Marvin Lewis has been at this for a long time, but, in the grand scheme of things, he has little to show for it. In the NFL universe of parity and power shifts, one might think that it's merely a matter of time before statistics and probability point toward Lewis and his men reaching the promised land. Yet math alone will not guarantee this. Fate is a cruel mistress and there have been scores of examples of other men never reaching a championship despite living a lifetime of professional football.
Marvin is sage and wise but he is still not a winner. He has endured a variety of problems, distractions and setbacks that have kept him from the top. He could probably dish up heaps of worthwhile excuses for previously failed campaigns, but he would never do that. He should accept the praise that he deserves for breathing new life into a franchise that had plummeted into a decade of darkness and despair during the 1990's, but he equally deserves the blame for wallowing in mediocrity since his arrival in 2003. He knows what has happened in the past hasn't been good enough. While he and others would likely say something to the effect that not winning the Super Bowl translates into a failed season, I disagree.
Most times, teams and organizations achieve success in stages. His current staff of players and coaches have done well to make the playoffs in consecutive years-a milestone in and of itself-but simply attending a party doesn't make you the life of it. I have been proud of the group for growing into their success, but effective growth does not stagnate, and not reaching the next rung on the playoff ladder would now become a glaring disappointment. Marvin should not worry about what we think-and knowing anything at all about the man, he certainly doesn't-but there should be a tremendous amount of personal pressure boiling in his cauldron. If winning meaningful postseason games matters to him, then this year is paramount to his professional life.
There is still a chasm of opinions in the media regarding the men in stripes. Read Pete Prisco and you will walk away envisioning Andy Dalton hoisting the Lombardi Trophy while confetti accumulates on his championship ball cap. Read Adam Schein and you might expect Cincinnati to be on the clock with the first pick in next year's draft. Overall, however, most of the prognosis by media professionals is rather positive.
And for good reason.
Looking at this roster, one has to ask themselves: what's not to like? If you are one of those hung up on the limitations of Andy Dalton then there is little more to say about that. He is not the best at his position and likely never will be, but I do not agree that that precludes him from ever winning a championship. If you are bothered by the Andrew Hawkins injury and the lack of proven production by the supporting members around A.J. Green then you have a more valid point to your criticism, but by and large, the combined talent of the offensive weaponry seems ample, albeit crude. If you point to the unknown starter at safety opposite of Reggie Nelson then you're just nitpicking and trying to be argumentative and most of us don't have time for that.
There have been other times when the city of Cincinnati has revved up its excitement regarding its football team only to have those high hopes squashed almost immediately (2010 season, "Batman & Robin"). Then there have been times when we braced for the worst only to be pleasantly surprised in the end (2011, "Red to Green"). Because of this wild unpredictability and emotional scaring of the past, Bengal fans are cautious and apprehensive entering into this season. Whether he admits or not, I am convinced that Marvin Lewis feels the same way.
I can't say the same about his players though. Because of Hard Knocks, we get an inside glimpse of the team and its personality. They do not appear stressed or overwhelmed. They do not appear aloof or narcissistic. They seem to enjoy each other and the game and go about their business with a quiet confidence. The core has been together long enough to know what the league is like, but not long enough to experience burn out or succumb to the extreme pressure of the game. If games were won and lost by attitude alone, the Bengals might go undefeated, but this is a much deeper competition than that.
One can detect a much more palpable sense of urgency by the coaching staff. They realize that they have developed a possible power house but they also realize how tenuous of a monster that can be. Unlike the players, they do not have a lifetime ahead of them and the chance to be good, really good, comes around sparingly. The fact that the coaching staff has been in place together for a few years only adds to the excitement and pressure to make this year special. That urgency will make for an arduous road, even if success is achieved, and these men will be very tired by the end no matter what the outcome of the season turns out to be.
Quality drafts, productive development of young players, continuity of a well-respected coaching staff and a perceptible decline by their divisional rivals opens the door to glory more than ever for Marvin and his Bengals. To say he will be fired if the team fails to win or even make the playoffs isn't likely when looking back on the history of the team's ownership, but to say he missed out on the best chance of his life to truly become a winner in his field might be dead on. No matter how you spin it, this season is a critical chapter in Bengals history. Much of Marvin's legacy is hinged on its outcome.
Mojokong-back from the rings of Saturn.