11-21-04, 11:10 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Marvin Lewis' icy veneer, stressed by a season-long plague of mistakes and penalties, showed a few cracks Sunday here at Paul Brown Stadium.
He blistered his team long and loud behind closed doors, and then emerged to tell the media what it already knew after the 19-14 loss to the streaking Steelers.
"I'm angry. This is the angriest I've been," said Lewis after seven second-half penalties wiped out a 14-10 half-time lead and pretty much trap-doored his team out of the playoff hunt with a 4-6 record.
""We are going to come out this week with a better resolve than we did this last week," Lewis said. "I told them, if they're not ready to come to work, then don't come in here, because we're going to be a better football team than that."
After losing for the fourth time this season when they had a chance to drive for the winning or tying score in the fourth quarter, Lewis fumed about not settling for being close and not accepting mediocrity.
Wide receiver Chad Johnson, who has been the object of some of Lewis' wrath, confirmed the outrage.
"I've never seen him like that," Johnson said. "All I know is one thing. He means business. Period. I know there won't be any bull this week. At all."
And, for the first time, one of the leaders questioned the resolve of some of his teammates. Right tackle Willie Anderson didn't name names, but he's livid about an offense that got blanked in the second half for the second straight week while the defense held foes to a touchdown or less for the third straight game.
"We're the weak link," Anderson said.
"When you hear great players talk, they talk about doing something extra. I think, offensively, we haven't figured it out yet,' said Anderson, the frustration of going 6-12 against the Steelers in his nine seasons and finishing out of the playoffs again clearly showing.
"We'll figure it out one day," said Anderson after the Bengals failed to convert all five third-down chances in the second half. "Even as an organization we're going to figure it out one day. I may be dead and gone, hopefully not dead, but I might be gone and we're going to figure it out. It's not about one person. It was about being one person that had us the losingest team in the decade. Because it was about one person, whether it was Corey Dilon, or (Carl) Pickens, or (Jeff) Blake. The team didn't feel like a team. Who was the face of the team? It was the losingest team of the decade. I don't want to be the face of that."
The face of this team is Johnson, but Anderson said he wasn't singling out Johnson for joshing earlier in the week about fans each bringing a dollar to cover the cost of his predicted end-zone celebration after a touchdown.
"The coaching staff kind of allows him to do that. It doesn't affect us. That's not what I'm talking about," Anderson said. "I'm talking about us putting in the time. . .Making football our life. The defense has figured it out."
After watching the defense hold a team to a touchdown or less for the fifth time this season with a season-high seven sacks, Anderson saluted a unit "that doesn't have a big name. . .They're lunch pail guys. . .They got sick of people banging on them and banging on them and banging on them. . .Those boys have come together."
Anderson said the Bengals let down Lewis with that brutal play in the second half consisting of seven penalties for 75 yards, but both rookies and veterans think they'll respond to the tongue lashing.
"When you see a coach be as emotional as he was," said rookie cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, "it makes you step up and play because you don't want to let him feel like that way anymore. . .There's no such thing as a moral victory. No such thing as we played one of the better teams in the league tough for four quarters. We need to win."
Linebacker Kevin Hardy, a nine-year veteran who endured the vents of coach Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville, agreed that it was the hottest he's seen Lewis after a game.
And, he can't blame him.
"It's a combination. There's anger, and there's got to be frustration," Hardy said. "We had the game. It was right there. And he's got to be tired about talking about the same stuff. The little things. We can be effective. We just have to eliminate the mistakes."
As one of the two gunners on the punt team who were supposed to hem in Steelers returner Antwaan Randle El, cornerback Reggie Myles reamed himself after Randle El secured day-long field position with returns of 28, 30 and 22.
"I promise you," Myles said, "it will be better next week."
Veteran defensive end Duane Clemons, who had 2.5 of the season-high seven sacks allowed by the Steelers, could feel Anderson's pain.
"My heart goes out to those guys, especially guys who have been here their whole careers," Clemons said. "Last year we were starting to get close. And we should be a much better team this year than we are right now. We're playing teams we know we can beat, and we're only a step away, and a couple of those details are keeping us from winning the division and going to the playoffs."
Detail. Details. Details.
An hour after the game, they still ate at Anderson.
"We were running the ball,' said Anderson of a first half running back Rudi Johnson ran for 47 yards on 11 carries. "Rudi should have had 80, 90 yards, but penalties. . ."
Anderson knows he can't speak out after every game ("Then I sound like a grumpy old man," the 29-year-old said), but that he spoke out Sunday should speak volumes.
"I'm playing for now," said Anderson, when asked about the future of a Carson Palmer-Ben Roethlisberger rivalry. "All I care about is right now because you never know how long you're going to be here."