Most young NFL fans don’t remember when the Cincinnati Bengals were a running NFL joke. Over the past ten years, they have three division titles and made the playoffs six times. Who is to thank for this consistent success? NFL analysts and fans generally point to 2003 as the beginning of the Bengals turnaround, the year they hired Marvin Lewis as their head coach.
Lewis had an immediate impact on the team. In his first season, the Bengals went 8-8, a stark contrast to their 2-14 campaign the previous season. By his third season, he led the Bengals to an 11-5 record and their first division title in 15 seasons.
Lewis seemed like a savior, a genius who rescued the franchise from a dark abyss and restored hope to Bengals fans everywhere. Today, the general feeling among many Bengals fans is Lewis has long overstayed his welcome.
On the surface, firing Lewis may seem questionable. Lewis’ 118-105-2 record, seven playoff appearances, four division titles, and impressive coaching tree demonstrate a level of consistency difficult to achieve in a hyper-competitive NFL.
However, despite his success, Lewis doesn’t have a single playoff win on his resume. In fact, the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1991, the longest active drought in the NFL. Even futile franchises like the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns have won playoff games in that span.
In all fairness to Lewis, he’s had a few bad breaks during his tenure. From Carson Palmer shredding his knee on the first offensive play of a 2006 wild card game against Pittsburgh to Andy Dalton breaking his thumb on a freak play in the middle of what was shaping up to be a career season in 2015. But bad luck only accounts for two of the Bengals seven one-and-done play-off appearances under Lewis. And it doesn’t explain playoff meltdowns against very beatable Jets and Chargers teams in ’09 and ’13, respectively.
There are several disappointing moments in the Marvin Lewis era, but none measure up to what happened at Paul Brown Stadium on January 9th, 2016. The Bengals suffered a complete meltdown with the lead and the ball with 1:36 remaining on the clock, costing them their first playoff victory in 25 years.
This lack of discipline is strong evidence Lewis had lost control of his team during the final minutes of that game, something a championship-caliber coach simply does not do.
So far this season, things don’t seem to be shaping up any better for Lewis. In fact, they’re worse. For a variety of reasons. The Bengals are the first team since the 1939 Eagles to open the season with back-to-back home games without scoring a touchdown.
The offensive line is futile, and quarterback Andy Dalton is playing like a shell of his former self (which is saying a lot). To make matters worse, there have been reports of an apparent mutiny against Dalton in the locker room. Some players have reportedly expressed a lack of confidence in the quarterback. Some even question if the Bengals should sign Colin Kaepernick (as if that would ever happen).
Through all of this, the calls for Lewis’ head have only grown louder and more frequent. And for good reason. Lewis needs to be gone, and the sooner the Bengals do this, the better. If I were Mike Brown, I wouldn’t even wait until the end of the season to make a change.
The Bengals aren’t going anywhere this season. And even if by some miracle they did, they wouldn’t be there very long. Trips to Green Bay and Pittsburg in the near future aren’t going to make things any easier. A coaching change may be just what is needed to energize this locker room. Lewis has had plenty of chances to prove himself, and has come up short far too many times.
It seemed irrational to jump on-board with the Lewis bashers in earlier seasons. Over the past couple years, especially after last season’s playoff debacle, my thinking has changed. Lewis is a good coach and is a proven football mind. Bengals’ fans owe him a debt of gratitude for bringing the franchise back to respectability.
However, the evidence suggests he’s not the coach that can take the Bengals to next level. Its time, after all these years, to move on from the Marvin Lewis era. He’s made the Bengals respectable. They are no longer the Bungals, but these days that’s no longer enough.