If Marvin Lewis finds a way out of this mess he might go down as the ultimate survivor in the NFL.
The Cincinnati Bengals’ head coach already sets a new league record every time he steps on the field. No one has piloted more games with one team without a playoff victory.
Now in his 15th season, Lewis is also a lame duck after five straight one-and-done playoff seasons, which included four double-digit win years and a 6-9-1 finish in 2016.
Lewis had one year left on his deal after the disappointment. The traditional course of action in such a case is to either move on or offer a one-year extension so he’s not viewed as a dead man walking in the locker room.
Mike Brown isn’t conventional, however, and has chosen to straddle the fence.
Things couldn’t have gone more poorly for the Bengals to open the season. Lewis and Co. have dropped two straight home games while amassing all of three field goals in 120 minutes of football, becoming the first team since the 1939 Philadelphia Eagles to open a season with two home games and failing to muster a touchdown.
The 2017 Bengals are 0-for-25 and counting.
“I am shocked,” is all Lewis could say after Thursday night’s ugly 13-9 loss to Houston.
The impotence is historic. Against Baltimore, the Bengals were shut out in their home opener (20-0) for the first time in 50 years and the first time at home during the Lewis era. You have to go back nearly 80 years to find similar incompetence through two home games.
As much as people criticize Andy Dalton, he has produced at a high level in the past. A.J. Green remains one of the better receivers in football and top-tier tight end Tyler Eifert is healthy and on the field. The backfield is filled with competent option: Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, or rookie Joe Mixon.
So what gives?
What has happened to NFL Offenses??? My goodness – so much awful play early in the season! Coaching? Players? Practice?
— Kurt Warner (@kurt13warner) September 15, 2017
There’s no simple answer to a complex question, but the most pressing issue in Cincinnati is obviously the offensive line after losing veterans Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler in free agency.
New starting tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher have struggled mightily and the interior hasn’t been much better. In a lot of ways, the Bengals’ offensive line can best be described by the last play against Houston, when a series of desperation laterals ended in the hands of center Russell Bodine, who was summarily speared WWE style by J.J. Watt.
All of the air has left the Bengals’ offense.
Many thought Cincinnati wasn’t in a position to bounce back this season, but few could even imagine it would be this bad, including Lewis.
“It’s difficult to win many games when we don’t score touchdowns,” he admitted. “We’re hurting ourselves with our execution at times, and just playing through and being smart — 100 percent (of the time). Making every catch, making every throw, making every block, making every tackle, coverage — whatever it may be. Don’t get frustrated, keep playing. Our frustration crept in tonight.”
Already people are talking about changes both on the personnel side and even on the coaching staff, where offensive coordinator Ken Zampese has stumbled in the wake of two men who used the position to catapult to head coaching jobs, Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson.
“We’re not going to sit here tonight and (harp) on (changes) and talk about that right now,” Lewis said.
As for Dalton, he remains on firm ground despite the presence of highly-regarded backup A.J. McCarron.
“I’m not worried about Andy,” the coach claimed.
And the fan base?
Lewis knows it has spent 15 years watching the same movie.
“We have a long season ahead. It’s unfortunate. We want to win for these people,” Lewis said. “They come out, they’re loud. It was a great crowd tonight. We didn’t send them home with smiles on their faces, that’s for sure.”
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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