Posted: 8:20 a.m.
LewisNo one can seem to agree on what's going to happen after the first losing season in the Marvin Lewis era.
Not even Marvin Lewis.
Last week on the same day Lewis gave two separate interviews. In one he said not to expect any earth-shaking changes and that he didn't know if he was going to be back next year. In another he said he was going "to blow it up," and he wanted to come back for a sixth season.
Opinions on what will happen are as diverse in his locker room.
"You know changes will be made; public opinion says you have to do something," said wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh while left tackle Levi Jones observed, "I'm not saying to keep it the same but don't write us off as the same old Bungles, either. What is this? The first losing season in five years?"
Correct. Even if the Bengals lose Sunday in Miami they will finish Lewis' five seasons with 41 victories. Not what he wants, but heading into Sunday's season finale it stands as the 12th-best record in the NFL since 2003.
The problem is that eight AFC teams are ahead of them and two of them (Pittsburgh with 50 and Baltimore with 42) are in their division.
NFL RECORDS SINCE 2003 (Courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau)
Patriots, 66-14, .825 Colts, 63-16, .797 Seahawks, 51-28, .646 Steelers, 50-29, .632 Chargers, 49-30, .620 Broncos, 48-31, .608 Eagles, 48-31, .608 Cowboys, 47-32, .595 Jaguars, 45-34, .570 Packers, 44-35, .557 Chiefs, 43-36, .544 Panthers, 43-36, .544 Ravens, 42-37, .532 Bears, 42-37, .532 Bengals, 41-38, .519
And, only one of those Bengals teams has had a winning record.
"Unfortunately in Bengals country it's happened too many times where we've had a disappointing season," Jones said. "People want to turn it back to the '90s and say, 'Here they go again.' That's not the case."
Houshmandzadeh indicated the players are going to want something to warp their arms around in the offseason. Not just the fans.
"You have to change something, whether it's players or coaches," Houshmandzadeh said. "Everybody needs to be focused next year and you can do that by making moves. If not, it's the same thing, and there's no hope."
No one even knows when Lewis and Bengals president Mike Brown are going to sit down for an end-of-season meeting. Lewis traditionally meets with every player the day after the season and he already meets with Brown every day. It may or may not have already happened.
There are indications that some of the coaches have contracts extending beyond 2007. But there are also coaches going into Sunday's game that haven't heard about their status for '08.
Yet the coaches are just one piece of it. Lewis may have some big-picture issues with which he wants to deal, such as which players he doesn't want back. Speculation in published reports has also centered on staffing of scouts and the construction of an indoor facility, but these are topics and reports that Lewis has not confirmed.
Nothing earth-shaking? Or blowing it up?
Jones referred to an interview Brown did back in the first week of November.
"Mike Brown went on record a few weeks ago and said get used to Marvin being around and Chad (Johnson) being around and he keeps his word," Jones said. "He means what he says and he says what he means."
While speculation has centered on a defense that is destined to finish 28th, 30th, and 27th from '05 to '07, the offense has struggled all season to score. The Bengals need to score five more points Sunday to beat the Lewis-low of 346 in his first season. But after scoring 27 or more points in eight games in 2005 and seven in 2006, the Bengals have hit that number just four times this year, twice in the last 14 games, and they haven't scored 20 in the last four.
The one consistent bright spot on offense has been Houshmandzadeh, but he'll have to have near a career day to take the NFL receiving title from the Patriots' Wes Welker. Welker had 11 catches Saturday night to give him 112 for the season. Houshmandzadeh, with a Bengals-record 103, needs 10. The last time he hit double-digits was, of course, against the Pats on Oct. 1 with 10.
"I don't know which coaches have guaranteed contracts and which ones are doing a good job or not," Houshmandzadeh said. "But I would think after a season like this we're going to see something whether it's players or coaches."