Updated: 8:15 p.m.
After the worst loss in his 124 games as Bengals head coach Sunday against the Bills, Marvin Lewis is getting The Question.
Are these the last six games upcoming?
When asked at his Monday news conference about his future with a 2-8 record and an expiring contract, Lewis said he still wants in as he tries to get his bruised and beleaguered team ready for Thursday night's game (8:20, Cincinnati's Cannel 12) on the road against the Jets.
"I see a future here. Again, I have been telling you guys this," Lewis said. "For everybody involved, I want this thing. I haven't got done what I came here to do, and I failed them. But we're still doing it, and we're going to keep on doing it and just keep working at it. This has not been the season we all wanted, but it is where we are right now. I think we continue, my guys coach very hard, and that's not going to change."
The hallmark of Lewis' eight-year tenure is his ability to get all kinds of teams playing hard into December. The rebuilding teams of '03 and '04, the division winners of '05 and '09, the disappointing underachievers of '06 and '07, the 0-8 team of '08 that didn't have Michael Johnson.
"I don't think there's an issue of not playing hard for him," said safety Chris Crocker. "I don't think he's lost the team."
The '10 team is headed into the underachiever bin, but Lewis says he can't think beyond Thanksgiving - never mind Christmas and New Year's - to keep it all together and make sure there are no tank jobs no matter the future. In his last few postgame news conferences, he has look exasperated, frustrated and agitated.
"You hopefully have the right guys on the bus with you, and the guys will be ready to fight; it's going to be a street fight," said Lewis, who didn't leave the stadium Sunday until 8:30, midnight oil territory after a game.
"We might go in a little undermanned at some spots, but someone has to rise up and be the big hitter. Unfortunately I don't have time to look back. We can only look forward and that's my point. There's no time to look back and reflect or feel sorry and be pitiful. We have to move forward. We've been dealt this for a reason, and it tests you, and we have to go."
It is his second worst losing streak as a head coach, topped only by the 0-8 start in '08. It is one of the worst in Bengaldom. Never has the club ever had a winless October and November and Thursday is its last shot to prevent it. Lewis has been losing himself in the fundamentals.
"It still comes down to the fundamentals of what we are doing," Lewis said. "Yeah, that's what I go back on. When you are not doing things quite right and good enough to win, we have to go back and fundamentally really look hard and make sure we are getting exactly what we want as much of the time."
Lewis was more effusive about the future of his roster. A coach who unabashedly loves veteran players uncharacteristically spoke about elevating some unnamed youngsters.
"We are getting some new guys interjected in here," Lewis said. "Maybe we need to continue to interject some more. That will be another thing we'll look at. Is there somebody that's standing beside me more than they are out there on the field that might help us or at least might urge somebody, help somebody else do better? Maybe we need to split snaps. So, we'll keep looking at that, but the focus is to win this football game."
He's definitely talking about second-year cornerback Rico Murray, now starting with Johnathan Joseph (ankle) probably out for Thursday. And he could be talking about second-year running back Bernard Scott, second-year tight end Chase Coffman, and maybe second-year linebacker Dan Skuta.
"That's a difficult spot to take the hits we took," said Lewis of the battered secondary that could be missing three starters against the Jets. "Because they are not only the guys that came into play, but the roles they already had on special teams. They are some of our core players on special teams. So they were pressed into double duty a little bit. Guys like Chase Coffman got a little bit more work on (special) teams, a little different than what he had."
One of those valued vets went on season-ending injured reserve Monday. Crocker tore a medial collateral knee ligament in Sunday's second quarter and he may not need surgery. Until he collects all the medical opinions, he can't move his knee for the next 10 days but he is planning ahead to next year, the third year of his four-year deal.
"There's nothing about my age I'm worried about," said Crocker, who turns 31 in March. "It's not an ACL. The trainers have told me it's not career-threatening, so I'm going to do whatever I can to get back for next year as healthy as I can."
Crocker is hoping Lewis comes back with him, but he knows it might not happen.
"Who knows?" Crocker asked. "I definitely want Marvin to be the head coach and I think it's consensus my teammates do. But I don't know what he and ownership are going to come up with. It is the NFL and that stands for Not For Long."
The Bengals season turned out to be a lot like the one for Crocker, one of the team's locker-room leaders and an effective two-way player when he's at the top of his game. It was over before anything good happened.
"Nobody expected this; we had high hopes," Crocker said. "It was a new year and maybe we had a little bit of a hangover. Everybody is gunning for us. Everybody is giving us their best shot. We've been in position to win a lot these games. You need a lot of luck and some impact plays and there were a lot of games we didn't get the break. I think we've got good players. I know it sounds crazy but next year we'll be OK because it just can't get any worse."
Lewis knows the cocky, high-flying Jets would love nothing better than make it worse. He hopes the last two subjects of Hard Knocks make it a knock-down drag-out fight. The Bengals are coming off allowing 49 points to a team that was ranked 29th in NFL scoring. Now their limping secondary plays a Jets team that is ranked tied for 11th.
"We need to go play and this kind of break through this and get the bad out of our mind," Lewis said." Get that taste out of our mouths and get after it. It's going to be a physical game. The Jets are a physical group and they aren't going to take any pity on us. We're going to have to bust up, get up, tape up and get going."