Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis sent his disappointed team into the offseason Monday with the message that when they return in April playing with poise is going to be a point of emphasis.
And no more arguing with the officials.
"Through the midseason and later in the season, that's when we started making it a real emphasis," said linebacker Vincent Rey on moving out day at Paul Brown Stadium. "This coming season from day one in April I bet it's going to be about having poise. That's going to be a big emphasis."
Defensive tackle Domata Peko said Lewis wasted no words Monday morning in the team's last meeting of the season.
"Coach has already said that moving forward here we're not going to do things that way," Peko said. "If anybody is having any arguments with referees he's going to get you out of there. Moving forward we're going to make that change, and it's a good change.
Less than 48 hours after the excruciating 18-16 loss to the Steelers in the Wild Card Game, the scars were still visible as the media delivered its going-away present with a cascade of questions surrounding the pair of 15-yard personal foul penalties on WILL backer Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam Jones at the end of the game that gave Pittsburgh the winning 35-yard field goal.
The Bengals continue to acknowledge that they shouldn't have lost their cool but they also insist the last unsportsmanlike conduct penalty call on cornerback Adam Jones was provoked by Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter illegally on the field. At the very least, said left end Carlos Dunlap, it had to be an off-setting penalty.
"I have a ton of respect for the Steelers," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "(Head coach Mike) Tomlin and I had a big hug at the end of the game apologizing for everything that happened. I got a lot of respect for those guys. Joey Porter is not one of them. He's not one of the guys I respect very much. He's a guy that has always run his mouth. He's always been disrespectful. Before the first game he was at midfield wanting to fight. He's a coach, not a player. He has to be held to a higher standard. I think the unprofessionalism he has shown is ridiculous. It really is."
Whitworth, an offensive captain, doesn't see a team out of control and he points to the 12-4 record, the best under Lewis. But he sees room for improvement if need be.
"It's on all of us. At the end of the day, men are men and there's nothing a coach can do, honestly, in a situation to control guys. There has to be a baseline, for sure. We'll look at that as a group with Marvin. I think we always look at what we can be better at. If that's a problem, we'll address it and we'll hold guys accountable if that's the case."
As for Burfict's hit on Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, a flag for hitting a defenseless receiver high, his teammates thought it was a bang-bang play.
"I think he was just doing his job. If (Brown) catches that over the middle they're going to kick an easy field goal, so what does he try and do he tries to do his job get the ball off him, said defensive tackle Domata Peko. "In games like that a flag shouldn't determine whether you're going to go to the next round. I believe there should be some kind of new rule in the playoffs where things are on the line that they'll have someone in the booth that can overturn the call."
Peko also had an uncharacteristic unsportsmanlike penalty call early in the game when he was called for coming off the bench in a poncho and yelling at a Steeler. He said that's because running back Fitzgerald Toussaint was yelling at the Bengals bench and Peko was telling him to go back to his bench.
"But I forgot I had my cape on," Peko said.