Come Monday, we should finally get what we want: Marvin Lewis not coaching the Bengals in 2018.
This isn’t always what we wanted, though. For instance, when Lewis led the Bengals to 11-5 in 2005, we were delighted to have a winning record and play in the playoffs for the first time since 1990. But recently, Marv from the Bengals is making decisions like Marv from Home Alone.
When did we decide that Marvin was no longer the savior of the franchise? What compelled Cincy Jungle to make “Fire Marvin” t-shirts, and what made Bengals fans so fed up that the shirts sold out? When did we want the winningest coach in franchise history to pack his bags?
Let’s start from before the beginning. Forrest Gregg and Sam Wyche had both taken the Bengals to the Super Bowl, even though both would eventually lose to Joe Montana and the 49ers.
Nonetheless, Wyche was fired three years after his Super Bowl appearance, and the Bengals were sentenced to a generation of incompetence.
The next three coaches all fell flat on their faces and defined the image of failure that the Bengals are still trying to shake. David Shula had a winning percentage of .268 before he was fired seven games into the 1996 season.
His replacement, Bruce Coslet, fared only slightly better with a .350 winning percentage. He survived five more seasons before being canned only three games into the 2000 campaign.
Dick LeBeau succeeded Coslet, but was far less successful. Not only did he record a winning percentage of .267 and was at the helm for a 2-14 season in 2002—the worst record in Bengals history.
That brings us to Marvin. LeBeau was axed after reaching a franchise low. The Bengals brought in Lewis, who was a successful defensive coordinator with Baltimore and Washington.
At the beginning of Marvin’s tenure, he was well received on account of not being Dick LeBeau. Lewis was 8-8 in his first two seasons as the Bengals head coach. Since the Bengals had only been as good as 8-8 once since Wyche’s departure (which was in 1996 during the year Shula was fired and Coslet took over seven games in), the sadly lowered bar had been greatly surpassed.
Things were trending upward until “The Injury.”
The 2005 Bengals are arguably the best team the Bengals have ever had. Carson Palmer passed for what was at the time the second most passing yards in a single season in Bengals history, as well as the highest touchdown-interception ratio.
Rudi Johnson set the single-season franchise record for rushing in 2004 and again in 2005, which are still top-two in Bengals history.
Chad Johnson caught 97 passes for franchise-record yardage en route to earning First-team All-Pro honors. For the first time since Sam Wyche, the Bengals won their division and were going to the Playoffs. Marvin Lewis had won the first of his four AFC North titles, and was primed to make a deep playoff run, until “The Injury.”
None of us blamed Marvin for losing the the Steelers in the Wild Card round. As we all know, Carson Palmer was brutally injured on the first pass play of the game. Kimo von Oelhoffen tore Palmer’s ACL before the Bengals had a chance to win that game.
Of course, we didn’t know that this would be the first of seven Wild Card losses under Marvin’s leadership, but we also realized that it would take a lot more than Jon Kitna to win in the playoffs. But as soon as the Bengals climbed to the top, they fell almost as quickly.
Of course, by this point, Marvin was a hero. Following a franchise-worst 2-14 season, Lewis spent four years as the only Bengals coach to never record a losing season. He led the miserable “Bungles” to take control of the division.
Even though the Bengals were knocked out of the first round, Lewis had done so much already, it would take a disaster (or seven in a row) for him to fall out of favor in Cincinnati.
Lewis would go 19-28 over the next three seasons. He turned things around in 2009, though, going 10-6 and winning the AFC North for a second time. The Bengals would go undefeated in division play that year. Chad Johnson, now Chad Ochocinco, received 72 catches for over 1,000 yards before going to the Pro Bowl again, as offseason free agent signing Cedric Benson rushed for the seventh-highest single-season rushing total in franchise history.
Unfortunately, the playoff curse would strike again as Mark Sanchez would lead the 9-7 Jets over the Bengals in the Wild Card round. Sacks and turnovers kept the Bengals to only 14 points against Rex Ryan and Gang Green, despite entering the game as 10-point favorites.
What was a surprisingly productive season ended in playoff disappointment. After being embarrassed in New York by the Jets and losing 37-0 in the last regular season game, the Bengals couldn’t find a way to beat them at home in their second consecutive matchup.
The team would have an off year in 2010 that would make Palmer bail on the Bengals. We all feared that Palmer’s departure would signal a continuation of the losing culture that defined the Bungles of the ‘90s. Even though Marvin had now been in town for eight years, the Bengals still couldn’t get over the hump.
In terms of regular season record, however, 2010 would be a blip on the radar. Marvin would lead the team to a disappointing 4-12 season, but this would set them up for one of the best drafts in franchise history. In 2011, the Bengals selected A.J. Green in the first round, Andy Dalton in the second round, and Clint Boling in the fourth round.
The rookie quarterback and receiver would lead the Bengals to a 9-7 season which was good enough to land them in the playoffs despite being third in the AFC North. Dalton, Green, second-year tight end Jermaine Gresham, and second-year defensive tackle Geno Atkins all made it to the Pro Bowl. But the Bengals would be sent packing from the playoffs for the third time in Marvin’s tenure.
Could we really blame Marvin for that loss? After all, the Bengals just barely snuck into the playoffs that year after the Jets and the Raiders lost in Week 17. The four Pro Bowlers were either rookies or second-year players. They did lose to the AFC South Champions that boasted the 4th best scoring defense in the NFL that year.
The next year Green and Gresham were even more productive and Geno Atkins was named first-team All-Pro. With an improved record of 10-6, the Bengals climbed to second place in the AFC North and made the playoffs a second straight time. But they played the Texans again in the 2012 Wild Card game and lost.
The offense fell flat despite having some standout playmakers on that side of the ball. Even though the Texans defense was as good as the previous year, everyone expected the Bengals (who scored 24 points a game) to get more than 13 points, with the only touchdown coming from a Leon Hall pick-six. Even though the Bengals were four-point underdogs, this was not a good showing.
In 2013, the Bengals looked like they had everything together. Bengals assistant coaches featured Jay Gruden (offensive coordinator), Hue Jackson (quarterbacks), Mike Zimmer (defensive coordinator), and Paul Guenther (linebackers); three of which are current head coaches, while the fourth is speculatively a candidate to take the Bengals’ head coaching job.
Under Gruden and Jackson, Dalton broke the single-season franchise record of 4,293 yards and 33 touchdowns (but didn’t make the Pro Bowl, oddly enough). Youngster Marvin Jones and Green both received 10 or more touchdowns and undrafted free agent Vontaze Burfict made the Pro Bowl with 115 total tackles. The Bengals took home their first of two AFC North titles in the Dalton/Green era.
For the first time since 2009, the Bengals had homefield advantage in the playoffs and entered the game as a six-point favorite. But when the 11-5 Bengals took on the 9-7 Chargers, the offense once again went limp. The sixth-best scoring offense in the NFL only scored 10 points in that embarrassing loss.
That game, more than any other, describes the Bengals playoff woes. The Bengals should always have explosive offenses with Dalton and Green. Yet, they have always had trouble scoring in the most important games, only putting up 14 points a playoff game under Lewis. 2013 is most extreme case; the Bengals had the fewest point total, yet the offense was completely healthy.
In the next two playoff games, one could argue injuries to Jones, Green, and Dalton affected the outcome of each game. This was not the case in 2013 as the Bengals faced one of the worst defenses of all seven teams they played with Lewis at the helm.
After the 2013 Wild Card loss, grumblings were louder than ever as Bengals fans demanded an explanation for the horrible defeat.
The Bengals would make the playoffs again in 2014, but with injuries to Green, Gresham, Marvin Jones, and Tyler Eifert, the Bengals’ offensive inability could be justified. The leading receivers in that game among the depleted offense were Rex Burkhead, Giovani Bernard, and Ryan Hewitt. It would have taken a New Year’s miracle to salvage that season against the Colts and their aptly named quarterback, Andrew Luck.
While many were thinking 2015 would be the year of the Bengal, the Chinese were more accurate in calling it the year of the sheep. Green, Jones, Eifert, Mohamed Sanu, Bernard, Jeremy Hill, and Burfict were all supposed to be healthy.
While Dalton, and eventually AJ McCarron filling in during Dalton’s injury, had impressive seasons at quarterback, the Bengals boasted the second-best scoring defense in the NFL. Reggie Nelson and Adam Jones made the Pro Bowl, as well as Atkins who also secured first-team All-Pro honors again. Cedric Peerman represented special teams at the Pro Bowl, while Green and Eifert were clear locks for the game.
The Bengals had a collection of impressive wins to start the season 8-0, including wins against the defending NFC Champion Seahawks and the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Even though Dalton injured his hand in their second matchup against the Steelers, McCarron fared well all things considered.
The former National Champion from Alabama went 2-2 in the last four games, including an overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl-winning Broncos. The Bengals finished with a franchise record-tying 12 wins en route to Marvin’s fourth (and probably last) AFC North title.
The Bengals played against the Steelers in Paul Brown Stadium for the Wild Card game. While the offense did struggle behind the leadership of the second-string quarterback, a new problem presented itself. With a lead late in the fourth quarter, Adam Jones and Burfict both committed personal fouls that moved the Steelers into field goal range. The Bengals would lose that game by two points.
Jones and Burfict already had a reputation as hotheads, but their actions in this game solidified that legacy. Marvin Lewis showed that he has no control over two of his biggest liabilities. Not only was Marvin criticized for his inability to show up in big games, he also showed that he either was unable or unwilling to do anything about his team’s detrimental antics. Now, more than ever, people were calling for Marvin’s head.
The 2016 season was about as disappointing as could be expected. Marvin Jones and Sanu walked out the door, and A.J. Green missed almost half the season due to injury. The Bengals and Marvin Lewis fell to 6-9-1 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011 (or for glass-half-full folks, the Bengals ended their streak of Wild Card round losses).
For the first time since Marvin arrived in Cincinnati, he was not given a contract extension at the end of the year. 2017 would be a make it or break it year for Marvin.
We would later find out that 2017 would in fact be a break it year. His offense would score nine points in the first two games of the season, prompting him to fire his second-year offensive coordinator, Ken Zampese.
The Bengals first-round draft pick, John Ross, would end up playing only 17 snaps before landing on Injured Reserve. The offensive line was in shambles after letting the two best players walk away.
But worst of all, Marvin had no sense of urgency all year. His coaching was unsatisfactory, but his explanations were just bizarre. There is enough material for an entire article, so we won’t go into it all now. If you forgot (or blocked it from your memory), you can look here, here, here, here, here, or here.
Of course, by 2017 the only thing that was going to save Marvin’s job was pretty much a playoff win. We knew Marvin’s weaknesses coming in, and some of us falsely hoped he could overcome them.
After each playoff loss, the voices clamoring for Marvin’s removal grew louder. The 2013 loss to San Diego really added fuel to the fire, given the lack of offensive prowess that the offense had previously shown.
The 2015 loss to the Steelers was pinned on Marvin, despite Dalton’s absence, because of his lack of discipline. Both of these issues have yet to be corrected, and it looks like Marvin will never have that opportunity again. Even Marvin defenders had some inklings of doubt after those games.
The reality is that we never felt fully comfortable with Marvin’s playoff performances. Each game seemed like a do or die, but some injury or unforeseeable circumstance would take the blame off of Marvin and somehow save him to fight for his job the next year.
But after not making the playoffs for the last two years, even the best record in franchise history won’t be enough to save him.
When did you get sick of Marvin?
This poll is closed
2009 Wild Card loss
2011 Wild Card loss
2012 Wild Card loss
2013 Wild Card loss
2015 Wild Card loss
2017 Regular season