The last days of the Marvin Lewis era will not be pretty.
The Bengals managed to bookend one of their bleaker weeks in recent memory by putting together a hollow effort against the Bears coming off an ugly loss Monday night at home to Pittsburgh, in what quickly devolved into a bodybag game, blowing a late, 17-0 lead in the process. On a weekend that would provide an opportunity for a few coaches to show some flicker that they should remain employed, the Bears-Bengals showdown stood out. And for Lewis, now, it stands out for all the wrong reasons.
There was a similar vibe to a desperate affair between the Lions and Bucs, as well, with both of those coaches firmly on the hot seat and with seasons slipping away. And it ended with Dirk Koetter sitting in a similar position with Lewis, left to coach out the remnants of a lost season knowing that change is in the air. Neither of these games will matter a bit in terms of postseason jostling (though the Lions do remain alive) but will go a long way to sending a message to antsy ownership groups.
But it's worse for Lewis. No one in the NFL had a worse week (you could say Sashi Brown, perhaps, but the former Browns general manager was actually spared having to sit next to owner Jimmy Haslam for another Sunday debacle, and Brown can escape the full stain of an 0-16 season, should the Browns complete their manifest destiny). For the Bengals to go from leading the Steelers in the second half on Monday, at home, to blowing that game and seeing players suspended, and for their lack of discipline to undermine them again, and then to fail to show up against a bad Bears team, again at home, marks a low point for this group.
Any real window they had to compete for a division title was long gone, and this team has been trending in the wrong direction for several years now after an unprecedented five straight playoff appearances from 2011-15. It's one thing to get a little older on defense and to lose some key talent to free agency and to see a personnel dip from no longer picking so high in the draft, it's quite another to do it in this fashion. And it comes as the team is clashing with top pick John Ross over his injury history -- he was put on IR after a totally lost season -- and with questions being asked about Andy Dalton's future as a starting quarterback.
When Lewis failed to get the rolling, one-year contract extension this summer, as he had during several training camps before, it was clear that he was on notice as never before after a six-win campaign in 2016. Now, at 5-8, the Bengals are looking at another losing season and with three fairly daunting tests ahead -- at Minnesota, against the Lions and at the Ravens -- this could be a brutal slide into 2018 for this group.
Koetter could relate. He's had his share of high-profile discipline misadventures with Jameis Winston and Mike Evans -- two recent first-round picks -- nearly starting a brawl in New Orleans a few weeks back with their sideline antics, and with Winston's progress stalled, well, it certainly looks like it's over there, too. Crowds are sparse and the Bucs find new ways to lose games, and from what I gather there is mounting concern within that front office that ownership's changes may go beyond just the coaching ranks. I figured the Bucs for a playoff team, like the Giants, but instead Koetter stands to meet the same fate as Ben McAdoo whether it comes in season or after it.
And John Fox, under mounting pressure in Chicago and with rifts there between the coaching side and front office well known around the league, stemmed off any potential in-season change for at least another week by pounding the Bengals ... but next week those Bears are in Cleveland, and should the Browns manage to finally win a game at their expense, the fury of the Chicago fans could reach new proportions.
Meantime, Haslam has already demanded Browns coach Hue Jackson remain in that position for 2018, even as he suffers stupefying defeat after defeat, following the news of his job security by blowing a late 21-7 lead and losing to Brett Hundley's Green Bay Packers. This league is hard to figure sometimes.
Newton, Hundley provide playoff-quality plays
If the Panthers get in the playoffs, and if the Packers get in the playoffs, you can go back to two plays this season as to why. Cam Newton, with the Panthers reeling and him coming off a bad interception and the Vikings just rallying for 10 quick points to tie the game, reversed what might be the fortunes of his team's season. His 60-plus yard rumble not only set up the winning score, but may have saved their season.
A loss to the Vikings coupled with a difficult remaining schedule filled with tough NFC South foes may have pushed Carolina out of the postseason. And anything short of Newton taking the game over, physically, and rumbling through the entire Vikings stout defense, probably would have left the Panthers with a troubling loss. It was do or die time, and Newton made an MVP play at a time when his offense was getting suffocated.
And Hundley still leaves a lot to be desired as quarterback, but the kid has heart and just enough of a flare for the dramatic. He converted a third-and-2 run near the goal line and then tossed a touchdown pass at the end of regulation to complete a comeback that will give the Packers an infusion of hope, energy and momentum down the stretch with Aaron Rodgers coming back next week. Hundley led the comeback drives with his legs and turns the reigns over to Rodgers now at 7-6 -- doing so at 6-7 and off a loss to the winless Browns would have felt quite different.
More Week 14 notes
- We can knock the quality of play in the league a lot -- and I do -- but this parity stuff still works out pretty well in the end, doesn't it? You have to hand it the model the NFL utilizes, with new teams pushing for the postseason every season and the anything but predictable. Three teams -- Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Minnesota -- entered play Week 14 with a chance to clinch a playoff spot after missing the playoffs last year. Entering Week 14, six of eight divisions had a team in first place or tied for first place that finished in third place or worse in its division last year. In 14 of the past 15 seasons, at least one team won its division the season after finishing in last place. As many as four teams that finished in last place in 2016 could win their divisions in 2017 -- which would be the most in NFL history (Carolina, Jacksonville, LA Chargers, Philadelphia). Eight teams that missed the playoffs last season would qualify for the playoffs right now if the season ended in Week 14.
- Was impressed by Baker Mayfield. We had him in studio Sunday morning at "The NFL Today" after winning the Heisman this weekend and he handled himself well. The kid has some verve and personality and he made an impression. There is a little something to him, he has a bit of presence and even some of our makeup people who don't have a clue as to who our guests are and who don't follow football were chatting about some of the jokes he cracked. He's going to go much, much higher than anyone thought at the start of the college football season and I could see him in the first round based on what I'm hearing.
- It's time for the Giants to play Davis Webb. Embrace it. The streak is over, the offense stinks with Eli Manning and the losses don't really matter now, anyway (they just help with draft position). Let Sunday serve as Eli's send-off at home, give Webb every snap at practice this season and, if you want to evaluate him, then give him the final three games.
- The Raiders were another team that failed to show up Sunday. Yeah they scored some garbage-time points, but this game was 26-0 when it counted and it could have been worse, and they allowed the Chiefs to save their season at the Raiders' expense. The firing of the defensive coordinator did nothing to mask Oakland's ineptitude on offense, and finding a way to muster 88 total yards in the first half of an NFL game against a Chiefs defense that had been an absolute failure for the last month or so is going to resonate for some time to come.
- On the opposite side, Washington managed to let the Chargers rack up over 350 yards in the first half alone. Injuries mounting is one thing, but that's not professional grade. Does Josh Norman make big plays anymore? Washington doesn't pay big bucks to many guys, but he is one of them.
- The more I see of Jimmy G the more I like him. San Fran better get that franchise tag ready.