Friday hits: Division game fitting end or beginnng for Lewis?

Updated: 5 p.m.

Marvin Lewis may have a long meeting with club president Mike Brown on Monday as they attempt to hammer out the Bengals' first step in 2011.

After coming off the Paul Brown Stadium field Friday from the last full-scale practice session of the season, Lewis said he and Brown are at "a starting over point" as his contract expires.

"It's no different than when I came here," Lewis said. "The only difference is it's a lot different football team now than then. Some things have changed, change for the better. It's just a different scenario."

But Lewis declined to get specific, saying only, "The future is the Baltimore Ravens and that's most important," leaving New Year's weekend for a festival of speculation.

What we do know is that there are going to be plenty of meetings Monday. Brown traditionally sits down with the rest of upper management Monday morning before meeting with the head coach. Plus, Lewis traditionally has a late morning end-of-season team meeting.

And indications are that Brown has yet to offer a contract in what is believed to be a contrast to what he did last season.  And given that Brown and Lewis have spoken virtually every day for eight years and Lewis is still talking about vision and "starting over," who is to say he would take it if Brown offers one at some point Monday? 

Lewis chose not to be very definitive Friday. A "starting over point," would seem to indicate that he's looking to resolve some big-picture issues. That kick-starts the speculation that always simmers whenever a head coach and Brown meet. The agenda could include everything from an indoor facility to beefed-up scouting to control of assistant coaches.

"I'm sure. Very sure. There's no question in my mind," said Lewis when asked about the direction he wants to go, but at the same time he also said, "That's not anything major. It's got nothing to with structure. I don't know why people keep talking about things structurally. I just worry about the 53 guys and the 80 guys and those are my concerns, and what we do on offense, defense, and special teams.

"I guess at some point we'll sit down next week and sit down and talk. See where things are and discuss the future stuff."

But he wouldn't elaborate on the future beyond Sunday. "I don't want to talk about that," he said.

He did say while he talks with Brown every day, it is only about players and their short-term or long-term status with the club. But "the future stuff," has apparently not been part of those discussions.

If Sunday's season finale in Baltimore is indeed his 130th and last game as Bengals head coach, what symmetry.

Lewis  made his name as the Ravens' Super Bowl-winning defensive coordinator at the turn of the century and three consecutive home shutouts by his unit against the Bengals from 1999-2001 symbolized how overmatched the Bengals were in the division, at that point the old AFC Central, and the breadth with which Pittsburgh and Baltimore dominated them.

Lewis, who worked in both places, vowed to bring that same tough, physical mindset so they could be division competitive. Heading into his 48th division game, the Bengals are 26-21, compared to their 14-33 record in the 47 previous Central/North games before Lewis arrived in 2003. In their 14 games against Baltimore, the Ravens manhandled them at 4-10. Under Lewis, they've reversed it to 10-5 while twice winning what has been regarded as the NFL's most competitive division.

"The best way to make the playoffs is to win your division and to accomplish that you have to beat them," Lewis said. "That's no different than the team that was constructed in Baltimore when I was there and prior to that in Pittsburgh. That's the way they put the teams together structurally. To beat the teams in your division and to deal with the elements and the things you deal with during the season. The guys have to have that mentality. That's what you're preaching to them all time."

In 2003, Lewis walked into the Paul Brown Stadium Spa and Health Club, where the players had no regard for that hard-nosed structure. So he jacked up the practice tempo and put the team through grueling practices. Eight years later he still gets some cross looks because he very rarely cuts back their time on the field.

But that's the division mindset.

 "There's things you have to believe in and you can' relax those standards," Lewis said. "Because you become very average very quickly when the inmates start running the show.

 "Until this year, we generally have done well outside the division, he said."We didn't do well outside our division. That's why we're standing here now where we are. Because we didn't win the games outside the division we usually did. And handily."

 Whatever happens, Lewis thinks he's got a team that has a confident group of players that will be second- and third-year guys.

 "I think the core of the team has realized, 'You know what, we do know what it takes to win.' That has been affirmed," Lewis said. "As they move forward into this offseason, I've got to let them know about the challenges ahead, even though a lot is up in the air as far as the whole scope of the NFL. I've got to try and impress upon them what's important for them as they go into this offseason…How do we get better? How do each of them get better as a player and as a person."

 Is that a good-bye or a hello?

 No one, it seems, knows. Except the guys having the meeting.

 SLANTS AND SCREENS: Under suddenly sunny and 50-degree skies, cornerback Johnathan Joseph (ankle) worked out on the side while tight end Jermaine Gresham (knee) remained in sweats for the third straight day…

Cornerback David Pender never showed after the Bengals claimed him off waivers, so they signed receiver Shay Hodge off the practice squad. Joseph (questionable) and Gresham (doubtful) look to be game-time decisions, so tight end Chase Coffman looks like he'll be active for the first time in two games...Linebacker Dan Skua (back)was limited and is questionable...

Ravens tight end Todd Heap (thigh) is questionable even though he's gone full in practice the last couple of days. Safety Ed Reed (neck), who didn't work Thursday, is probable after he went full Friday. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Friday Reed is fine and that he's optimistic about Heap...

It sounds like the Ravens are going to post the Cleveland-Pittsbugh score. Asked if he would ban it from his players, Harbaugh laughed: "I didn't know I had that kind of power.*  *That's good to know. No, you know what? I could see why you might do that, but we'll let them be up there. Our guys, I'm not worried about our players one bit. I know our guys will be focused, and they're going to play the game." ...

 With Joseph dinged and cornerback Jonathan Wade (knee) trying to come back after missing the last two games, safety/corner Keiwan Ratliff figures to get a lot of snaps in the slot. Ratliff won't get old friend T.J. Houshmandzadeh as much as he'd like since Anquan Boldin gets the majority of snaps there. But he knows Boldin from his college days at Florida.

"Going against T.J. so much is one of the reasons I think I've learned so much about playing the slot," said Ratiff of all those practices from 2004 to 2007. "I'll see him some Sunday in there."

Houshmandzadeh on Ratliff: "He's so smart, I can't believe he doesn't stay in the league just on that alone."…

After a month of freezing and sub-freezing temperatures, the Bengals are supposed to get upper 40s in Baltimore on Sunday with a 40-percent chance of rain.

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