarily. We were kind of on the edge of that field goal range. We expected him to make it in that spot, but I think more me not losing the yards and getting sacked (impacted the play call). I think that had more to do with it than the actual limping. I was ready to go if Coach Reid called a play for us to go for it.”
In a move that was a season in the making, the Bengals Monday finally waived 14-year punter Kevin Huber. The Bengals had used all three standard elevations on Drue Chrisman and needed to sign Chrisman to the 53-man roster when elevated this week. The team wasn’t about to keep two punters on the 53-man roster so they had to cut Huber. He is eligible to return on the practice squad if he so chooses to remain a free agent.
It was an emotional day for Huber’s boss, special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons.
“All these are very difficult. (Long snapper) Brad St. Louis was another difficult one,” Simmons said. “When we cut Brad it was a bit different because Brad was just… it was two completely different. We had to make a change for, for two completely different reasons, Brad, it was just execution. He just lost his edge too, to execute his job and it was killing our team, and we had to do something then. This one I think was just something that’s come up over time. At some point some guys age physically, and it’s just this happens with other positions all the time. Yes. It’s very difficult to deal with them because he’s sitting in that room with me for the last 13 years and so that makes it especially difficult to process. But it’s one that again, that’s part of the nature of the business, unfortunately. But that still doesn’t still didn’t hide my personal feelings for him or taint my personal feelings for him, nor will it ever affect my opinion of him as a player.”
Huber was chosen in the fifth round of the 2009 draft out of the University of Cincinnati. He played in a team-record 216 games, including a streak of 138 consecutive games from 2014-22. Huber is the Bengals’ career leader in every major statistical category for punting, including total punts (1011), punting yards (45,766), gross average (45.27), net average (40.34) and punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line (346). He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2014, and also served as a holder on placekicks his entire Bengals career.
“Kevin was our punter for a very long time,” said Bengals President Mike Brown. “We appreciated every moment he was here. He has been a steadying force for us, an excellent player and a good person. Any football team would be blessed to have him for the length of time we did.”
There was some slight decline in his game at the end of 2021 and then more significant drop-off this season as his net average fell to 37.4 yards per punt, second-lowest in the NFL.
“I talked with Kevin about this at various points throughout the season that we have to get better here, we have to improve or we are going to have to do something to force our hand a little bit,” Simmons added. “It just came to pass it was time to do something to improve that spot.”
For the second straight year, Sam Hubbard has been named by the Bengals as the nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award presented by Nationwide. As the most prestigious honor awarded by the NFL, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award presented by Nationwide recognizes a player for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field. Each of the league’s 32 nominees were announced Tuesday.
In 2021, he created the Sam Hubbard Foundation with the goal of bringing equitable access to food, education and a healthy lifestyle for all Cincinnatians.
“As an NFL player, I think your on-field performance is just a small part of what your legacy will be when it’s all said and done,” said Hubbard. “What you do for others, how you treat the people around you, and the lasting impact you leave on your community are just as important as wins and losses.”
A Cincinnati native, Hubbard has been committed to serving his home community since being drafted by the Bengals in 2018. He continued several annual events through the Sam Hubbard Foundation this year, including Hubbard’s Fowling Tournament in May that matched up current and former Bengals players with fans in a game mixing football and bowling. The event raised over $47,000 and helped fund programs such as Hubbard’s Shop with a Pro Night, Sam’s Thanksgiving Food Drive, and The Sam Hubbard Youth Football Camp.
Hubbard partnered with local non-profit Crayons to Computers this year on two initiatives that directly benefit Cincinnati-area students, beginning with a backpack drive in August in which he distributed over 650 tailored backpacks to every student in the Bellevue school district. He additionally teamed up with Kroger in October to launch Hubbard’s Cupboards, a project that supports nutritional and educational needs for students in the Mt. Healthy school system. Hubbard’s Cupboards serves as an on-site supplement in select schools that provides core school supplies as well as healthy snacks and hygiene products.
“I consider this nomination to be the highest honor in our league because of the incredible people that have come before me, and because of the resources and awareness it will bring to my foundation and our mission,” said Hubbard.
As a nominee, Hubbard will wear a Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year helmet decal through the end of the season in recognition of his accomplishments on and off the field. All 32 nominees will receive up to a $40,000 donation in their name to their charity of choice. The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award will receive up to a $250,000 donation to the charity of his choice. All donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation and Nationwide.
Fans are encouraged to participate in Nationwide’s 8th annual Charity Challenge, a social media campaign designed to support and promote team nominees. Fans can vote on Twitter by using #WPMOYChallenge followed by their favorite nominee’s last name or Twitter handle. The player whose unique mention is used the most between Dec. 6 and Jan. 8 will receive a $25,000 contribution to his charity of choice, while the second and third place finishers will receive $10,000 and $5,000 donations, all courtesy of Nationwide.
The Bengals announced Monday that the 21-day practice period for safety Brandon Wilson (Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list) has expired. Wilson had been cleared to resume practicing on Nov. 14, and he was eligible to be activated to the roster at any time during that period. However, now that the period has expired without him being activated, he will remain on the R/PUP list.