Marvin Lewis’ shelf life in Cincinnati has been teetering on the brink for years.
Sure, he’s a well-respected guy around the NFL, one that has spawned quite the coaching tree over recent years.
Two of his ex-coordinators are set to do battle Sunday in the NFC round of Wild Card Weekend, Mike Zimmer in Minnesota and Jay Gruden with Washington. Meanwhile, his current coordinators, offensive chief Hue Jackson and defensive mastermind Paul Guenther, are interviewing for head-coaching positions on Sunday, a day after the “meltdown in Paul Brown” stretched the Bengals’ playoff drought to a quarter century.
None of it’s fair because Lewis certainly tried to reign in an unhinged team but Vontaze Burfict’s undisciplined play and Adam Jones’ regression back to his “Pacman” days turned a 16-15 win into a 18-16 setback in the waning seconds of the emotional affair.
“The worst ending ever,” Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth told reporters after the game when asked about the two back-to-back personal foul calls on Burfict and Jones that sealed his team’s fate. “I mean … you’ve got to control your emotions in that situation.”
The buck has to stop somewhere, a fact of life that people in leadership positions understand and if they don’t, they learn it quickly.
The heat was already on Lewis entering Saturday’s game as no one in the history of the NFL had ever coached more with one team without winning a postseason game and that dubious distinction reached 213 games by the night’s end.
In a bottom-line business, that’s a tough ledger sheet to sell to the shareholders and talk will certainly turn to the possibility that Lewis shouldn’t get the opportunity to reach 229 games as the Bengals mentor before taking another shot at winning in the postseason.
“It sucks, man,” star receiver A.J. Green told reporters. “I thought the game was over. We just gave ’em a free 30 yards … I wanted to get it for coach Lewis — he’s been here a long time with no playoff win. I wanted to get it for him and for the city.”
For years, Cincinnati owner Mike Brown has been big on context and he sees the fact that players like Green, Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones weren’t on the field back in January of 2015 when his team was done in by Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. Brown surely noticed that it was A.J. McCarron on the field Saturday trying to cut through a driving rainstorm instead of early-season MVP candidate Andy Dalton, who was sidelined with a broken thumb.
The Football Gods don’t care about context, however. In fact, they are a lot like mob boss Paul Cicero in the Martin Scorcese classic “Goodfellas.” “Oh, all your skill-position talent is hurt, F@#$ you, win.” “Your quarterback can’t play, f@#$ you, win.”
There are no shades of gray in the NFL and Lewis’ 0-7 playoff record speaks far louder than the any of those successes on his coaching tree or the benefits of continuity, at least to the local constituency, which is fetching the pitchforks from the garage and preparing to light the torches.
As classy as ever, though, Lewis refused to throw his players under the bus despite the fact they did exactly that to him with their undisciplined actions.
“I’m not going to single out our guys. We had enough chances to win the football game,” a disappointed Lewis said.
Brown is the governor is this little morality play and he and he alone has the power to save Lewis from his ultimate football fate.
It’s a tough call but maybe Brown shouldn’t try to get that extra bowl of cereal out of the carton of milk in the back of his fridge. Everything has a shelf life and Marvin Lewis’ in Cincinnati reads expired.
“It’s disappointing,” Lewis admitted. “Our guys fought their tails off all year, fought their tail off today, got back and went ahead, and then we destructed on ourselves — offense and defense together. That’s disappointing.”
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season every day at 4:05 ET on ESPN South Jersey, on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the Sports Bash on ESPN South Jersey.
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