Bengals 2020 wrap-up: Some progress made, but tough to see much ground gained in 2021

Posted at 11:54 AM, Jan 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 11:56:40-05

CINCINNATI — What Mike Brown said Monday in a statement was a fair and mostly accurate assessment of Zac Taylor's performance as Bengals head coach in 2020, but in making a good point, the Bengals owner missed the mark from the first sentence.

"Our fans wanted a fresh, new direction two years ago, and that is what we aimed to do in hiring a bright, energetic head coach in Zac Taylor," Brown opened his 184-word statement.

Injuries at key positions -- Joe Burrow watched the season finale from a couch in California, after all -- were a challenge for the second-year coach, and the team did invest heavily in free agency.

But Brown's statement, copied in full below, reads like the fanbase is somehow responsible for the six wins over the last two seasons. Zac Taylor has to wear that record, but it's Brown and the front office who tailored his team.

"We do feel like we're very close to turning the corner. We have to win a lot more football games; we're not running from that," Taylor said.

Speaking of "running:" While it may be too early to utter the word after allowing 400 rushing yards in Sunday's season finale against the Ravens, there is some truth in what Taylor says, too. The blowout loss to playoff-bound Baltimore doesn't mean this team hasn't gotten better.

The franchise's incompetence was paid off in Joe Burrow.

And, if one squints, some other pieces are in place: Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Jonah Williams on offense. The defense had its struggles, but Jessie Bates played like the best safety in the league several weeks this season.

"We have studs; we have guys that can play -- just need to put everything together," Boyd said.

It's hard to see what little progress was made having to continue without pass rusher Carl Lawson or cornerback William Jackson III, two players at two positions of need, who are now free agents. Taylor can only offer suggestions -- not a check -- to free agents.

But it's even more difficult to see the Bengals gaining ground in the AFC North next season. They just wrapped up their third-straight season in last place and the only franchise in the division not to make the playoffs in 2020.

Here's Brown's full statement, issued Jan. 4:

“Our fans wanted a fresh new direction two years ago, and that is what we aimed to do in hiring a bright, energetic head coach in Zac Taylor. We remain bullish on the foundation Zac is building, and we look forward to next year giving our fans the winning results we all want. In Zac’s two years, we have added many new starters and contributors through the draft, we have invested heavily in free agency, and we have acquired a talented young quarterback with a bright future.

“This season we faced challenges with injuries at key positions and missed opportunities. I am proud of our football team for fighting hard through adversity. That adversity and hard work will help us next season. We’ll enter the offseason looking to shore up our weaknesses and amplify the strengths of our talented young core. We are not discouraged, but instead feel motivated and confident that next year will reap the benefits of the work that has been done to date. We must capitalize on the opportunities in front of us. Next year we will earn our stripes.”