CINCINNATI — The Bengals have reached a critical point of their season.
They're 2-6-1 and 0-4 in the AFC North following Sunday's blowout loss to the Steelers.
Where they go from here could determine Zac Taylor's legacy in the Queen City.
The second-year head coach is 4-20-1 since taking over for Marvin Lewis in 2019.
It hasn't been all bad for Taylor. He's shown flashes of being the guy. The Bengals beat a heavily favored Titans team in Week 8.
They've entered the fourth quarter with a lead in six of their nine games.
They responded well following a 27-3 beatdown at the hands of the Ravens in Week 5.
The offense bounced back and averaged 31 points over their next three games. They went 1-2 over that stretch, but it felt like they were turning a corner.
The Steelers brought them back to reality last Sunday.
It doesn't mean the end is near for Taylor. In fact, he may be the Bengals head coach for the next decade.
If he's going to accomplish that goal, then he needs to start winning. Picking up his first road win on Sunday against Washington would be a good start.
"Wins and losses, to be truthful with you," Taylor said when asked how he would measure the second half of the season. "The guys are buying in, doing what we ask them to do. We’ve made really good progress."
His rookie quarterback feels the same way.
"Wins and losses. We have a chance to win some games here at the end of the year, and we all know it," Burrow said. This stretch of games is exciting for us to build some momentum going into the offseason."
If Taylor is going to be the Bengals head coach in 2021, then he needs to prove it over the next month.
Cincinnati travels to Washington, then they play the Giants at home before going to Miami to play Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins. They finish this four-game stretch with a home date against the Cowboys.
Those four teams are a combined 13-24 on the year.
Taylor needs to go 3-1 over the next four games. He needs to show he can win on the road.
Not only are they winnable games, but they're going against four teams that have playoff aspirations.
The Bengals think they're better than their record. It's time to prove it.
Taylor has his quarterback. He has his wide receivers. The organization has added pieces on the offensive line over the past month.
If he's the guy that's going to lead Cincinnati into the next era of Bengals football, then he needs to win games.
The next month will determine his fate.
That doesn't mean Bengals President Mike Brown agrees with that statement. He's a patient man. Katie and Troy Blackburn may also still believe in the former Rams assistant.
That doesn't mean sticking with him would be the right decision.
If Taylor goes 1-3 during this stretch and the Bengals don't shock the world by beating the Steelers or Ravens in the final weeks of the season, why would they bring him back for a third season?
If the jury is still out after two years, then you have your answer.
It didn't take Brian Flores two years to show he's the man for Miami. Flores finished his first season with a 5-4 record, despite the Dolphins stripping the roster of its veteran talent before the year began. He has them in position to make the playoffs this season.
Flores has won more games in the second half of 2019 than Taylor has won as head coach of the Bengals. They were hired in the same offseason.
Sean McVay had four winning streaks in his first season (2017) with the Rams, including a 4-0 stretch in Weeks 6-10.
It doesn't take long for a franchise to realize they found the right head coach or quarterback.
How long did it take for fans to realize Burrow was going to be successful in the NFL?
One game. That's the answer. And it was a game the Bengals lost.
When the 23-year-old took the Bengals on a 14-play, 84-yard drive against the Chargers in Week 1 with the game hanging in the balance, everyone knew he would be a successful NFL quarterback.
Burrow rebounded from an ugly interception on the prior possession.
His response and ability to carry the Bengals downfield in critical moments was enough to convince most reasonable people that he was going to be a successful NFL quarterback.
Taylor has coached 25 games and the verdict is still out.
These next four games are a chance to prove himself. He can show people that he's "the guy" for the Bengals and for the City of Cincinnati.
Some will say that's a lot of pressure, but he's had a season and a half to prepare for this moment, which is more than some coaches get.
Prove it time for Taylor starts this Sunday in Washington.
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