The Bengals are still playing for home field advantage in the playoffs but are guaranteed a first-round game at Paul Brown Stadium thanks to the division title. Tennessee and Kansas City sit ahead of them in the AFC standings, and the Chiefs play Saturday, but Taylor said he doesn’t think it is wise to waste time trying to guess playoff scenarios and the team needs a game plan settled before Saturday night.
COVID-19 likely makes some of the personnel decisions for him, beyond knowing that Burrow will rest. Running back Joe Mixon and defensive tackle B.J. Hill went on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday, joining safety Vonn Bell, linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither (already on the reserve/injured list), defensive end Trey Hendrickson, center Trey Hopkins and guard Quinton Spain, who were moved to the list Tuesday. Cornerback Trae Waynes and wide receiver Trenton Irwin came off the list Wednesday.
The Bengals also signed kicker Elliott Fry to the practice squad on Tuesday as insurance for Evan McPherson, which could be related to rises in COVID cases or the “tightness” he experienced Sunday, though Taylor said he is good to go.
Protocols could enable some of the players to return before Sunday by testing out with two negative tests within 24 hours or clearing a five-day quarantine period with no symptoms, but fortunately the Bengals are in a position they can afford to wait.
“I don’t think it’s ever a good situation, you know, but I think our guys have done the right thing,” Taylor said of the timing. “If you’re around people who’ve been positive and you have any symptoms, they’ve done a great job making sure that they’re not hurting those around them. And so some of the examples of some guys in the last two days, never a good time for it to happen, and obviously we want them to come out of this thing feeling really good. So those are the things we check out with those guys. And then, we’ve got a lot of guys that have been a big part of this team over the course of the year. A lot of them on the practice squad, some of them have been inactive and they’ve been in all the meetings, they’ve gotten a lot of reps, and we’re counting on those guys to step up and take advantage of this opportunity to help us go win.”
The Browns already have been eliminated and won’t be playing quarterback Baker Mayfield, but Taylor said the game plan – even if starters sit – doesn’t change.
Cincinnati is expecting backups like Allen to step up and put the team in the best position possible going into the playoffs.
“We’re still trying to win this game,” Taylor said. “We need to beat Cleveland, and the guys that are gonna take the field, that’s what we expect from their performance and from our coaching staff. And, you know, it’s really, we just go play this game. We try to win the game and then you see where it sorts out from there. There’s a lot of different scenarios. I think it’s a waste of time for us to spend our time wondering what that could be. People who probably care the most are the guys that break down the tape because there’s a lot of tape to break down and there’s usually four possibilities. … The rest of us move on to get ready for Cleveland and then we’ll see Sunday night what the scenario is for us.”
Taylor said he hasn’t made the decision of whether to keep Burrow on the bench or have him totally sit out this weekend.
Burrow said he still plans to get reps this week in practice as the backup, though he did not practice Wednesday during the media viewing portion. He has no concerns about losing momentum by sitting out Sunday, and he’s taking extra precautions off the field to make sure he stays healthy and avoids COVID exposure.
“I still am planning on getting all the throws I need to get in practice,” Burrow said. “I think practice is the reason that we’ve been on such a roll as because we’re such a good practice team and we continue to get these reps banked throughout the week that allows us to go out there and execute on Sunday. So, I’m going to keep getting those reps in practice.”
Bengals at Browns, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1290, 1530, 95.7, 102.7, 104.7