Nothing is official when it comes to the notion of the Cincinnati Bengals needing a new head coach this offseason, but as the 2017 season comes to a close, it looks more and more as if the 15-year reign of Marvin Lewis is over.
Either way, whether one chooses to believe Adam Schefter’s recent report, or in noting the general aura of lethargy that’s been visible the past month, it seems as if the franchise’s leadership roles could look much different in 2018.
As many fans are excited at the potential change that seems to be overdue, one can’t ignore the many positives Lewis has given the Bengals since 2003. Regardless of if his time is truly up in The Queen City or not, here are the top moments in Lewis’ run as the Bengals’ head coach.
January 14th, 2003: Lewis gets hired as Bengals head coach
Cincinnati was a laughing stock in the NFL from 1991-2002. “The Lost Decade”, as many have come to call it, brought about a winning percentage that set a then-record for futility by any team in any of the four major sports in any 12-year span. Major changes were needed and the club knew they needed to look outside of their walls to turn things around.
Lewis was on a one-year stint as Washington’s defensive coordinator, but he built his resume in Baltimore. He created one of the best defenses the league had ever seen, and it netted the Ravens a Super Bowl victory.
Owner Mike Brown desperately wanted to bring in someone with a winning background, and though Lewis hadn’t had any NFL head coaching experience, he was one of the hottest names out there on the market. It wouldn’t take long for the coach to start to put his thumbprint on the team.
November 16th, 2003: Bengals shock the undefeated Chiefs
After a sluggish 1-4 start to Lewis’ first season, fans began to feed into the “here we go again” narrative. However, from Weeks 7-10, the Bengals went 3-1 and were back in the thick of the AFC at 4-5. Week 11 brought the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs as a true barometer to their early progress under Lewis.
Wide receiver Chad Johnson made things particularly interesting by guaranteeing a Bengals win that week—the first of his many bold proclamations to come in his career—and his team didn’t let him down. However, it was Peter Warrick, not Johnson, who stole the show, with an explosive punt return touchdown, as well as a 114-yard, one-touchdown performance through the air.
Lewis got his team to ready to play, and though there were some noticeable holes on the roster, he had them sniffing the postseason in his first year. The win against the Chiefs was a huge reason why that was the case.
"We've been pumped up all week anyway," said veteran Bengals tackle Willie Anderson, when talking to The Washington Post about the win and Lewis’ act of showing a vintage Muhammad Ali fight to the team on Saturday night before the game. "And we definitely got the message," referring to Lewis’ ability to get them pumped up for the matchup.
October 25th, 2004: Bengals win on Monday Night Football for the first time since 1990
When the 2004 season came around, the Bengals hadn’t hosted a Monday Night Football game since a beatdown by Neil O’Donnell and the Steelers back in 1992. The team hadn’t won on the stage since the exciting 1990 season and it didn’t look promising with the 5-1 Denver Broncos charging into town.
Yet, behind new starting quarterback Carson Palmer, he and Johnson lit up the night. No. 85 had a 50-yard touchdown and 149 total receiving yards, as the Bengals cruised to a 23-10 victory over Denver. It was one of the best performances by a Lewis-led Cincinnati squad in primetime.
December 5th, 2004: Lewis gets revenge in a whirlwind comeback
Though the Bengals didn’t end up making the postseason in Palmer’s first year as the team’s starting quarterback, they made a strong run at the bracket. Said run was largely thanks to an incredible comeback win over the Ravens in Baltimore.
Staring down the barrel of a 20-3 deficit in the fourth quarter, things looked bleak. However, Palmer, Johnson and the crew scored 24 points in the final quarter, including a last-second Shayne Graham field goal, to get to 6-6 with four games left in the season.
Palmer threw for 382 yards and three touchdowns against the likes of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Chris McAlister and others, as Lewis got a crazy win against his former employer.
December 4th, 2005: Bengals wipe away the Steelers at Heinz Field
As Palmer settled into his second season as the Bengals’ starting quarterback, the Bengals charged through the first half of their schedule. They were sitting at 7-2 upon entering their bye week, with a gigantic game in Week 13 against the Steelers.
It ended up being a crazy one, with Lewis’ squad prevailing in Heinz Field, 38-31. Because of so many stars on both teams, Cincinnati’s resurgence as a team under Lewis and the mouthiness of certain players on both rosters, this rivalry began to take on the life we see over 10 years later.
The win essentially sealed up the division for the Bengals and became a trademark win for Lewis. It also might be known as the “T.J. Houshmandzadeh/’Terrible Towel’ game”, as the former Bengals wideout was seen shining his cleats with the Pittsburgh icon after the victory.
December 18th, 2005: Cincinnati wins its first division title in 15 years
Just two short weeks after the win in Pittsburgh, Bengals fans received the news they had been longing to hear since the days of Sam Wyche. After their Week 15 win over the Detroit Lions, the Bengals were not only headed to the postseason since the first time in 15 years, but they were division champs.
Though they were young and there were a couple of holes on defense, they were opportunistic on that side of the ball, while Palmer and Co. re-wrote the franchise’s record books. Regardless of what happened in the postseason (and many believed they were Super Bowl-bound that year), it looked as if Lewis had built himself a dynasty.
October 11th, 2009: “The Cardiac Cats” charge through the AFC North
Really, this date is a culmination of a handful of games. It points to a last-second win over the Ravens, but it really was about a four-game win streak, chock-full of comeback thrillers.
The streak started with a quality win over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau Field, continued with one of Lewis’ best wins as the Bengals’ head coach over the Steelers, followed by an overtime thriller against the Browns and then exciting finish in Baltimore. Those three early division wins helped them to sweep the AFC North and get into the playoffs.
That Ravens game was special for a couple of reasons, though. First, it was amazing that Lewis was able to lead his club through four consecutive difficult contests and have them play four-plus quarters every time—especially with three of them in the AFC North.
The win over the Ravens also came a few days after Mike Zimmer’s wife, Vicki, unexpectedly passed away. The team rallied around their affable coach and garnered an emotional win. Though this may not have been the most talented Bengals team under Lewis, they really fought hard and played for their coaches throughout the year.
April 30th, 2011: A draft class to shape the next half-decade
Palmer was quitting on the team as Lewis was coming back after a disastrous 2010 and the Bengals needed to strike gold in the ensuing draft haul. Sure, there were some disappointments, but three linchpins selected in the first four rounds still start for this team today.
A.J. Green is on pace for a Hall of Fame career, as he just made his seventh Pro Bowl in as many seasons. Andy Dalton has come under his share of criticism, but he has re-written some of the Bengals records Palmer set earlier in career, while Clint Boling has been a steady presence at left guard.
This class, along with some of the stellar selections in 2010 (Jermaine Gresham, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins) helped to shape the team that was continuously at the top of the AFC for the next half-decade. Remember, this club ended up going 9-7 with those players, after some prognosticators had the Bengals going winless in the season.
December 29th, 2013: Lewis’ third AFC North crown
After surprising the league in 2011 with a playoff berth and a follow-up 2012 campaign that led to another postseason appearance, Lewis’ maturing team had their sights on something bigger in 2013. As it has often gone in recent years, the Bengals concluded the season with a game against the Ravens.
Cincinnati handed a battered Ravens team a 34-17 loss for their 11th win of the season. While the win was largely uneventful and Cincinnati was already en route to their third straight postseason berth, the win gave Lewis his third division title in his 11 seasons as the team’s head coach.
November 1st, 2015: A franchise-best start created by beating Pittsburgh
It was ugly and uber-physical, which has typified this rivalry, but the Bengals came away with a much-needed win in the middle of the season. Vontaze Burfict’s return from the PUP List had a prominent effect on the game, as evidenced by Pittsburgh’s 10 points on the day.
Aside from getting a rare win against the Steelers, Lewis and the Bengals also set a franchise record with the Week 8 win. With seven consecutive wins to start the season, it was the best start ever by a Bengals team.
January 3rd, 2015: Tying a team record for wins and getting to their fifth-straight postseason
Yes, the season concluded with heartbreaks that included Dalton injuring his thumb to miss the final four-plus games of the season, and an implosion of epic proportions in the Wild Card round. However, with another win at the end of the season against the Ravens, the team tied another great franchise mark.
With 12 wins on the year, Lewis is in the Bengals’ historical annals with Wyche for the most victories in a single Bengals season. It’s a mark that won’t easily be broken and is something of which Lewis should be proud.
So, while there are a lot of complaints about Lewis “never getting it done” in Cincinnati, there are still a high number events that show his overall effectiveness as the team’s head coach. What is your favorite Lewis memory from the past 15 seasons?