Zac Taylor is aware of the situation his Cincinnati Bengals are in with seven games remaining and only two wins on the resume. He also realizes coming close won’t cut it, especially with such a favorable backend of the schedule.
The Bengals (2-6-1) head into Sunday’s matchup at Washington Football Team (2-7) gearing up for a four-game stretch against three struggling NFC East teams and a surprising Miami Dolphins squad that has six wins. A tilt at Houston (2-7) also looms in December.
Even with a favorable schedule in the second half, Cincinnati is unlikely to make the playoffs this season (a New York Times interactive playoff picture predictor gives a 1 percent chance) but Taylor said it’s important to win games down the stretch to build momentum for 2021.
“It’s important,” Taylor said. “We need to win football games. I don’t worry too much about what’s going on after Washington. I’ve seen the schedule, I saw it at the beginning of the season, but our focus is 100 percent on Washington - winning a road game. We’ll focus on the other stuff, but this week we have to focus on beating Washington.”
The Bengals, who would draft third in 2021 if the season ended today, have yet to win a road contest under Taylor, now 25 games into his tenure, and the team would need to win six of the last seven games to produce the franchise’s first winning record since 2015. They still face the Steelers and Ravens again.
A healthier roster could help. Cincinnati appears to be getting bodies back on the offensive line with tackles Jonah Williams and Bobby Hart both full participants in practice Thursday, coming back from Week 7 injuries, and backup right tackle Fred Johnson returned to the active roster off the Reserve/COVID-19 list Friday. On defense, cornerbacks LeShaun Sims and Mackensie Alexander are both back from concussions.
Asked what he is looking for beyond wins over the final seven games, Taylor said that’s all he is focused on.
“It’s all we want to do,” Taylor said. “The guys are buying in, doing what we ask them to do. We’ve made really good progress. Sunday was not our best in any area. There was not one guy that can really stand up and say, ‘I played at my best, I performed at my best, I coached at my best.’ No one can say that. So again, we have to learn from some of the mistakes in that game. We gotta put them behind us because we had done a lot of good things in the weeks leading up to that. We gotta continue to build off that momentum and get after Washington.”
Cincinnati is coming off its worst loss of the season, a 36-10 defeat at Pittsburgh. The only other wide-margin loss the Bengals own was a 27-3 loss at Baltimore, and they bounced back to take a 21-0 lead in a little over a quarter of football at Indianapolis the next week before falling 31-27.
Quarterback Joe Burrow expects a similar rebound for the offense Sunday, after he was limited to 24 yards passing in the second half against the Steelers. Washington’s lone wins are against Dallas and Philadelphia, who have a combined five victories, but WFT boasts the best pass defense in the league.
“We’re going to be prepared, and we’re going to go in there and I think we’re going to play our game,” Burrow said. “We’re not going to hang on what happened last week. Obviously, everyone knows that we need to be better and that we have things to fix, but I think we’re going to respond to the challenge.”
Burrow also said he isn’t looking at anything except wins and losses over the final stretch of games. The Bengals have four losses by five points or less and a tie that they believed should have been a win at Philadelphia.
“We have a chance to win some games here at the end of the year, and we all know it,” Burrow said. “This stretch of games is exciting for us to build some momentum going into the offseason, but you don’t want to look ahead and think about the record at the end of the year. You just want to focus on getting better every day at practice and then performing well on Sundays.”
Bengals at Washington, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7