Photograph: David Zalubowski/AP
Only one year has passed since Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown felt the need to issue a statement explaining why he was keeping head coach Zac Taylor, whose Bengals had won just six of 32 games in his first two seasons.
Brown, the 86-year-old son of the late legendary Hall of Fame coach and Bengals founder Paul Brown, ended his statement with this kind-of-silly line (which should have been accompanied by the sound of a snarling tiger): “Next year, we will earn our stripes.”
It came as a surprise to the rest of the world, but these Bengals indeed have done some stripe-earning, winning 10 of 17 regular-season games, the AFC North for the first time in six years and their first playoff game in 31 years, outlasting the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday.
No doubt the Bengals, who are to play at Tennessee in the divisional round Saturday, would not have achieved what they have without unflappable second-year quarterback Joe Burrow, whose rookie season was cut short because of a torn left ACL and MCL.
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But the Bengals’ rapid rise from the depths would not have been possible without Taylor, the 38-year-old coach in whom Mike Brown still saw potential even when the Bengals pretty much stank it up his first two years. Brown saw, first-hand, that Taylor was building something.
“Personally, if I coached in any other organization in football, I probably wouldn’t be here right now in my third year,” Taylor said in a news conference after the Las Vegas game.
Taylor was explaining why he’d decided to give Brown a game ball. Taylor said he would be giving another game ball to long-suffering Bengals’ fans, and he did that a day later by dropping off a ball at the tavern he drives past (and sometimes stops in) on his way home from the office.
“Zac Taylor’s unrelenting optimism and faith in his players has helped create the team culture he spoke of so often in…