Updated: 9:40 p.m.
The merits of Marvin Lewis' fourth-and-one call can be debated from now until Ben Roethlisberger gets sacked or the Patriots lose. Whichever comes first.
But the complexities and nuances of just that one decision shed light on why Lewis has disdained acting as a defensive coordinator while also making the game management decisions of a head coach.
"There are more than those and that was an easy one because you had a long drive," Lewis said Monday. "But a lot of them come up before then. They may come up on the second play of the drive."
Lewis is a firm believer that if he acted as a coordinator during the week, then he would have to be one during the game and he just doesn't think he can do both and give the game proper attention. Plus, he has confidence in the experience of the guy he has calling the defense, Chuck Bresnahan, a NFL veteran of 14 seasons who has made the playoffs in all of his stops.
"There are lots of decisions that come up in a game that happen that way," Lewis said. "Do you risk it on fourth down? Are you punting the football? Those kind of things come up. Most of the time, you don't notice them, but they are things that come up for us within the scope of the game. You always have those kind of things."
That also doesn't take into consideration the other conversations he has with offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski regarding when to take shots downfield and when to control the clock.
Lewis' point is those game management decisions more often than not arise from the offensive side of the ball, which is why head coaches like Mike Holmgren and Mike Shanahan can also call their offenses. Take the thought process that just went into this one call, the decision to kick a field goal with 2:21 left in the first half.
Lewis "Once I called timeout and asked for a measurement, it was a little further than we anticipated," Lewis said. "It's easy to look back now, particularly after they score a touchdown, and think that makes the difference. At that point, getting the points was important."
Lewis said there were a number of factors running through his mind before he made the decision, and not just Xs and Os.
"The momentum in the game, number one. And if we are unsuccessful, we give them a lot of momentum," Lewis said. "Getting the points, having the chance to kick off and put them down there again. I can't assume that we're not going to cover the kick, or that we'll let them go 70 yards for a TD. I have to assume we'll tackle them on the 20-yard-line and we'll force a three-and-out, if not a turnover."
Lewis admitted he's wrestled with the decision ever since the defense turned around and the let the Steelers score a touchdown in the last two minutes of the half. But he knows what the bottom line is on any call.
"If we run it and don't make it, we should have thrown, and if we throw it and don't make it, we should have run," Lewis said. "That's the other side to the coin. It was important to get points. The other negative was, if you don't stop them, you're not going to get a lot of possessions."
Now, in hindsight hindsight, Lewis would have kicked the field goal.
After the game, Lewis said he would have gone for it on fourth-and-1 from the Steelers 2, but changed his opinion at Monday's news conference.
"I still think we're going to possess the ball three more times by taking the points," Lewis said of a swing that resulted in a 21-6 deficit when the Steelers scored a touchdown with four seconds left in the half.
"We had an opportunity to stop them, get the ball back before halftime and have the ball coming out in the third quarter," Lewis said. "I'm probably still going to kick the field goal. ... It was a good yard and I just have to go as I was getting information."
HoushmandzadehKEEPING THE CLUB: Although his players defended the move, it was pretty clear they wanted to go for it. And while people are questioning the move, there is also some concern that if Lewis lost the locker room before, he has now. But at least one leading veteran says he hasn't lost it.
"I don't see why not," said wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who would go for every fourth-and-one outside the 30. "We don't talk about it. That's what y'all (media) talk about. We don't talk about that. Coach has to do what's best for everybody."
Asked about Lewis getting heat abut his job, Houshmandzadeh said, "I'm going to say the same thing I did when they asked me if they were going to trade Chad (Johnson). When things (were) going bad, Marvin was the savior when he came. Now he's turned it around and things are going good, so now when things aren't going the way everybody expects, it's time for him to go.
"Why is that? When things were going good, you love him. You have to take the good with the bad and roll with the punches. It's not his fault."
OFF DAY: In an effort to get his reeling team regrouped, Lewis had no organized activities for Monday in the hopes both players and coaches can take a deep breath.
"The players have a chance to stay away from here today and not have to sit and go through it as much with the coaches," Lewis said. "The coaches have a chance to gather their thoughts. It's important that we move forward and make corrections."
Houshmandzadeh said the day off only meant not watching film with the rest of the team and with the position coaches, but he said it didn't matter to him and did it anyway by himself.
PLAYOFFS? The only time the Bengals were 2-5 under Lewis was 2004, Carson Palmer's first season as the quarterback. They finished 8-8 and were basically out of playoff contention in December.
"The playoffs are possible. The playoffs are there. The playoffs are not out of reach," Lewis said. "But we don't need to worry about them. We need to worry about win number three in Buffalo this week."
History says no. Only three 2-5 teams have made the playoffs since the expanded format of 1990: Jim Mora's '90 Saints, Scott Mitchell's '95 Lions, and Herman Edwards' 2002 Jets. Only the Jets won their Wild Card game.
And if the AFC North title is virtually out of reach with the 5-2 Steelers, what about the Wild Card? Not only are two teams two games ahead of the Bengals in their own division (Baltimore and Cleveland are 4-3), but six other AFC teams who don't lead their divisions have better records.
Including next week's foe, the 3-4 Bills, who would be 5-2 if not for two funky last-play field goals.
Rookie quarterback Trent Edwards, the third-rounder out of Stanford, looks to be legit. He's not as athletic as J.P. Losman and doesn't have the arm strength, but he's got a pocketful of poise. Except he's got a sprained throwing wrist and his status is up in the air.
Here's the scary thing. Bills rookie running back Marshawn Lynch, the 12th pick in the draft, has been solid. He's only eighth in AFC rushing with 537 yards on 3.6 yards per carry, but he's carved that out in four games against defenses ranked in the NFL's top seven.
He has yet to have his first 100-yard game and it's obvious what everyone is thinking: The Bengals, ranked next to last in defense, have allowed a 100-yard rusher in four out of the last five games.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
It sounds like running back Chris Perry is still at least three weeks away from playing in a game and that right tackle Willie Anderson won't be back for Buffalo.
Lewis had originally said Perry was supposed to start practice Wednesday, but he's checking with the NFL to see if Perry can sit on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) for one more week before he takes the field. And Lewis indicated he'll take the maximum three weeks once Perry hits the field before activating him.
Lewis said Anderson could be ready for the Nov. 11 game in Baltimore.
It also sounds like defensive tackle John Thornton (stinger) and running back Kenny Watson (concussion) are going to be OK for Buffalo. Safety Herana-Daze Jones (shoulder) is waiting results of a test.
Wide receiver Tab Perry, on injured reserve after having a procedure on his hip, surfaced Monday and said he can start running in five weeks. He said he might have been able to come back for the last three games, a wait the Bengals couldn't afford with roster spots.
Running back Kenny Irons, down to 185 pounds from 200, says he's starting to kick it in the weight room as he recovers from his reconstructive knee surgery. He says he's been working on both his legs and upper body and the hope is still that he'll be back for training camp on Day One.
Houshmandzadeh, the NFL leader with 58 catches (two ahead of Wes Welker and Derrick Mason) is on pace to set the Bengals single-season receptions record by 30 balls with 130. He says Chad Johnson will also break Carl Pickens' record of 100 this season. Houshmandzadeh has nine touchdowns, but it is doubtful he'll catch Pickens' club-record 17 or grab 130 receptions with the impending return of Chris Henry.
"I'd take (fewer) catches and (fewer) touchdowns," he said, "if we were 5-2."
Johnson, by the way, has been Media A.W.O.L. He hasn't talked to the media since the Friday before the Jets game, a stretch of 10 days, and his only appearance is believed to have been on his paid segment on Cincinnati's Fox 19. On Sunday night's "Chad's Corner," he looked like he'd been shot by a tranquilizer gun and said little. Only that since he's been labeled a distraction, he's going to stop talking and "just play."
His big-game woes continued Sunday. He did make a terrific 14-yard catch on fourth-and-seven on the lone TD drive, but his false start turned it from a fourth-and-two. And he had two drops, one on a third down and one on a bomb that would have put the ball on the Steelers 15.
"When you put yourself in that position, you have to be able to take it. You have to have thick skin," Houshmandzadeh said of the criticism leveled at Johnson lately. "If you don't know, you know now.
"We're not winning. That why he's not talking. Everyone is disappointed. He's no different."