D.J. Reader backs Burrow’s comment on playoff window: ‘It’s just gonna get better’

After a roller-coaster week, this Bengals team is supremely confident heading into the playoffs.
Published: Jan. 9, 2023 at 2:47 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - The Bengals’ defense celebrated an interception in the first half of Sunday’s game against the Ravens by sitting in the end zone face-front to the fans, throwing their hands in the air and mimicking the movements of a roller coaster.

It seemed a direct reference to the events of the preceding week. Cincinnati and Buffalo spent interminable hours in a gut-wrenching lurch, breaths bated in our chests, not knowing whether Damar Hamlin lived, or had brain activity, or would ever speak again.

Four days later, all those questions were answered. Then the NFL unveiled its playoff changes, as if to lay down new tracks with the roller coaster fully in motion, and the ride continued.

On Sunday at Paycor Stadium in Downtown Cincinnati, the players embraced it—just as they have all season long.

The Cincinnati Bengals defenses lead by cornerback Tre Flowers (33) celebrates an interception...
The Cincinnati Bengals defenses lead by cornerback Tre Flowers (33) celebrates an interception against the Baltimore Ravens in the first half of an NFL football game in Cincinnati, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)(Jeff Dean | AP)

“It’s a battle-tested team,” Head Coach Zac Taylor said. “We have a lot of confidence in them.”

Taylor referenced the Bengals’ difficult 0-2 start. Six games later, after a Halloween beatdown at the hands of the Browns, the Bengals stood at 4-4. Some pundits called it a post-Super Bowl hangover; others wrote off the playoff run as a mirage.

“I think you saw everyone sit up here without panic, understanding that this season has a ways to go,” Taylor said. “When you’re part of a really good team like we have, you feel that. That leads to no panic, just confidence that we’ll get it going the right way.”

Taylor said some of the early losses helped guide the team forward when the way wasn’t always clear.

“This team has been so connected throughout,” he said. “We’ve always known we’ve had the pieces. We understand why we lost games. We understand why, in some ways, that was probably good for us.”

The Bengals haven’t lost since Halloween. They’ve won in a variety of ways in a variety of settings against teams with vastly different playing styles. Now 12-4 and AFC North champions, Cincinnati will host a wild-card game at Paycor Stadium, and that’s just where the teams wants to be.

“Our guys are in a great space right now. They’ve got a ton of confidence and are really happy they have a home playoff game,” Taylor said.

It was the fourth or fifth time he used that word—confidence—on Monday. Defensive tackle D.J. Reader, speaking hours earlier, brought another word into the conversation surrounding the team.

“There’s more trust,” Reader said asked about differences from last year. “There’s just everything in the system you need to make it go. It’s like being in a relationship for a long time with someone you’re truly in love with. Like, you know our team is a good, gelled team, and we’re all in a relationship that way, and year after year, it’s just gonna get better. This year is a really, really good year man, so everyone understands each other.”

[Burrow says the Bengals’ playoff window will last ‘my entire career’]

Reader continued: “There’s things you’re going to react to in year one with this team that you’re not going to react to now, just because we’ve been there before. We understand it. We know what happened. And yeah, we might get mad at the same old things and get mad at certain stuff... But it’s the trust and respect that we have for each other in that locker room, because we’ve been through it. We’ve seen that guy grind across from us, most of us for two years now. We understand what that person is about.”

Taylor, asked the same question, pushed back on any notion that he or the coaches lacked faith in the 2022 Cincinnati Bengals. But he affirmed this year’s team, in addition to being “young and explosive,” per Reader, is also extremely accountable.

“We’ve got new pieces, but we have that same confidence that we have the right leadership. Everyone in this locker room knows what it takes to be successful. They know what it takes to go to Wednesday practice and give it your all, and Thursday practice and be ready. I think that’s what we have confidence in our players. There’s not a man on this team who doesn’t understand it, and if there was a moment where they didn’t, the veterans got them in line and made sure they understood.”

Whether any of that happened as the Bengals navigated the uncharted waters of Hamlin’s injury something only the players and coaches know. One thing is clear: It was an extremely tough week. The players copped to that as it was unfolding, and Taylor said as much Monday.

But the team emerged from the tunnel on Sunday as normal, and the crowd roared as normal, and Cincinnati won—as has become the norm since October, and could be the norm for years to come.

“I was proud of how the guys handled Monday night,” Taylor said. “I was proud of how they handled the week. I was proud of how they handled themselves yesterday. And we look forward to a normal week this week, getting guys back in the flow of things. First seven-day week we’ve had in a while, getting back to a normal schedule. I think that’ll be good for the guys.”

On the Ravens’ on-field conduct

Sunday’s win was unusually chippy. Fans were quick to point out several missed personal fouls against the Ravens, including an obvious late hit on wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and a facemask against quarterback Joe Burrow in the third quarter on a play where Burrow fumbled inside the Bengals’ five yard line.

Taylor himself, usually mild-mannered on the sidelines, was visibly irate after several plays.

Bengals players after the win referenced the Ravens’ alleged conduct on the field.

Said rookie cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt: “There was a lot of cheap s*** going on. Just know that we owe them. Even though we won this s***, we owe them.”

Reader wouldn’t get into specifics but said, “They know. We know,” and left it at that.

Taylor didn’t comment much on Monday. “I think these divisional games are always hard-fought games, and that’s just the way it goes,” he said.

On Mac Scharping filling in for Alex Cappa at right guard:

“He fits in really well there. Been here since the initial roster was set early in the season. Been with us every step of the way. Veteran player. Lots of trust there.”

[Bengals offensive lineman carted off the field]

On coaches emphasizing turnovers:

“It’s one of those situations were you preach it and you preach it, and they start to come in bunches. Same situation last year really, when we went ont hat run leading into the playoffs, and our positive margin in the turnover battle skyrocketed. We tell our guys this all the time, there is no secret, but winning the turnover battle highly increases your chance of winning the game.”

More: “We left several opportunities out there [on Sunday.] We’ve got to maximize those. But I was proud of the way the guys found the ball when it came to them. We scored our first defensive touchdown of the year, so I was proud of the guys for that. We needed that.”

On the team’s motto of ‘Maximize the Moment:’

“You can’t afford to sleepwalk through a week. Had we done that at any point, especially in this back half of the season, we wouldn’t be in this position today of winning the division and hosting a home playoff game. It took all eight of those wins consecutively to get here. On Halloween, we were 4-4. For this team to keep focus every week and to maximize every opportunity that we got speaks to how special this group is.”

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