BALTIMORE _ Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis answered one question Sunday. He deemed rookie running back Joe Mixon (ankle) healthy enough to play in Sunday’s season finale against a Ravens needing a win to reach the postseason for the seventh time in the last 10 seasons.
As for a return to frozen M&T Bank Stadium and Lewis’ NFL ancestral home being his last game for the Bengals, kickoff loomed with his fate in the hands of the national pundits. Lewis apparently didn’t tell his players or his coaches of his plans Saturday night, quite possibly because he doesn’t know until he meets with Bengals president Mike Brown Monday morning.
The reports surfacing two weeks ago that Lewis definitely is stepping away after the season weren’t quite as definitive as the media blazed through the NFL’s final day of the regular season. Lewis’ status got lost in what is apparently more definitive news, such as Chuck Pagano out in Indianapolis and Bill O’Brien back in Houston. Lewis had merely reached “most likely,” and “leaning,” and “expectations,” not to return.
Bengals boss Mike Brown always holds his cards close to his vest when it comes to his coaches, so those day-after-season meetings aren’t a fait accompli. The most famous example is the 1991 Christmas Eve meeting with Sam Wyche the day after a 3-13 season. Minutes before the meeting Brown said he had no intention of making a coaching change. About two hours later the Bengals announced one.
What is known is that the Bengals are ending Sunday back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 2007-2008 and they are 12-19-1 since 1:23 left in the 2015 Wild Card Game against Pittsburgh with a 16-15 lead.
Fitting, of course, that Lewis, the Ravens record-setting defensive coordinator when they won the Super Bowl in 2000, provides the opposition in the coldest Ravens game ever at M&T with the mercury dipping to 19-20 degrees. The coldest game Lewis has ever coached for the Bengals is 18 degrees in a Dec. 21, 2008 win in Cleveland.
The 247th inactive list for Lewis is pretty much the same one he had in last week’s win over Detroit at Paul Brown Stadium. The only difference is that injured WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict (shoulder) takes the place of nose tackle Andrew Billings. With Baltimore expected to pound the ball behind running back Alex Collins, Billings gives them another nose tackle in a tandem with Pat Sims. Think the Ravens are running? As Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham observed after looking at the Ravens inactives, they had more tight ends playing (four) than wide receivers (three).
Joining Burfict on the inactive list are wide receiver Cody Core, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, nose tackle Josh Tupou, running back Jarveon Williams and tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Justin Murray.
As expected, veteran left guard Clint Boling again kicked out to left tackle and first-year Christian Westerman went to left guard, their second NFL starts at those positions. And rookie middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson drew his second NFL start in between rookie Jordan Evans and veteran Vincent Rey.