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Search for Brat replacement nears end

Bob Bratkowski joined the Bengals in 2001.

Updated: 8 p.m.

Bengals president Mike Brown hates scapegoats and 10 days ago head coach Marvin Lewis wasn't sure "lopping" coaches would make the team better.

But on Monday the Bengals offered up the head of 10-year offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski in response to an underachieving unit that drew player criticism during a season that culminated in quarterback Carson Palmer asking for a trade.

After an awkward interlude at the Senior Bowl last week in which Bratkowski served as the North's offensive coordinator and called all the plays in Saturday night's game following Lewis' interview of former Vikings head coach Brad Childress, Lewis dismissed Bratkowski on Monday morning convinced that he's close to hiring from a pool of candidates meeting his need for change.

An announcement could be here by mid-week.

Bratkowski, who has combined with father Zeke to coach in 45 consecutive NFL seasons, had no comment Monday night and preferred to wait a few days.  

After Childress didn't work out, it's believed that Lewis' net extended into the college game as well as the NFL in his search for a young mind that brings experience as well as energy in the effort to revive Palmer and an offense that has struggled the past four seasons to match scoring with individual feats.

With the youngest offensive position coach 43-year-old quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, it's doubtful Lewis would go with an older guy but he's done a great job keeping his list quiet.

"It's a tough business and sometimes change is inevitable when things don't go well," texted left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "But we all share in the blame. Everyone could be better. Respected him as a coach and think of him as a friend. Wish him and his family the best."  

Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, viewed as a Draft Day gamble 10 years ago but nurtured by an early believer in Bratkowski, had no comment Monday night as he boarded a flight to Dallas for a variety of Super Bowl appearances.

Since Brown said that Palmer didn't point the blame at anyone, it's not clear if firing Bratkowski in the middle of his contract is going to soften Palmer's stance. But indications are the Bengals are going to go outside the staff and that Lewis took his search to Mobile.

"We've been all over the board a little bit too much and I think we have to focus in on what we are and what we're going to be and how we're going to do it," Lewis said before he left for Mobile. "The most effective offensive teams in the league do things over and over again and they build upon that. More with less.  

"What upsets me is I can't tell who we are. My disappointment is I can't tell you what we are. The key to offense is to be offensive and stay offensive. What we are is a big statement. It has to be all-encompassing."

Lewis is balancing the need for change with the need for stability dictated by the uncertainty of the collective bargaining agreement. Coaches can't talk to players starting March 4 if there is no deal. Free agents like running back Cedric Benson also can't sign with anyone. Benson, highly critical of last year's playcalling, endorsed the move Monday. He had indicated he wouldn't re-sign with the Bengals if there weren't changes and on Monday he said the Bengals are still on his radar.

He didn't back off from his belief that the Bengals need to recapture more of the smashmouth style that defined the 2009 playoff run. And he thinks they have enough talent even with the looming departures of The Ocho and tag-team partner Terrell Owens.      

"It's good to see the Bengals making some moves," Benson said. "It's not just about going back to that '09 style, but being able to fit everything together and use our talent. And we've got a lot of talent and I don't see any dropoff if those guys (Owens and Ocho) don't come back."

Benson, who says he could see himself here if Palmer isn't, hopes Palmer decides to come back.

"But he's got to be happy," Benson said. "He's such a big part of the puzzle that for him not to be happy, it would be tough."      

Bratkowski had some happy days here. After Boomer Esiason went to the Monday night booth in 1998, the Bengals passing game fell off the end of the earth and then head coach Dick LeBeau opted to replace offensive coordinator Ken Anderson in 2001 with Bratkowski, the Steelers wide receivers coach that had coordinated two NCAA champions at Miami and an NFL offensive leader in Seattle under Dennis Erickson. It was Erickson who brought Bratkowski into the NFL with the Seahawks in 1992.

Free-agent quarterback Jon Kitna, who played under Bratkowski in Seattle, gave the Bengals a shot in the arm until Palmer was ready with 54 TD passes from 2001-2003. That was after they had all of six TD throws in 2000. The Erickson-Bratkowski connection was also central in the club drafting a pair of Erickson's wide receivers at Oregon State in 2001, The Ocho in the second round and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the seventh, and they turned into the best Bengals receiving tandem in history.    

Under Palmer and Bratkowski, the Bengals set individual season highs for passer rating (Palmer in 2005), receptions (Houshmandzadeh in 2007), receiving yards (Ocho in 2007), and rushing yards (Rudi Johnson in 2005).

But it proved to be a volatile mix and the individual numbers never translated into playoff wins. After Palmer threw six touchdown passes in Cleveland the second week of the 2007 season, there has been a sense the rest of the NFL caught up with them.

In the 63 games since, the Bengals offense has accounted for at least three touchdowns in a game just a dozen times. In Palmer's first 47 starts, the Bengals averaged 24 points per game, followed by 20 since that day they put up 45 against the Browns. 

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