Inspired by veteran linebacker, Bengals ‘come together’

Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. (10) makes a catch against Cincinnati Bengals middle linebacker Josh Bynes (56) during an NFL football game in Cincinnati, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. Cincinnati won 33-25. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Josh Bynes gave what teammates called a heck of a speech about adversity on Saturday night.

After Bynes addressed the team during a meeting at coach Zac Taylor’s request, the Bengals seemed to rise to his call to “come together” with a sense of urgency Sunday, and they finally put in a complete game to secure the team’s first win, 33-25, over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The offense showed balance in rushing for 205 yards, while Joe Burrow threw for 300 yards without a sack for loss and the defense held Jacksonville to 89 yards rushing while sacking Gardner Minshew three times and shutting out the Jaguars during an important third quarter when the offense built a lead it wouldn’t lose.

“Obviously, Bynes is undrafted, he’s been (playing) 10 years, he’s been on a national championship (team), he’s won a Super Bowl,” safety Jessie Bates said. “Him just being able to talk about his experiences and how that Super Bowl team, they started out 2-5 or whatever, how they came back and they won a Super Bowl. We’re trying to build that culture and that mindset here in Cincinnati.”

Taylor said he asked Bynes to give the motivational speech as a way to mix things up from his normal night-before-the-game talks with the team. Bynes was an easy choice as a veteran leader that players look up to, and especially since, in his own words, he “shouldn’t be here” based on how his career started as a college free agent.

Players especially will be listening to Bynes this week, too, as they prepare to play his former Baltimore Ravens team Sunday on the road. Bynes faced Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who was named the 2019 league MVP, every day in practice last year and rookie linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither said Bynes already has been talking to the defensive players about what they need to do to stop Jackson.

Jackson has rushed for more than 100 yards against the Bengals twice in three of his starts in the series, including a best 152 yards and one touchdown in the first meeting last year.

“Just sticking to your technique,” Davis-Gaither said about preparing for Jackson. "I think a lot of guys start doing a little too much when they come across an issue. We all know that he’s fast and he can cut and all that. We just have to try to take away something. You’re not gonna be able to take away his speed, so having great angles, trying to give him a one-way route and try to get him on the ground.

Fourth-year player Jordan Evans, one of two linebackers who returned from the 2019 team, has faced Baltimore six times in his career, including the last three meetings against Jackson. He said the key is just sticking to assignments because otherwise, Baltimore will expose mistakes quickly.

The Bengals did a better job against Jackson in the running game during the second meeting last year, holding him to 65 yards on seven carries, but he threw for 223 yards and three touchdowns while completing 15 of 17 passes with no interceptions. Evans said it seems as though teams end up overthinking how to defense the Ravens offense because of how athletic Jackson is as a dual-threat quarterback.

“I think there are probably mistakes being made, but at the same time you can’t discredit Lamar and what they do over there,” Evans said. “He’s a dynamic player. He has dynamic players around him. Not only do we have to do our assignments, we also have to be ballplayers as well.”

Evans said he’s been telling the rookies, much like Bynes has, that Jackson’s speed is just different and they need to go in with high expectations.

“I don’t know if you can simulate it all the time in practice, but you just have to make sure guys know this guy is going to be out there moving,” Evans said. “He’s quick, he’s lightning fast, so just be on your Ps and Qs.”

Cincinnati struggled against explosive quarterbacks last year and wasn’t great against quarterbacks getting out of the pocket in the first two games this season. However, the way the front office and staff rebuilt the defense this offseason seemed geared toward addressing those issues.

The Bengals have been missing several key additions on defense because of injuries to cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, rookie linebacker Logan Wilson and backup defensive tackle Mike Daniels. Veteran defensive tackle Geno Atkins also hasn’t played a snap yet because of a shoulder injury.

“I just feel like the additions we made are the additions we needed,” Evans said when asked if the defense seems better built to handle Baltimore’s offense this year. “Especially in the linebacker room. After the season there were two of us, so obviously we needed linebackers and D-line and all that stuff. The additions made the defense as a whole better.”

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