There is an old saying on the sea: “The captain goes down with the ship.”
Ultimately, the captain of a ship is responsible for everything that happens on his ship, and for everyone who is on it.
In much the same way, the head coach of a football team must take ultimate responsibility for everything that happens on his football team, even when that does not seem fair.
Zac Taylor has taken a lot of heat over his play calling throughout the course of this season as the Bengals have stumbled to a 1-5-1 record. But Sunday, in a 37-34 loss to the Browns, Taylor probably called his best game of the season.
Instead, it was defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo who couldn’t get out of his own way.
In the first half, Cincinnati held Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield to five completions in 10 attempts for a measly 49 yards, with a touchdown and an interception, good for a quarterback rating of 57.9.
In the second half, Mayfield completed 17 of 18 passes (his only incompletion was a spike to stop the clock just prior to the winning score) for 248 yards and four touchdowns and drove the Browns 75 yards in 55 seconds for a touchdown with only 11 seconds remaining.
And the spotlight once again shined on Taylor, as it has for much of the week, especially with the vocal complaints of defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who has taken to social media to decry his lack of playing time.
“It breaks my heart that he’s had to deal with a lot of different things,” Bengals’ running back Gio Bernard told Fox 19’s Jeremy Rauch after the game. “There’s so much other crap. I just want to win for (Zac).”
Dunlap looked like he was continuing to vent his frustrations on the sidelines during the course of the game Sunday. After the game, Dunlap even went so far as to put his house up for sale.
“6000 sqft city view with huge balcony. 4 bedroom. 4.5 bathroom. In one of the best school districts for sale. Do your market analysis and make me offer. Serious inquiries only with proof of funds!”
To his credit, Taylor has continued to take the high road.
“We just handle that internally,” he said after the game. “We (have) a group of guys in the locker room who want so badly to do things the right way and get this to where we want to be. That’s who we put our focus on.”
While Dunlap was busy voicing his discontent, others continued to come to the defense of the embattled Taylor.
“We have a bunch of great guys in the locker room,” quarterback Joe Burrow said after the game. “And a great coaching staff. Zac (Bengals head coach Zac Taylor) is going to get us to where we want to go. I know everyone is down in the dumps right now. The fan base is frustrated, just as we are. We’re 1-5-1, but we have a great guy at the helm in Zac, who called a great game today. He’s going to keep us together. He’s the leader of the team, the leader of the organization.”
Burrow put together another career day Sunday, finished with 35 completions on 47 attempts for 406 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, which came on a tipped-ball interception in the end zone on the game’s first series.
With the exception of that interception, and a lost fumble by Burrow when he was hit by Cleveland’s Miles Garrett late in the first quarter, a play that turned a potential Bengals’ scoring drive into a Browns’ field goal, Cincinnati scored every time it touched the ball.
“We kicked some field goals down there (in the red zone),” Burrows said. “That ended up being the difference in the game. And we turned the ball over. I think we ended up scoring on every drive in the second half, but we just have to score touchdowns every time instead of field goals.”
But the defense couldn’t do its part, at one point allowing Mayfield to complete 20 straight passes.
This is the second straight game where the Bengals saw a close game get away from them and go in the wrong direction. Four of Cincinnati’s five losses have come by five points or less, and the coaching staff is taking plenty of heat. Even though some players were quick to point the finger, Taylor has remained positive.
“Stick together,” Taylor said of his message to the team. “You could tell it was an emotional locker room afterward for the right reasons. It’s guys, that moment after in the locker room — it’s tough to find those words (to say to them), because you totally felt like you were going to win and you (didn’t). That has happened to us a couple times.
“This is a team that believes it can put together a winning streak — one game, two games, three games, four games, five games — we believe in it. We just haven’t done it. We haven’t proven it to the outside world, but we’re going to stick together. I can promise you that. It’s a group of men I’m proud to coach. We’re going to get through this, we’re going to stick together, (and) there’s much better days ahead.”
The only question is whether Taylor will be around long enough to see them.