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Competitive games are making it easier to keep Marvin Lewis around

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With a win against Oakland sandwiched between narrow losses to Cleveland and Los Angeles, Mike Brown will have an easy time justifying the retention of Marvin Lewis.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 Bengals were pretty bad, and as the Bengals were in the midst of a downward spiral, rumors surfaced that Marvin Lewis would retire.

At 5-9 and facing two teams with aspirations for the playoffs Bengals proceeded to beat both of those teams, and Lewis got a two-year extension following his 7-9 campaign.

The 2018 Bengals are a far worse — and damaged — product, yet Lewis might be able to keep his job in a similar fashion.

Despite a 4-1 start to the season, the Bengals took a nose dive in the middle of the season. A 45-10 loss to the Chiefs, a 37-34 win over the Buccaneers in which the Bengals squandered a 21-0 lead, and a 51-14 loss to the Saints forced the Bengals to give Teryl Austin the boot after the defense reached some historical lows. Marvin Lewis himself took over defensive play calling duties, but the defense didn’t improve much to outweigh the disaster the offense would soon become.

In the six games the Bengals played after their Week 5 win over the Dolphins, the Bengals only scored 19 points a game (if you take out the game against the Buccaneers, the average drops to 16).

On both sides of the ball, the Bengals were free falling. But have they found the Marvin Lewis equivalent of a parachute?

In the last three weeks, the Bengals have looked better, but not by much. However, if you believe Lewis’ job security is still up in the air, these last three weeks may be enough to help Marvin keep his job.

In Week 14, the Chargers took a 7-0 lead in the first four minutes in the game. Despite that, the Bengals hung around for the rest of the game, and had a chance to win it in the last minute. The Bengals ended up losing 26-21, but keeping it that close against a team coming off a win over the Steelers was a moral victory for the Bengals.

Then the Bengals finally snapped their losing streak and soundly beat the Raiders 30-16. Never mind the fact that the Raiders have the worst record in football, the Bengals looked better than they had in weeks. But defeating a team that had traded away their best players and an awful defense is hardly an accomplishment.

Then in Week 16, the Bengals fell flat on their faces out of the gates against the Browns. The Bengals went into the locker room at halftime with negative passing yards and fewer total yards on offense than the Browns’ running back Nick Chubb. Their offense couldn’t even score until the fourth quarter and lucked into good field position with a punt block late in the game. Somehow, the Bengals were within one score of beating the Browns within that last several minutes until David Njoku took a 66-yard pass to the Bengals red zone to seal the game. But the Bengals almost won, so they will chalk that up to a moral victory as well.

There’s no way to sugarcoat the situation: the Bengals are bad. They have one of the worst defenses in the league, and their offense has been struggling to find points. Yet, the coaching staff is doing little to improve the woeful quality of play.

Players like Bobby Hart and Hardy Nickerson are getting endless chances, while Josh Malone, Auden Tate and Christian Westerman can’t buy a snap. When he’s dealing with the players he does put out on the field, Lewis seems totally confused when to be conservative and when to be aggressive. Additionally, his taste in assistant coaches is... interesting, to say the least. He hired a defensive coordinator that would go on to lead the league’s worst defense, and after firing him, he brought in a “special assistant” that achieved a 3-36-1 record in his most recent stint as a HC himself.

But despite Lewis’ poor performance as a head coach in 2018, injuries and late-season competitiveness will probably be enough for him to keep his job. Mike Brown will commend Lewis for being competitive in these late games despite losing many of his best players to injured reserve.

Granted, injuries are a significant hurdle to overcome, but by this point in the season every team is working around injuries.

But the Bengals are looking good late in games in which they have no business hanging around. Barely losing to the Chargers and Browns while beating up on the league’s worst team looks good on paper to Mike Brown, but anyone with eyeballs can see that this team is not what the box score indicates.

So the Bengals are set to repeat their 2017 season. After looking awful for most of the season, they will pull some magic out of their sleeves and keep Lewis around.

Lewis is hoping that the deed is already done as the Bengals are going into Pittsburgh next week. If Lewis has to beat the Steelers — who will be fighting for their playoff lives — to save his job, that is a worst-case scenario for him.

But odds are that his job is already saved. Honestly, there are so many things wrong with the Bengals, that Mike Brown can point to any one of those things and forgive Lewis because of it.

Because the Bengals are “winning” again, Marvin Lewis will get to coach again in 2019.