MOBILE, Ala. — Asked if it seems like 10 years ago this Senior Bowl he became head coach of the Bengals when the game's marquee player was Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer, Marvin Lewis shook his head.
"Time goes by fast," Lewis said here Monday. "The drafting of Carson, the fact Carson was here in this game. At that point, I wasn't paying much attention to Carson Palmer. I think a lot has changed. Hopefully we're continuing down the right path."
And Lewis said after watching Sunday's championship games, the right path is the running game.
"I have to do a better job of getting us to be able to run the football better; you have to flat out run the ball effectively," he said.
After struggling with the run early in the season and then using it to grease a four-game winning streak, the bottom fell out in the last three games when the Bengals rushed for a grand total of 141 yards on 53 carries—less than three yards per scrum—and lost the playoff game when they didn't or wouldn't run it when they had to. They averaged 18 tries in the last three games compared to 33 in the previous five.
Lewis watched the 49ers bludgeon the Falcons on 5.1 yards per carry and while the Ravens, particularly running back Ray Rice, didn't pound it against the Patriots (they had just 3.7 yards per carry), Rice's change-of-pace back, rookie Bernard Pierce did what he did against the Bengals in the season finale and knifed for 52 yards on nine carries. And the 33 total attempts helped keep Tom Brady on the bench.
"That's how we turned our season around," Lewis said. "That's how we were effective in 2011 after the lockout. We just have to be able to continue on those things."
"Those things" were magnified for Lewis on Sunday as he watched his old Ravens become the third AFC North team to reach the Super Bowl during his 10 seasons in Cincinnati.
"Those games showed the principles. You have to score points in the red zone. You have to play third-down offense and defense and every game comes down to turnovers," he said. "I didn't see the first half of the New England game, but from what I understand they didn't score any points and they had a chance to score touchdowns and then in the fourth quarter Baltimore just put the hammer down. They wanted it more than them, they were more physical than they were and they had more stops on third down and fourth down."
Lewis watched a playoff win escape two weeks ago when one of those deep balls that put the Ravens in the Super Bowl just missed when quarterback Andy Dalton overthrew A.J. Green in the end zone as the clock ticked under three minutes in Houston.
"We've got to get better at the vertical throws," he said. "I've got to do a better job of coaching. That's what I (took) away from the playoffs. There are things I have to do a better job of to get us to win the division and continue to keep playing."
Like the running game and vertical throws, but Lewis isn't down on Dalton. He wants and needs him to get better, but this is a sport in which Brady is 7-7 in his last 14 playoff starts and Peyton Manning has lost more than he's won. And those are the best quarterbacks of the preceding generation.
"It's why the playoffs are special; it's hard to win," Lewis said. "(Falcons quarterback) Matt Ryan took a while to win a playoff game on a good team. They've got a good structure around him. We've got to keep putting a great structure around Andy and Andy's got to keep progressing and getting better. All of our people have to do a better job of coaching and doing a better job of executing and a better job of playing. There are lots of positives, but we have to do a better job."
One guy that is still playing is Lewis's own creation as Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis straps it up for the last time in the Super Bowl. Lewis was the MVP in his one Super Bowl 12 years ago as Marvin Lewis won the chess match of defensive coordinators against good friend and Giants playcaller John Fox.
"It's awesome," Marvin Lewis said. "He's been able to will people to do more than they expect they could ever do. It's awesome."