Initial Comments ...
"I am extremely happy for our guys and how we came out and played today. For whatever reason, we still have that lull in the third and fourth quarters, but in all three phases, we did a very good job. That was important for the guys to continue to compete together, have fun together and enjoy each other. As we know when you move forward, nothing stays the same, and so that a great way to end this season and hopefully kick off 2017."
What does it mean to have your team come out in a game that really doesn't mean anything and perform like that?
"I've said all year that I've been pleased with what we are, the character and the work and so forth. Early on we just didn't create enough to make this thing meaningful. The way the schedule was set, these last three games were going to be meaningful and we didn't quite get it there."
You had a chance to get a long look at Rex Burkhead today. How pleased were you with the way he played?
"He has continued to do what I think everybody expected Rex to do with every opportunity he has been given. He did a really good job today of running the football. He was decisive and ran the ball downhill and that's what we are looking for. He stayed true to the plan all day and that was great."
Did that make you feel like he was a guy that you would like to have going forward?
"There is no question. We always like our guys (in free agency). As far as hard work, Rex is the epitome and what he does all the time and the professionalism."
Guys like Cody Core, Nick Vigil, C.J. Uzomah; seeing those young guys make plays, how encouraging was that for you?
"It's been a part of this season. No, we didn't get to where we wanted to go and we fell short of our expectations, but as go forward, I think it's the opportunity that these guys got and the experience they gained this season. We have to gain something out of this season and that is part of it. Those are the positives that will come out of this season; the fact that these young guys got an opportunity to play NFL football when it meant something, and that's important."
You mentioned the quarterback many times this year, but to get 20 points in the first half and he started 10 for 10, that was important.
"His biggest play was at the end of the first half to get us lined up correctly when those guys lined up incorrectly. Tyler (Boyd) failed to get out of bounds and our guys lined up incorrectly, for him to have the presence of mind to Rex (Burkhead) up on the ball to get us a legal formation, that to me is part of Andy Dalton.
"To me, he has had his best season, unfortunately, we as a team we haven't. He continues to grow and be the quarterback that we expect."
Did you ever have a thought of going for a touchdown at the end of the first half?
"No because of what they were going to do defensively. I knew what they were going to play and Andy (Dalton) was going to get stuck with the ball in his hand and we would be in a frantic mode trying to get him to throw it away. They are going to drop eight and make you hold onto the football. So we are going to get the same outcome if we are lucky. We aren't going to get an opportunity in the end zone, they are going to be standing there. That's your only hope in that situation with seven seconds left; you don't want to get caught with the ball in his hand."
What made this Dalton's best season?
"I think the things we did offensively with the checks, the things he has done and how he has handled it engineering the offense. He has gone through a stretch where he hasn't had the experienced players he has had in the past. He has had to mentor and bring guys along that way and that's been good. That is great experience that you gain as a quarterback that will be helpful moving forward."
Two times you held them without points in the red zone. How important was it to see that turn in the defense?
"That was important for the players and coaches alike. We realized we weren't getting it done early in the first half of the season and they did a great job in the last half of limiting points and not giving up explosive plays. We went through a stretch where we were having mental breakdowns early in the game and we fixed that and that's been good. We didn't get off to the start that way in the way we needed to get over the hump."
Andrew Whitworth is a free agent. Can you talk about how valuable he has been as a player and in the locker room?
"He has been tremendous. You get to the end of the year all the time and you have guys that are free agents and that's part of the way this league works. Andrew has been just a tremendous player, mentor, stalwart, whatever positive adjective you can give, that's been Whitworth."
It's important to end the season with a win, and to say focused and win like you did, that's a good feeling ...
"To end the year on a win was big for us — it gives you a better feeling going into the offseason. Anytime you're out there competing, you want to win, and we were able to do it today."
What worked well for you in the first half for you guys?
"There weren't a whole lot of third downs — was it two or three, maybe? We were taking big chunks off on first and second down, and we were able to stay out of third down situations. It just makes it easier to keep drives alive and keep going. I felt like we were running the ball well, and I felt like we were throwing the ball (well). We were connecting."
Was there anything in particular that was ticking for you? You completed your first 10 passes and looked real sharp ...
"I felt comfortable with what we were doing. Guys were getting open, and we were able to start fast."
It seemed, like for a while, this offense was looking for some other faces — some new guys to kind of step up. It had to be nice to have a number of different guys step up and contribute ...
"Like I said, from the beginning, these guys have gotten way more comfortable with what we're doing. And the more they play, the better experience we're getting. Cody (Core) had a big day today. And Rex (Burkhead), obviously — we relied a lot on him today with the guys being out and showed what he can do. I was really happy for him and proud of him. He's a guy that has deserved carries, and he's been behind two really good guys, and he's gotten his opportunities and made the most of them. I think we got a lot of guys involved, and they showed what we're capable of."
Talk about what Andrew Whitworth has meant, especially for a young guy like you?
"Whit, from the time I got here, has been the leader in this locker room — the guy that everybody goes to when they need something. He's a guy that's been a leader on this team for a long time, and a guy that's been around for a long time. Obviously, we'd love to have him back. He's a big part why this team made the big run to the playoffs that many straight years. So, (I would) love to have him back."
How tough is this for you to have played on a non-winning team for the first time?
"It's just different, especially going into this week. It's a different feeling if you didn't know the season was ending today. We kind of knew this was going to be the last game, so for me, it was just do what I can to finish strong."
You started the year with Super Bowl aspirations, and to end here, does it seem unbelievable this is the conversation you're having at this point, based on where you started and what the hopes were?
"Obviously, everybody starts the season with 'we're going to make it to the playoffs, we're going to make a run, we're going to go to the Super Bowl.' For us, ever since I've been here, we've had that opportunity. This year's just been different. Games didn't turn out the way we wanted them to. It's weird sitting up here now, winning the last game and it being the last."
Marvin Lewis said this was your best season in a lot of ways. Is it too hard to think about that now or do you feel that you did take some steps and advance off of it?
"I definitely feel like I did (take some steps). With some new guys, a new coordinator and some new pieces, I felt like I was able to get everybody on the same page and get everybody moving. I felt like I did some good things. Obviously, I want to keep getting better and I'm going to take this offseason to look at what I was able to do this year and the areas I can improve. I definitely felt like there were some things I did better this year than I've done at any time in my career."
You had 144 yards from scrimmage today. That's a very good way to close the 2016 season. What are your thoughts on your performance?
"I appreciate it. It was fun. I appreciate the opportunity to play with this team. A lot of credit goes to the offensive line."
You had two touchdowns today, both appeared to be situations where you were determined to score. Take us through both of those plays ...
"Regarding the first one, I honestly didn't know if I had made it into the end zone or not. I just looked to the referee and was awaiting his signal. As I made my way to the sideline, I was hoping they wouldn't review it. The play was just an outside zone read. I got to the outside and broke a tackle to get in. The second one was an outside run. I thought it was going to play out that way, but my vision caught (Ryan) Hewitt. He is one of the best blocking fullbacks in the league, so I followed him."
With the conclusion of this game you become a free agent. I know that wasn't on your mind during the game, but now that today's game is over, has that thought started to sink in?
"That's really a lot to take in right now. I haven't thought too much about it up to this point. I love Cincinnati. I hope I can stay here, but we'll see how things play out."
The Baltimore Ravens' defense doesn't surrender many rushing yards to opponents. Can you speak to what helped you have success against them today?
"We did some different things to break tendencies and throw them off a little bit today. We were mixing up the interior and exterior runs. The offensive line did a good job sticking with their blocks, and also climbing to the linebackers at the second level."
A 17-yard carry was your longest of the day, so to get over a 100 yards in the game, you really had to grind through every carry ...
"Definitely. I felt like I was getting into a rhythm. When that happens, the game slows down for me. It's fun when we can do that. It takes you back to when you were younger."
You got a big win against a division rival today ...
"Heck yeah, It was a big afternoon for us. It was great to get after Baltimore and beat them the way we did. We came out ready to play. Defensively, we held our own. What a way to finish the season strong as a team. It wasn't the season that we wanted, but the last eight weeks we really stepped up our game. Defensively, we elevated our play and have really played well. We have a bright future ahead of us."
It looked like Baltimore still had a hangover from the Pittsburgh game, and you guys had none. You handled the adversity you faced down in Houston ...
"At this point in our season, we were not fighting for playoff position — we were fighting for each other. We simply went out today and battled our opponent. We went out and showed that we're still fighting for our coach, fighting for this team. We never gave up, and we're still here."
You've just completed your 11th season, and now you go into free agency. I don't think anyone can imagine the Cincinnati Bengals, or this defensive line, without No. 94, Domata Peko. How do you feel about free agency?
"Ah man. It was a really emotional game for me. I had my kids and family here with me today. I was happy they got to see me play. Hopefully we can get something (a contract) done, and I can wear these stripes until I retire. I feel like I've still got some gas in the tank left. God has blessed me with strength and speed. I have my health, and I'm appreciative of that."
You are a leader on this team. What is your definition of a leader, in your mind?
"For me, I follow a leader who leads by example. Someone who just talks, but doesn't follow through with action isn't a leader in my mind. That is how I lead — by example, always trying to be on-point and doing things right. Someone who always goes 100 percent every play."
This entire team looks up to you and holds you in such high regard. That has to make you feel great ...
"It's a blessing. I appreciate everyone in this locker room just having my back. This team knows that I'll do whatever it takes for them. I love this team, and I love this City. Who Dey!"
Today seemed fitting that you would finish the season doing battle with Terrell Suggs. That had to be emotional ...
"Yeah. Me and him have played against each other a number of times. It's always tough when the season comes to a close, especially at this point in my career."
I don't think anyone in Cincinnati can imagine this team without you on it. You're an anchor on this offensive line ...
"There is nowhere I want to play more than here in Cincinnati. These things take time to figure out. Hopefully I'll have an opportunity to be back. If not, I want to play football no matter what. I feel like I was put on this earth for one thing, and that's to play this game, to be a warrior. That's who I am and what I love to do."
What's your definition of a leader?
"It is someone who inspires people to want to be better. It's not the person who is yelling the loudest, or is the most flamboyant. It is someone who can lead everyone in the room, and that the others are willing to follow that lead."
What are your thoughts on your performance in today's game?
"You never know when your opportunity is going to come. It's been a long road getting to this spot. You have to be ready to play when your number is called. People get hurt, and opportunities can come at any time in football. That's part of life in this business."
This team hasn't had many 100 yard rushing games this season. Is that something you take pride in when it can be accomplished, like it was today?
"I know Rex (Burkhead) went over 100 today. He had a nice afternoon running the ball. I'm proud of him."
How proud are you of the way the defense played in the final game today?
"It was good. We need to figure out what the difference was between the first eight games and the second eight games. I think we've got a lot to build on. I'm excited for next year. Hopefully we can keep the group together with free agency and all that stuff. It didn't go as planned this year, but we've got to take the good with the bad and keep playing and keep winning."
How would you characterize a six-win season?
"Very disappointing to not make the playoffs."
Do you think this team, as professionals, can take this kind of year as motivation into the following year?
"I think any professional will take any motivation if you didn't have a good year. It's the same thing with your job. You're not actually competing physically, but every day there's somebody that's trying to replace you. We're getting older, there's always younger people coming in. It's all a part of the game, and that's how life goes. We have to prepare ourselves to compete and expect the unexpected. We've just got to keep working."
You went against Steve Smith a lot in your career and it could be his final game. What are your thoughts on playing against him for what could be the final time?
"I've got a lot of respect for the dude."
What did it show in you guys as a team to play as hard as you did with nothing on the line?
"It showed the men that's in this locker room. It all starts with Coach (Marvin) Lewis making sure we're doing our due diligence, making sure we're studying, even though we don't really have anything to play for. It just showed the character of the locker room."
What did you see on the interception?
"Specifically, they're down by 17 points or so with about a minute or so left. So you're not going to do much with curl routes or under routes, so I figured it was going to be a deeper route. As I was back pedaling I noticed he was coming back kind of fast, so I opened up inside so I could see the quarterback and I could see it was going to be a deeper route. As he threw it, I felt the receiver, I was shielding him off a little bit, and I was reaching for the ball the whole time."
Your first defensive snap in the NFL is an interception ...
"Yes sir. I like the story. I like the start of a good story. I like that (laughs). It's nice, it feels good, man."
They said when they picked you up on waivers it was going to be a developmental deal and that it's for next year. Now next year is here ...
"Yeah, next year is here. I still take it like I'm at the bottom. That's how I take it. Even if something good happens and I become a starter, I train as if I'm always a starter. That's just me. Coming into this year — developmental or not — I still train and practice against A.J. Green to prepare for moments like this. And when they call my name, I want them to know I prepared for this as if I was going to play every single snap. I'm not preparing like I'm only going to play three snaps."
What are your thoughts on what could be your final year as a Bengal?
"At the end of the day, I try to embrace every moment. We don't know if it's going to be my last — hopefully it's not. I was just trying to show my teammates that I love them, I appreciate them. Even the older guys, with everything they taught me. I'm very blessed to be in this situation."
What do you think you learned about this team, with the way you approached the final few weeks of the season?
"We just keep grinding. At the end of the day, we're a team full of winners. Don't worry about what the record shows, we're a team full of winners. We always want to compete and finish strong. I feel like we did a great job out there with the focus and the mental prep. It was a good week this week. We went out there and got the job done."
How would you characterize this season?
"Not enough. Too many ups and downs. We had opportunities, we had the chance, I just feel like it's luck. When I won my National Championship at Alabama, we didn't win them all just dominating guys. Everybody's good — we had to have luck. I just feel like the ball didn't go our way a lot."
Do you think having a season like this could stick with the group and kind of fuel you to next year?
"It's 2017. That was 2016. We won today. 2016 is over with. We're going into 2017, so I feel like this is something we can go off from this game. We can look at film, and make sure how we played them, and look ahead to 2017."
You've been spirited in your matchup with Steve Smith over the years. It could be his final game. What are your thoughts on playing against him for what could be the final time?
"He broke the ice today. He talked a little bit. But it was more respect than anything. I kept the trash talking down. I didn't want to take away from his day. I feel like he's going to put that (Hall of Fame) jacket on some day, so I just wanted to show respect to him and let him do his thing while still competing at a high level."
What do you think you guys showed today, going out there and still playing good football?
"We showed what type of team we can be when we go out there and play a complete game. The offense went out there and took care of the ball, scored points in the red zone. The defense got off the field on third down, and special teams won field position. We showed what kind of team we can be if we do all those things. I just wish we could have done it sooner."
You came in with the expectation that this team would still be playing at this point. How would you characterize a six-win season for this group?
"Disappointing. With the amount of talent we've got on this team, we're way better than a six-win team. We're at least a 10-win team. We could've been there. But the ball didn't bounce our way and we didn't take advantage of the defense getting turnovers and we didn't score points. We could have been that, but obviously we weren't."
How do you feel like you played today and this season?
"Today, I think I played pretty good. Andy got me the ball, and I made plays. As far as the season, I just feel like I wasn't consistent enough. I started off hot, and then I hit a spot in the middle of the season where I was getting one or two catches a game. When A.J. (Green) went down, I kind of turned it on again. I wasn't consistent enough for this team, and I wish I could have been playing like that all year."
How do you approach this offseason by not knowing where you're going to be next season?
"I'm just going to stay in shape, stay healthy and not do anything stupid to jeopardize free agency. I just want to go somewhere where I'm going to get the ball. I'd love to be back here with A.J. and Andy (Dalton). I just want a good situation where I'm going to get the ball and have a little security."
So it sounds like you think this team is pretty close to getting back where it needs to be ...
"If we bring guys back and keep guys healthy, I feel like we can be back in the playoff hunt next year."