First-place Bengals finding different ways to win

Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Mixon, left, celebrates a touchdown run with Tyler Boyd during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
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Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Mixon, left, celebrates a touchdown run with Tyler Boyd during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Credit: Bryan Woolston

Credit: Bryan Woolston

Cincinnati off to 3-1 start after Thursday night’s win over Jacksonville

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor has spoken about breaking the season into four segments and trying to come out of each segment on a positive note. With the Thursday Night Football win over the Jaguars, the Bengals did exactly that through the first fourth of the season.

The Bengals (3-1) will have a long weekend off to rest and recover after a busy week that went about as well as anyone could hope – a win at Pittsburgh on Sunday and a comeback victory over Jacksonville in primetime Thursday. They’ll get back to work Monday in preparation for the Oct. 10 game against Green Bay.

Taylor was glad to see his team capable of winning different ways so early in the season, including an overtime victory over Minnesota in the opener.

“We found that we can win multiple different ways,” Taylor said. “You look at the first win of the season. We had a lead. They got back in it, and we didn’t crumble. We found a way to stick it out and win and make a play. The second one we had a little more control over it the second half with Pittsburgh and just were able to keep that 14-point lead and win. And then this one we were down right from the get-go the whole first half, halftime down 14 points and for those guys to believe that we could still win the game, get back in it and win, that’s important in this league. You’ve got to win anyway it comes at you, and so I think it’s important for our team to have experienced that in three different ways in the first quarter of the season and know that we’re capable of winning any which way and that’s going to serve us well as the season goes on.”

The Bengals were shut out in the first half Thursday with just four first downs, 107 yards of offense and only one sustained drive on which Evan McPherson had his first missed field goal, a 43-yarder.

After watching the film, Taylor said the struggles in the first half came down to two critical third downs – one being a missed assignment on a third-and-8 and the other a third-and-2 where Mike Thomas had a catch for no gain.

“If you convert those, things are a lot different,” Taylor said. “We got the OPI on the first drive, felt like we had a good drive, missed the field goal. So, it wasn’t as bad as it felt, it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Really it just comes down to two third downs where we just didn’t execute like we expect to and then all of a sudden you’re off the field. It’s amplified when obviously we’re keeping our defense out [there] and now they’re giving up long drives and they’re not getting as many possessions. So now you’re not getting as many opportunities when you have two three-and-outs, and it just feels like you’ve done nothing, but in reality you’ve only had four drives in the first half and one of them was really positive.”

Taylor said the Bengals were a little more downhill in the run game with the four or five calls they were able to make the first half, but they changed that up a bit in the second half and that helped them get into a better rhythm.

On defense, Cincinnati had some trouble slowing the running game in the first half and a lot of that was the Jaguars being efficient on first and second down.

“They got into really manageable third-and-shorts,” Taylor said. “That’s how you want to play the game. That’s smart football. There were some calls where we were just slightly out of place. And that allows them to get some… six-yard carries, seven-yard carries. And then we gotta do a better job of leveraging the quarterback when he was on the perimeter. But those were things we cleaned up in the second half. Their rushing yards in the second half were very minimal. Their total offense in the second half was very minimal.”

After watching McPherson kick his second game-winning field goal in just four games, the Bengals are as confident as ever in their rookie fifth-round pick. Although he missed one in the first half, Taylor said the team would be comfortable with him trying an even longer kick than usual if needed at the end of a game.

Cincinnati would have been a little wary of trying something really crazy after watching Jamal Agnew return a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown in Week 3, but Taylor wouldn’t rule out a 68-yard attempt if needed.

“Evan’s got a big leg,” he said. “He’s got the confidence to do it.”

The longer break between games now will help the Bengals get healthy before Green Bay. Taylor said all of the players dealing with short-term injuries should have a chance to be ready for that game. That includes Joe Mixon, who suffered a minor ankle tweak at the end of the game.

“Just overall with the injuries, we’re in a pretty good place right now,” Taylor said. “I’m positive on everybody moving into next week. Obviously, we’ve got to see guys move around a little bit on Monday and Wednesday. But it’s moving in a positive direction with every guy who’s on the injury report right now. That’s Chido (Awuzie), that’s Joe Mixon, that’s Xavier Su’a-Filo, Jessie (Bates), and then Tee (Higgins) and Ricardo Allen. I think all those guys will have a chance.”