Paul Brown Stadium was the place to be last Saturday when the Bengals ended a 31-year drought that had plagued the city.
Almost three years to the date of his hiring, Zac Taylor led Cincinnati into a playoff battle with the Raiders.
Taylor ended the night with a smirk on his face and the Bengals' first postseason win in more than three decades. It was first playoff win of the Mike Brown era.
Taylor gave one of the game balls to Brown.
“There’s no owner in the history of football that comes to every practice, every walk through, in the building on Christmas, Thanksgiving, all through summer vacation, and he’s waited a long time for this thing and this goes to him,” Taylor said to the team following their first playoff win since 1991.
The Burrow-led Bengals made that first win in over three decades look painless in some ways, but winning in the postseason is far from easy.
It’s a goal the Marvin Lewis-led Bengals never managed to accomplish in 16 seasons and seven trips to the playoffs.
“This is the business where you coach harder to be able to coach longer, unless you win that Super Bowl everybody falls off that cliff at the end of the year and it takes a while to recover from it," Lewis said in an exclusive conversation with All Bengals.
Falling off the cliff is one of the reasons why Lewis and Brown’s Bengals parted ways after the 2018 season.
Brown wants Cincinnati to celebrate a World Championship one day.
“You’re in it to win," Lewis said. "My job with that football team was to get that team to the Super Bowl and I failed to do that.”
For years Brown walked the stadium after games. During the game he likes to watch in his suite with a very small circle.
"It was him and just Jack Schiff,” Lewis recalled. “I don’t think anybody else was in there. I think Katie and Troy were in their own suite. Maybe young Paul was in there. I know Jack Schiff was in his suite with him and I don’t know if there were many others. He didn’t want to be distracted from watching the game, no doubt.”
How did Brown celebrate his team’s first playoff win in 31-years? Who better to ask than Lewis—the guy who talked with and saw Brown nearly everyday 16 of those 31 years.
Would Brown join Joe Burrow for a cigar? Maybe a nice glass of bourbon?
That’s not his style according to Lewis.
“He probably went home and he probably had a nice dinner and maybe had a little glass of wine and he probably read a book,” said Lewis. “He loves watching football and he probably watched the game last night until it was where he could then go to bed because I’m sure he was there [at Paul Brown Stadium] by 6 a.m. Sunday morning. I don’t think there was a very big celebration.”
It might have been all business in Brown’s world, but the fan base soaked up every moment of Cincinnati’s win over the Raiders. Their celebration has been a long time coming.
“It’s huge you’ve got a city that has been to the Super Bowl twice and a team that they basically fought to hold on to and it’s a great feeling,'' Lewis said. “They want to be the top cow and the top choice and they way things are in Pittsburgh and Baltimore and the success Cleveland had last year, I mean everybody wants to beat their chest and it’s understandable. These hard working cities, they’re just different. They’re loyal to the end.”
You might be wondering why an owner deserves a game ball after a win like that, but he has a lot to do with the new-look Bengals. Brown signed off on taking Burrow No. 1 overall in 2020, and he signed off on drafting Ja’Marr Chase with the No. 5 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He is the final decision maker according to the guy who has known him for nearly two decades.
“When I started it was very important that whatever decision I made became the Cincinnati Bengals decisions,” Lewis explained. “Sometimes if we were making a decision Mike would say ‘okay that’s fine’ other times he would say, ‘Marvin, I want to do it this way’ and that’s part of the deal. He is the final decision maker and that’s okay because everybody’s got to have a final decision maker with respect to those things."
Brown gets a lot of grief from the fan base, with the loudest accusation being that he is “cheap," but credit is certainly owed to Brown. Before Burrow was drafted in 2020, the Bengals made D.J. Reader the highest paid nose tackle at the position.
“They want the money spent on the players, they don’t want dead money. They don’t want to pay for somebody else who is playing for some other team and hurting your team because you’ve got to go cheap somewhere else,” Lewis said. “Everybody has the same cap and they want that cap working towards the 53 guys in that building. And they also want it working towards the future all the time, that’s the thing they kind of focus on. It’s not always necessarily the one year plan, it’s more of the 2 and a half to three year plan to try to sustain things.”
Taylor went from winning six games in his first two seasons to an AFC Wild Card win in year three and that largely had to do with the talent that the front office has added in recent seasons.
Burrow is the exact kind of player and personality this franchise needed in order to get over the hump and turn things around.
Even former left tackle Andrew Whitworth approves of the young quarterback.
“Everyone I’ve talked to in the building says he treats people the right way," Lewis said. “I spent last weekend with the Whitworth’s in L.A. and when he (Burrow) was hurt he was out there because doctor ElAttrache, the Rams orthopedic surgeon did his (Burrow's) surgery. He rehabbed out there and Whit had him to the house all the time. Melissa and Whitworth had nothing but great things to say about him and I think that’s really cool.”
Burrow’s talent is obvious, but he has also drawn a lot of attention for his ability to take charge and lead the team in his second NFL season.
“He seems somewhat of an old soul and he’s mature enough to handle it, '' Lewis said. “His demeanor and being from Ohio and what he’s been through I think he’s really conscious of hard work, and opportunity and taking advantage of opportunities. The rest of the guys, Tyler Boyd, (Joe) Mixon, Jessie (Bates), and (Sam) Hubbard, the guys who were there when I was there, they’re experiencing winning for the first time and they’re excited as hell.”
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