Initial comments:** ML: "At some point, probably today, we'll place Kevin Huber on IR. Kevin is doing well. He's just in a neck brace. At some point, he'll just need to have a little bit of oral surgery. Otherwise, he's doing pretty well with that. As far as other injuries coming out of the game, we seem to be OK. We'll know a little bit more tomorrow. So far, so good. We'll move forward. Anything else on that?"
You had a chance to look at the hit on Huber. Did you think it was clean or unnecessary? *
*ML: "It doesn't really matter what I think. The powers that be will take care of what they'll take care of. I think there's been enough talk about it. There's nothing I can do that will affect it any differently now, so we just need to move on."
Are there any long-term concerns about Kevin's health?
ML: "No. There should be no future ramifications whatsoever."
How were the punter tryouts today?
ML: "Tryouts were a little chilly, but all right."
How hard is it for your team not to retaliate when something like that happens?
ML: "I've never been a part of a team—and I've been coaching for a long time—where that's even thought of. Unfortunately in this game, guys get hurt. The time when things like that occur, it's not like someone takes and body-slams the quarterback, or does something malicious outside the rules that's clear-cut. This is professional football. It's time to move on."
How difficult is it to replace a guy who has played so well?
ML: "We're replacing a kid who's been a fine player for us. And unquestioned, he's a great person, a kid that we've spent a great deal of time with, with him growing up here, going to UC, us coaching him at the Senior Bowl. As I've said many times, I told him he was going to get tired of us, and it has proven true. He's done a great job since we've drafted him. So it's a shame that he misses out on the rest of the season. But he'll be back and recover and go. Kevin doesn't have much else going on, so he'll be around."
Are you looking for a particular style of punter? Huber was really good with directional kicks:
ML: "That's what we've always wanted our punters to be able to do, to punt the football directionally. That's part of what we're going to coach our guy to do."
Would the new punter be the holder as well?
ML: "Yes, whoever we decide to sign will also be the holder. Primary holder I should say."
Let's go to the Vikings:
ML: "They've played a bunch of different quarterbacks this year, but Matt Cassel seems to have settled in over the last couple of weeks. He's really playing well. Offensively, they were very dynamic last week against Philadelphia. They moved the ball in the snowstorm at Baltimore, and before that at Chicago. When he's been the quarterback, he's done a really good job. They've got a lot of weapons. Adrian Peterson is probably the finest running back in the league right now. But they've got a lot of other guys to go with him. They bring (Greg) Jennings over from Green Bay. You've got Jerome (Simpson) outside. They've got (Cordarrelle) Patterson that they drafted. So a lot of weapons within the group, and they're playing really well. On defense they get after the quarterback. They really rush the passer well. (Brian) Robison and Jared (Allen) are playing well. They're doing a great job. They're big and strong inside, those two guys. They're impressive to watch on tape."
What stands out about Robison?
ML: "Speed and tenacity. He just stays after the quarterback. Really plays hard. He reminds me a lot of the guy who played for me in Baltimore, Mike McCrary, who just plays flat hard all the time."
Their season seems to have changed over the last four weeks. Have you seen something out of them lately?
ML: "I think the quarterback has helped them. Cassel is doing a good job. And the offensive players are believing. Sometimes that guy that's sitting in the second seat at practice all the time, he develops a relationship with certain guys and when he gets a chance to play, those guys are playing. He's getting the ball out of his hand, they're doing a good of protecting him and I think that's making a big difference."
How's Jerome Simpson played there?
ML: "Jerome's done a good job. He's made big plays, big catches. He still shows the athleticism that Jerome always did for us here. I'm worried. I don't like him coming back to Hamilton County."
Especially now because there's a lot on the line:
ML: "A lot on the line."
You guys could be anything from the No. 2 seed to not going:
ML: "We have a lot on the line."
How does the team bounce back from Sunday?
ML: "We've got to go play and win football games. We have to do exactly the same thing I sat here and told you last Wednesday we needed to do; that's win the games. We didn't win one. So we've got to win the next two. If we take care of that and take care of ourselves, that's all we have to worry about."
How big is it to have the final two games at home?
ML: "It's big. As I said here when the schedule came out, I always prefer that we're at home on the last part of the schedule. We're at home in three of the last four. We can't ask for anything more than that. The crowds have been great. It's going to be a nice day on Sunday. We'll play a good football team that has not had the season they hoped to have, but they've got a lot of talented guys, and they're going to come in and try to beat our brains in. So we've got to go play. We've got to get after it and play."
Having the last two at home, is it easier for the players with the holidays?
ML: "It's big. They get a chance to have families come in and enjoy the opportunity to be around their families. If they're single guys and they're younger guys, they'll have their parents and so forth coming in; their brothers and sisters. And if they're guys with families, then Grandma and Grandpa have an opportunity to come in, too. It's kind of settling. On Thanksgiving, even though we got to be home for it, the next day we were on the plane to San Diego, so it was kind of short-lived that way. You don't get a lot of family interaction at that point, unless their family met them out there in California, which most of them did. So it's different having them for the holidays here."
Do you still see Mike Pollak starting at guard?
ML: "Yeah, we'll just see how the week goes. Kevin (Zeitler), although he suited up the last two weeks, we've got to make sure he feels good and ready to go. But we'll kind of continue to go that way. That's where we're going."
Having the chance to look at tape, how do you think Dre Kirkpatrick played?
ML: "Dre played like the rest of our football team. We didn't play good enough. Just like the rest of the football team, he did some things that were very good, but things that we've got to do better. We've got to tackle better on the edge. They're going to catch some footballs sometimes based on the coverage we're in, so we've got to tackle the catch and then go from there. We've just got to improve all the way around. Dre was like everybody else. A lot of guys got to do better. We expect better out of them."
The offensive line played so well the last couple of weeks, but Sunday, not as well. Do you think they're still adjusting with the move from Andrew Whitworth?
ML: "No. We as coaches need to put our players in position to be successful all throughout, and our players to take their opportunities and responsibility to be successful with what we're doing. Players and coaches alike. When we lose, it's all our faults. We need to get better, and we need to do better, and we need to do better on the defensive line, and we need to do better up front on the offensive line in order to go where we want to go."
Brandon Tate has had a solid year returning kicks. Is that him, or the young return team jelling?
ML: "We're trying to be consistent with things and trying to have the same guys in the same spots as much as you can. Brandon has done a nice job of committing himself to the one-cut-and-go. Good things happen that way. We have to attack the point of attack, we have to block the point of attack, and then the runner has to take the correct read, and hit it and go. Brandon has done that pretty well. Later in the year, you get more kicks you can handle in those situations. Unfortunately, they had too many kickoffs to us, especially too early. He did a nice job with that."
Any update on Terence Newman?
ML: "Actually, I have not checked in on Terence today, but at the end of last week he made significant progress with things. It's a little different playing cornerback, and we're going to be cautious with him. It's a little different than if you're playing offensive guard. He seemed to be doing well, back to where he was running in the pool and doing that. The next phase will be when he gets out and runs on the field."
Is it the same consistent message as last six weeks? We take care of our business or we don't:
ML: "We take care of our business. If we don't, we'll all be upset. You'll be tired of looking at me and I'll be tired of looking at you."
Aren't you at that point already?
ML: "No, I like when you guys are smiling and you're getting to work more (laughs)."
When talking about putting players in right position offensively, anything specific?
ML: "No, it's just in general, offense, defense and special teams. That's why we have jobs, in order to get them in position to use their ability to the best of their ability. That's important that we always do that. As they say: players win and coaches lose, so we have to take the blame for losing."
You have some history with (Vikings head coach) Leslie Frazier. Is that relationship still strong?
ML: "Obviously it was a few years ago. (Frazier was Lewis' first Bengals defensive coordinator, in 2003-04). And a difficult thing transpired then, and probably more my fault than Leslie's. Actually it was all my fault more than Leslie's, but he's gone on to do great. I'm very happy for him. I can't say enough about what he's done, and the opportunity he's earned himself, and he's done a great job of. It's unfortunate what happens in coaching."
'My fault' as in first-time head coach and new coordinator?
ML: "A little bit of that, and me just not being supportive enough of him in the right ways. I'm a lot better now than I was then."
Were you still trying to wean yourself off of being a coordinator?
ML: "You just have a lot to do."