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Zac Taylor’s optimism finally pays off

The Bengals may be beginning to finally turn the corner under Taylor’s watch.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
Zac Taylor
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe Oscar Wilde was right. Maybe “the basis of optimism is sheer terror.”

But, whatever the reason may be, Zac Taylor of the Cincinnati Bengals is an eternal optimist. Sometimes, it drives you crazy. Especially when it’s coming from a football coach who has won all of four games over the past two years.

Take last week, for example, when the Bengals got embarrassed by a not-very-good Dallas Cowboys team, 30-7.

“A lot of effort goes into this,” Taylor said. “Guys are pulling together, and it’s still a very close team. I think you can see that you see them out there playing. We just haven’t made the plays to put us in a position to win the game.”

But sometimes . . .

“These are things I’ve been talking about all week, they just haven’t showed up,” Taylor said after Monday night’s upset win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. “It’s as resilient of a group as I’ve ever been around. They never stopped believing in each other, never stopped believing in what we’re asking them to do. I can’t say enough how proud I am, the coaches, the players, the staff, everybody just hung in there together.”

So maybe it is true. Maybe if you say it often enough, people might actually start to believe it. It sure looked that way Monday night when the Bengals frustrated and embarrassed a Pittsburgh Steeler team that was trying to lock down its first AFC North Division title since 2017. Cincinnati handed Pittsburgh, which entered the game as 14.5-point favorites, its largest upset defeat since 1966.

Many of the things the Bengals have had problems with this season suddenly turned into strengths, at least for this one game - things like making adjustments as the other team starts to gain momentum.

Cincinnati jumped out to a 17-0 lead at halftime, only to see Pittsburgh take its opening possession of the second half and drive 67 yards for a touchdown in only 1:27. The Steelers tacked on a field goal to pull within a touchdown before the Bengals responded with a touchdown of their own to open up a 14-point lead.

Coming into Monday night’s game, Cincinnati was near the bottom of the NFL in turnover margin with 12 takeaways and 22 takeaways. Against the Steelers, the Bengals forced and recovered two fumbles and added an interception. Cincinnati did not turn to ball over.

Maybe Taylor’s message is finally staring to get through. Or maybe it has already gotten through, but it has just taken a while to start to show results.

All of the work, and all of the optimism paid off in a big way Monday night when the Bengals finally broke the curse that has been the Pittsburgh Steelers - at least for a day.

“This has just been the expectation,” Taylor said. “Every Sunday when we walk onto the field, you expect this result. It’s obviously been disappointing when it hasn’t been that way, but I don’t feel any different. I’m excited, obviously. I’m excited for all of the guys in the locker room that put in the work. But this has been the expectation for us and this is gonna continue to be the expectation. And so, it feels like we knew we were gonna win, and we won. And that’s just how I feel right now.”

Taylor wants to make sure that each and every man in the locker room gets to enjoy the experience. So he decided to do something special for each of the players that hit the field Monday night.

“We gave everybody a game ball today,” Taylor said. “It’s been a long five weeks since the bye and, again, for these guys to have this type of energy every single day they come into the building, waiting for a moment like this. That’s not something we do often, but these guys, they come to work every day. I’m proud of ‘em and everyone deserves to cherish this thing.”

Let’s hope this is only the beginning.