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|09-26-2009, 11:01 PM||#1|
A Son of Martha
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Bengals' Lewis survives some hard knocks
Bengals' Lewis survives some hard knocks
By John Harris
Sunday, September 27, 2009
During an episode this summer on HBO's "Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cincinnati Bengals,'' coach Marvin Lewis is filmed driving his pickup truck to Paul Brown Stadium. The parking gate doesn't open when Lewis inserts his key card, so Lewis drives around the gate.
Speaking last week with Pittsburgh-area reporters, Lewis, who has produced a winning record only once since taking over the Bengals in 2003, was asked if the parking gate has been repaired.
"They got it fixed for me,'' Lewis said. "I wasn't worried about the gate. I just thought, you know, they probably changed my code.''
Lewis' job security has been called into question nearly every year he's coached in Cincinnati.
And yet, Lewis felt comfortable enough to joke about it with the media a few days before one of the biggest games in his coaching career, which is now in its seventh year.
Lewis' 1-1 Bengals enter today's 4:15 p.m. AFC North matchup against the visiting Steelers (also 1-1) with another opportunity to make a couple of statements — one for the team and a personal one as well.
With a victory over the defending Super Bowl champions, Cincinnati would emerge as one of the surprise teams in the NFL this season while ending a five-game losing streak against the Steelers. The Bengals have lost eight straight to the Steelers in Cincinnati since Dec. 30, 2001, two years before Lewis' arrival.
A winning record this season would seemingly be vital if Lewis expects to secure his job.
"I think it's a really important year for Marvin,'' said former NFL executive Michael Lombardi, who appears on NFL Network and writes for the National Football Post.
"You've got to sell the program every day. When you talk to the media, everything you do is selling the program. Ultimately, you've got to have some success. You can't just say we're going to win. You've got to actually do it.''
Following a painful 12-7 loss against Denver to open this season, Cincinnati rallied twice for a 31-24 victory at Green Bay.
"That was a big win,'' Lombardi said. "If they can find a way to beat a good team like the Steelers, all of a sudden people are going to start believing.''
Having a healthy Carson Palmer at quarterback doesn't hurt Lewis's chances.
Palmer, who has returned to full strength following an elbow injury that limited him to four games last season, said the Bengals have more than enough talent to compete for a postseason berth.
"It may be in different spots, but we've got the same amount of talent and the same explosiveness we had in those previous years,'' said Palmer, who led the Bengals to a division title in 2005 and tossed three touchdowns last week against the Packers.
Defensive end Antwan Odon leads the league with seven sacks, including a franchise-tying five in the Green Bay win.
Noted for being a defensive strategist, Lewis appears to have the unit playing in his own image.
"They've realized that the other team doesn't have to score, and when you get that mindset — that there's no reason they ever have to score — that's a lot of fun,'' Lewis said.
Despite assembling individual talent, the Bengals still struggle to escape their past. They've gone to the playoffs once since 1990, when Lewis guided them to the division title in 2005.
Predictably, the Bengals' fan support is wavering.
This year, for the first time in the history of Paul Brown Stadium, season tickets are available.
Following Cincinnati's shocking season-opening loss to Denver on a fluke play in the closing seconds, Lewis lauded Bengals' fans.
"The crowd was outstanding," he said. "It was great to see. Our players mentioned it and commented on it. Very loud and vocal.''
Lewis was named Cincinnati's ninth coach on Jan. 14, 2003. He turned previous coach Dick LeBeau's 2-14 team into an 8-8 club in his first season. In 2006, Lewis was awarded his third contract extension in as many years.
Apparently, Lewis has more job security than his 47-50-1 record would seem to indicate.
Bengals owner Mike Brown is loyal to his coaches. He is the son of Paul Brown, who experienced first-hand how being fired by Cleveland owner Art Modell affected his father. For that and other reasons such as the fiscally-conservative Bengals not wanting to pay two coaches, Lewis is expected to fulfill the remainder of his contract, which expires after the 2010 season.
Lewis enjoyed playoff success faster than some big-name coaches. Mike Holmgren didn't win his first playoff game in Seattle until his seventh season. Jim Mora never won a playoff game in 10 1/2 seasons in New Orleans. But unlike Holmgren and Mora, Lewis hasn't guided a team to multiple playoff appearances.
Lewis, however, is the most successful coach that Mike Brown has hired from a group including LeBeau, David Shula and Bruce Coslet.
During the NFL owners meetings in Dana Point, Calif., Lewis praised Brown for sticking with him through the tough times.
"When I signed the last contract extension after the '05 season, the thing Mike said was: 'I have more patience than you do. There's going to be some tough times ahead that people don't realize,' '' Lewis said.
"Unfortunately, he's been right. I think his thing for me was to be patient and know there may be some pitfalls along the way that I didn't foresee.''
John Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-481-5432.
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