Zac Taylor gave players Monday off; they went to work anyway

‘Even when players don’t have to be in there, players are in there’
Published: Dec. 5, 2022 at 9:44 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 6, 2022 at 6:38 AM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Fewer than 24 hours after the Bengals’ win over the Kansas City Chiefs at Paycor Stadium, most of the team was back to the grind.

They didn’t have to be. Head Coach Zac Taylor said in his Monday presser he’d given the entire team Monday off. “Victory Monday,” he called it. No shoulder pads or on-field drills.

But into the bowels of Paycor Stadium walks Safety Jesse Bates around 9:30 a.m. Monday morning, and what does he see?

“Damn near the whole team in there getting lift, getting treatment,” Bates recalled over Zoom Monday evening.

He picked up the thread again later: “Even when players don’t have to be in there, players are in there, working out, you know? Joey [Burrow], I watched him working out and then go and watch film on the Cleveland Browns.”

The question that drew Bates’ answer wasn’t about the team; it was about him—how he felt, what his experience was. His team-first response, verging on a reflex, might indeed say something about the character of the fourth-year Wake Forest product. It might also hint at something he eventually stated outright: The 2022 Bengals are a close-knit bunch.

And not just close, according to Bates, but experienced and accountable—a roster that takes “extreme ownership of their personal stuff[...]”

It’s a good thing. As Bates acknowledged, the Bengals didn’t have the start to 2022 they wanted. After the Halloween route in Cleveland, the team stood at 4-4.

Bengals fans felt a playoff berth slipping away. Meanwhile, and in arguably greater measure, they despaired the shrugging judgements of national analysts that 2021 had been a fluke—fairy dust sprinkled over the eyes of gullible and desperate devotees—and this was just reversion to the mean.

Four games later, exactly no one is saying that anymore.

But with fans still giddy, and not a few hungover, after Sunday’s win, the Bengals are doing their best not to get caught celebrating. More marathon than sprint, the NFL season is a test of longevity.

“This team is experienced,” Bates said. “We’ve been there before. We know what it feels like. We know what it looks like and what it takes. So, the sky is the limit for this team, and I’m excited to see what we can do.”

The 2022 Bengals aren’t young upstarts anymore. It’s a mature squad, and it’s got leaders like Burrow to keep the team properly blinkered.

Said Bates of Burrow: “When you’ve got leaders like that on your team, it’s hard to get caught up and stuck on these types of games that you have some success in. None of that matters if you don’t go out and perform the next week.”

They’ll need that focus. Burrow, as we were all reminded, is winless against the Browns.

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