|Marvin Lewis shared nothing but praise for Andy Dalton over the first year and a half, but flipped the script Wednesday. (US Presswire)|
The Bengals entered the bye week 3-4 and showing signs of a season with high expectations was fading into the dark abyss where so many underachieving Cincinnati campaigns have spiraled.
A three-game losing streak featuring an uninspiring offense and inconsistent defense forced coach Marvin Lewis to take a deeper look at how to pull his team out.
He showed his hand on Wednesday, as he called out quarterback Andy Dalton and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga.
“We're looking for our quarterback and our middle linebacker to take hold of our football team,” Lewis said. “I think both guys are such good people, that you got to be a little bit of a dick.”
Maualuga, whose struggles this season have been well-documented, was included in this conversation, but the headline is Lewis challenging his second-year quarterback. Praise and adulation were heaped on Dalton's as he led the Bengals to a 9-7 record and postseason appearance during his rookie year.
But after his team lagged through the first seven games this year, Lewis changed his approach.
“We are looking for Andy to take the next step of being the leader of the football team,” Lewis said. “Confident, being vocal if it needs to be, but grab this football team by the back of its neck and let's go. Let's move forward.”
Dalton's thrown at least one interception in every game this season and 10 on the year. He threw 13 picks all of last season. This season arrived with Dalton proclaiming how much more confidence he felt in the system. He also said his receivers, led by A.J. Green, were among the best in the league. Instead, the last three weeks the Bengals combined for an average of 18 points per game including just 10 points in 11 fourth-quarter drives.
Without a spark from somebody, there's no hiding Peyton and Eli Manning will close out any Cincinnati playoff aspirations over the next two weeks. Lewis will rely on his two leaders to turn stop playing the role of the nice guy in order avoid death by Mannings.
“Andy has a great deal of confidence, self-confidence, internal confidence, confidence in the guys around him,” Lewis said. “But at some point you step out of your skin and you go. It's time to go. It's time to step out of our skin. Both places. All throughout. We've wallowed around here in mediocrity. Let's go.”
Follow Paul Dehner Jr. for Bengals updates on Twitter @CBSBengals.