12-12-04, 8:55 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The way Marvin Lewis sees it, and the way the Hall-of-Fame coach he faces Sunday sees it, surround yourself with success and the wins will come in any month.
Successful coaches. Successful players. Successful schemes. Lewis' Bengals face Bill Belichick's Super Bowl champion Patriots in the kind of crunch-time game that defines NFL success.
"You can't be afraid to fail," said Lewis of what his team learned from last year's disappointment in the clutch. "It was a little bit of it. Guys fear the loss. You can't fear the loss."
Lewis comes from a Baltimore program that is 31-15 in November and December games since 1999. In the last four seasons, Belichick is a fearless 33-4 after Nov. 1. Lewis is 9-5 in Cincinnati, and trying to get to .500 in December Sunday at 3-3.
"Bill's not afraid to try different things," said Bengals' defensive assistant coach Chuck Bresnahan, who got his start in the NFL under Belichick a decade ago in Cleveland. "If he thinks (a player) can help him in a different spot, and he's athletic enough to do it, he'll do it."
If anyone knows what Belichick has in store for the Bengals Sunday, its Bresnahan. He's known him since 1973, when their Dads coached together at Navy. Then Chuck's Dad, Tom, coached the offensive line when Belichick coordinated the New York Giants defense in the early '80s and they took turns car-pooling to and from their Jersey homes. Then Chuck coached the Cleveland linebackers when Belichick head coached the Browns to the playoffs in 1994 and then to oblivion 1995, thanks to owner Art Modell's move to Baltimore.
"A disaster," Bresnahan said of that '95 season. "We left town to practice one week, just to get out of Cleveland it was such a mess. He's learned from experiences like that. I think he's learned a lot about himself as a head coach since those days. But, remember, he has been tremendously successful as a defensive coordinator.
"Everybody talks about "The Tuna," Bill Parcells, and the success he's had. Hall-of-Fame coach, this and that," Bresnahan said. "When Bill Parcells has had success, Bill Belichick has been right by his side. Look at the years (Parcells) has had success (two Super Bowl titles with the Giants, a Super Bowl appearance with the Patriots) and Bill's been there and look when he hasn't, and Bill's been somewhere else. The two of them together have done unbelievable things together. Bill (Belichick) has had success before this run."
It's that kind of surround-yourself-with-success thinking that drove Lewis to hire Bresnahan after last season's shakeup in Oakland. Even though Lewis already had a defensive coordinator in Leslie Frazier, Lewis created a job for Bresnahan. The more success, the merrier.
Frazier had been to two straight NFC championship games as the Eagles secondary coach. Bresnahan had coordinated the Raiders' defense to a Super Bowl appearance in 2002, but he had won Lewis' respect two years before in a Titanic defensive AFC title match won by Lewis' Ravens in one of those post-October games, 16-3.
"I think that's when Chuck and Marvin struck up their friendship," said Tom Bresnahan, now retired. "You've got to remember, that was such an important game and a great defensive game."
What Chuck Bresnahan probably learned the most from Belichick is watching his legendary preparation, and his penchant for being unafraid of going with something even if it was new.
"He finds out who your top players are and he's going to try and take them out," Chuck said. "He's not going to take out all five receivers, but he's going to go for the top one or two. If the running back is the best guy, he finds a way to stop him.
"If the quarterback is your best player, he tries different ways to confuse him, or play to his weakness," Bresnahan said. "If he's not a scrambling guy, he may use just one defensive lineman, drop everybody else into coverage, and dare him to run. You're going to get some unique schemes, and unique uses of personnel. Preparation is huge for Bill."
Bresnahan has no doubts what Belichick has eyed on the Bengals.
"He's seen the success of Chad and T.J. the last few weeks and how we've been able to go down the field," said Bresnahan of the Bengals wide receivers. "You figure Rudi (running back Johnson) is going to have to be a factor."
One thing Tom Bresnahan knows about Sunday's matchup, and what the Pats' November-December record shows. No panic on the New England sideline.
"I never saw Bill get flustered. Ever," Tom Bresnahan said. "He was very cool, very analytical. Excellent in adverse situations."
Tom Bresnahan smiles when people rave about Pats wide receiver Troy Brown playing cornerback and linebacker Mike Vrabel playing tight end. He remembers New York using a defensive lineman as a fullback on goal-line situations even before William Perry did it in the Super Bowl after the 1985 season.
Tom and Belichick got along well on those dark rides to and from Giants Stadium, and Tom thinks their relationship may have helped Parcells get the thing going in the right direction. So much for the anti-people Belichick.
"From what I had heard, there had been some friction between the offense and defense before," Tom Bresnahan said. "But we certainly didn't have a problem. I think things can get blown up into caricatures. Bill may not be the most social guy, but he's an intelligent, curious person and great guy to be around."
Chuck Bresnahan insists that Belichick's assistant coaches love his loyalty and his friendship. The generosity to his staffs (which isn't unlike what Lewis does for his guys in Cincinnati) is well documented, but Bresnahan won't get into specifics.
Yet he mentions coordinator Romeo Crennel, in his third stint on a Belichick defense, and Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli.
"That's not important. What is important is looking at how long his guys have been around him," Chuck Bresnahan said. "Romeo Crennel has stayed with him. They're talking about Scott Pioli for all these general manager jobs, but it's going to be very difficult for him to leave Bill."
It's all about success in the NFL. All about days in November and December and not having fear of a Super Bowl champion. The way Lewis and Belichick see it, they don't fear success. They try to bring it into the fold.
"You know where you stand with him," Chuck Bresnahan said.