CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Head Coach Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals walks dejectedly during the game against the San Francisco 49ers on September 25, 2011 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. The 49ers defeated the Bengals 13-8. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
He's notorious for it. How many times in the Marvin Lewis era have the Bengals received the ball right before the half and decided to do nothing but take a knee with it? Too many to count and yesterday was no exception. We saw it all the time when Carson Palmer was this team's quarterback and Bob Bratkowski was its Offensive Coordinator. And even though they're gone, some things never change.
Lewis' latest example of cowardly football on Sunday afternoon might have been his most egregious. Coming out of the two-minute warning in the first half, the San Francisco 49ers were faced with a third-down situation, down 3-0. The Bengals defense, as they did pretty much the entire game, held firm and forced the 49ers to punt with just under two minutes remaining on the game clock. Momentum was back on the Bengals side before the break.
Since the 49ers elected to call a running play, a timeout would need to be called in order to stop the clock before the punt and get the ball back with ample time for Andy Dalton and company to run the two-minute drill. The Bengals had all three timeouts in their pocket at this point in the game. With that much time left on the board and the team still with two timeouts, it should have been a no-brainer on what course of action to take here.
Well, Lewis elected to not call a timeout and receive the ball with just over one minute left on the game clock. The Bengals started the drive around their own 15-yard line--did I mention that they still had all three of their timeouts? Though it was deep in their territory and had potential for a major momentum swing for either team, one would think they'd try to move the ball at least into field goal range before time expired.
My contention is simple: with that amount of timeouts and the amount of time the offense would have had to work with, they should not have sat on the ball. Furthermore, by running the ball with Bernard Scott twice to run out the clock, it showed that the Head Coach had/has zero confidence in the offense to take care of the ball and make plays at a critical point in the game. At this point, Andy Dalton had not turned the ball over in eight quarters of play and Mike Nugent hadn't missed a field goal this season. The Bengals could have desperately used additional insurance points to hang on to the lead.
Sure, This type of aggressiveness could have backfired. The cynical Bengal fan (every one of us) could point out that a "pick six", fumble or three-and-out could have happened. But on the flip side of that argument, what if the Bengals could have pieced together another fast-paced drive like the one they engineered at the very beginning of the game? If they even extended their lead to just 6-0, I think it would have done a lot for team morale and we very well might be talking about a different outcome. If you (Bengals front office) pride yourselves on finding a quarterback that makes good decisions and took care of the football, why handcuff the offense at a critical point in the game? Last I checked, there aren't many 3-0 victories in the NFL.
Instead, we all know what happened. The team got to hear the chorus of boos from
65,000 43,363 strong and went to the locker room hanging their heads, wondering why their coach didn't give them a shot to up the lead. The offense never recovered the rest of the afternoon and seemed lifeless the rest of the game.
There are a few "cardinal sins" in sports: don't make the third out at third base or home, don't get picked off at first by a right-hander, and don't take three unused timeouts to the locker room when you had had the ball and almost two minutes to work with. We've seen this all too often with Marvin Lewis in his nine-year tenure as Head Coach. I thought that with new personnel on both the field and sidelines, Lewis would stop playing scared--I was wrong. So was he.