It’s not a good time to be a Cincinnati Bengals fan. Unless you’re like me and can focus your attention on the University of Louisville football team, which has had a four-week season of a lifetime and goes to Clemson on Saturday night to determine whether they’ll be a College Football Playoff contender or pretender. (Even being in that conversation is pretty big for us.) But most Bengals fans are goofs and root for silly universities like Cincinnati or Kentucky with football teams that are pretty blah, so they’re hating life right now. See, things never change for the Bengals. They never beat the best football teams in the NFL. They never perform well in big-time situations. They never win in prime time, so they’ll be 1-3 after they lose on Thursday to the Miami Dolphins.
The thing is, I was very happy when Marvin Lewis was hired back in 2003. He seemed like a no-nonsense kind of guy that would whip the organization into shape and bring a level of competence to Cincinnati that hadn’t been seen since the heyday of Sam Wyche. And that’s exactly what he did. He got the Bengals to the playoffs in 2005, which was amazing because they hadn’t been anywhere near the playoffs since 1991 when they lost in the divisional round to the Los Angeles Raiders. They lost to the Steelers in the wild card round, which was heartbreaking but understandable because Carson Palmer got hurt and they lose to the Steelers pretty often anyway.
Then they regressed for three seasons and it was fair to wonder if Marvin Lewis had done all he could do in Cincinnati. But it was all right because things got back on track in 2009. An AFC North title…followed by a loss to the Jets in the wild card round. 4-12 the next season had some of us wondering again, but ever since then all the Bengals have done under Marvin Lewis is make the playoffs. Which is good, right?
Sure. Except for the part where they haven’t made it out of the wild card round. And as much as the bought & paid for Cincinnati media wants us to think we’re spoiled with all these playoff appearances in a row and we should be happy with the way things are, Bengals fans by & large aren’t buying it. Marvin Lewis is 0-7 in the playoffs, and the way things are looking early in 2016, he won’t even get a chance to be 0-8. They squeaked by a Jets team that struggled to beat Buffalo and then got embarrassed by Kansas City, got their butts kicked by a Steeler team that got blown out the next week by Carson Wentz & the Eagles, and this week they made Trevor Siemian look like the next great Denver Broncos quarterback. Hey, maybe Siemian will be great someday, and we’ll look back at his 4 TD day in Cincinnati as his official coming out party. It’s more likely, however, that we’ll remember it as just another day where the Bengals secondary & defense in general was exposed as not being good enough.
There have been countless moments in the last thirteen years where I worried that Lewis wasn’t good enough. It was cemented for me this past January in his seventh playoff loss, a game the Bengals would have won if not for the lack of discipline they’ve been known for in the Marvin Lewis Era. Vontaze Burfict acted like a fool, Adam Jones went after a Steeler coach (who shouldn’t have been on the field anyway, but Jones took the bait), and Marvin Lewis didn’t do anything but chuckle afterwards. The same way he chuckles after every Bengal setback.
Some people like to give Lewis a pass because of all the playoff appearances. At some point though, you have to take the next step. Tony Dungy did a great job taking the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of the cellar and into consistent playoff contention. He continually came up short, though, and after six seasons Buccaneer ownership went and got Jon Gruden to finish the job. Gruden won a Super Bowl. Tampa Bay hasn’t been to the playoffs very often since, but their fans wouldn’t trade that one Super Bowl victory for a decade of playoff appearances that ultimately came up short.
(And things ended well for Tony Dungy, too. He went to Indianapolis and got his title. Both sides benefitted from their parting of ways.)
So, you get my point yet? After thirteen years of seeing Marvin Lewis as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, I’m pretty non-plussed with his job thus far and it’s likely going to remain the same instead of getting better. Lewis has shown time and time again that he’s a questionable in-game coach. His teams lack discipline. And the guy is just the pure definition of AVERAGE. If Bengals fans are fine with being average, then by all means….keep Lewis on board. You remember what it’s been like to be a Bengals fan for the past thirteen seasons? That’s what’s coming your way fans.
Unless the Bengals make any kind of coaching change this off-season.
But they won’t.
Because any kind of change is scary.