Cincinnati quarterback Jake Browning says head coach Zac Taylor encourages every player to ‘Be Yourself.’ Photo Credit Erik Schelkun/

By Dr. John Huang

(CINCINNATI, Oh.) – The 101st installment of the Battle of Ohio unfolded more as a skirmish than a war. Both Cincinnati and Cleveland showed up to fight, but neither team had anything to really play for at all. As far as the postseason was concerned, the Bengals were out and the Browns were in, regardless of the outcome. Throw in some cold, rainy, and windy game-time conditions, and you would have thought that most everyone would have watched this one from their couch at home.

And yet, 65,865 showed up in person to witness the Bengals (9 – 8) defeat the Browns (11 – 6) 31 – 14 at Paycor Stadium. Okay, I understand that was the paid attendance figure. And looking up into the stands, I saw a lot of Cleveland fans and a lot of empty seats. But still, the enthusiasm generated for the last game of a disappointing regular season speaks volumes for the culture Coach Zac Taylor has crafted during his five years in the Queen City.

“The turnout today was really awesome,” Taylor emphasized in his postgame press conference. “And the support we’ve gotten from [the fans] all year…I looked out in the upper deck and saw people there. I don’t know if that’d be me, but they showed up and supported us. I appreciate that and we look forward to rewarding them with championship-level football next year.”

It’s hard to glean anything too meaningful from a skirmish that means nothing. The Browns were obviously resting their best players for next week’s playoff game, and it showed. Cincinnati jumped out to a quick 24 – 0 halftime lead and never looked back. The Bengals defense held Cleveland to an anemic 24 yards during that stretch while intercepting Jeff Driskel twice. Two meaningless Cleveland touchdowns in the fourth quarter made the final score appear much closer than the game’s one-sided nature.

With the win, Cincinnati quarterback Jake Browning finished the season 4 – 3 subbing for the injured Joe Burrow. The first-year starter from Washington completed 18-of-24 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns. Joe Mixon rushed 14 times for 111 yards and a touchdown while recording his fourth 1000-yard season. Ja’Marr Chase caught four passes to become only the third Bengal to ever reach the 100-catch milestone.

Amidst these individual accomplishments, the most meaningful observation gleaned during this afternoon’s stat stuffing came during the Bengals’ 99-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter that put them up 31 – 0.

Apparently, there was a little spat between Browning and Taylor during that drive. Browning declined to comment on what the disagreement was about, but he did offer some insights into the personality of his head coach.

“I lost my cool for a second,” Browning acknowledged. “And luckily, Zac is a very forgiving person and not a jerk. If I were him, I would have screamed at me in the helmet…He was great as always. He’s always here (hand held low), and he just stayed right there as I was through the roof pissed off (hand held high).”

In his five years at the helm, Taylor has maintained a low-key demeanor, earning the respect of his players. Despite occasional on-the-field decisions that raise eyebrows, players appreciate Taylor’s composure. He keeps his cool at all times, players love playing for him, and there’s rarely been a player who’s gone off the rails during the course of a season. Browning’s candid remarks highlight the impact of Taylor’s coaching philosophy.

“I just try to be true to myself,” Taylor explained, when asked why he thought the gentle approach worked for him. “I don’t know if it’s important for a head coach necessarily. It’s my personality. It’s my dad’s, brother’s personality. It’s one thing my dad has instilled in us is to be true to yourself. People respond to that better than if you’re trying to fake your way through it. It’s just the only way I know how to be.”

As far as NFL coaching success goes, it’s different strokes for different folks. Gruff personalities like Mike Ditka, Bill Parcells, Tom Coughlin, and Bill Cowher have certainly coached their way to numerous victories. But Zac Taylor’s approach, marked by calmness and authenticity—and occasionally turning the other cheek—has so far worked well for him.

“Be yourself. Protect the team but be yourself,” Browning emphasized, quoting his coach. “That’s not the case everywhere. There is a ton of effort and thought to intentionally create a culture where people can be themselves.”

While the Bengals may have missed the playoffs, the Skirmish of Ohio underscores the importance of authenticity. Coach Zac Taylor’s leadership style, emphasizing staying true to oneself, serves as a valuable lesson amidst the disappointment of the season.

See you next year.

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, military veteran, and award-winning author. He currently covers the Bengals/NFL beat for Sports View America. You can follow Dr. Huang on social media @KYHuangs, check out his blog at, or purchase his books at





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