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Is Marvin Lewis the master of winning when it doesn’t matter?

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Was the end of the 2017 season a sign that the Bengals were turning things around? Or does Lewis just have a knack for winning when the season is lost?

Cincinnati Bengals v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

With the Bengals going thru their second consecutive losing season in 2017, many speculated that it would be the last season with Marvin Lewis as head coach.

As if a decade and a half on the job with zero playoff victories wasn’t enough of a reason to expect Lewis’ tenure to be at an end, the consecutive losing seasons seem to be the final straw.

After going 6-9-1 in 2016, the Bengals were sitting at 5-9 in 2017, and surely going to be looking for a new head coach, right?


With the playoffs out of reach, and nothing to play for (other than worse draft positioning) the Bengals won their final two games of the season to end the year at 7-9. Word leaked out that Marvin Lewis saved his job by finishing with those two meaningless wins down the stretch after the season was lost.

But something seemed quite familiar about the 2017 season, with a Lewis coached team winning when there was nothing to play for. But it is just our imagination?

Let’s take a look at the Bengals losing seasons with Lewis and see if this pattern repeats.

  • 2007 the Bengals began the year 5-9 before winning their final two games to finish 7-9
  • 2008 the Bengals began the year 1-11-1 before winning their final three games to finish 4-11-1
  • 2010 the Bengals began the year 2-11 before winning two of their last three games to end the year 4-12
  • 2016 the Bengals began the year 3-7-1 before winning three of their final five games to end 6-9-1
  • 2017 the Bengals began the year 5-9 before winning their final two, ending the year at 7-9

For those of you scoring at home, in the Bengals losing seasons they went 16-47-2 for a 0.262 winning percentage in the games that mattered most - those in the early and middle parts of the season when there was still a chance to right the ship and make something of the season.

But when the boat was already sinking, and there is no pressure to perform with nothing on the line, in those same five seasons the Bengals finished 12-3 for a 0.800 winning percentage.

On one hand, it’s difficult to fathom the massing flip in proficiency from a 0.262 winning percentage when the season was still on the line, to an 0.800 winning percentage when there was nothing to play for.

But on the other hand, it probably shouldn’t be that shocking to see a coach who has struggled to win games in the playoffs, in primetime, or against opponents with winning records, fail to win when the games mean something, but suddenly start winning after the pressure of winning had been eroded by the losing season.

Ultimately, it would seem that winning a pair of meaningless games at the end of the 2017 season probably should not have served as the impetus prompting the Bengals to retain Lewis as the team’s head coach. He has proven throughout his long tenure with the Bengals that he can win in those occasions when there is nothing to be won by winning.

Rather, the decision to keep a head coach should be predicated on his ability to win when there is actually something to be won by winning - and it’s by this measure that Lewis has repeatedly failed.


Bengals winning 2 games to end the 2017 season

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Is justification to keep Lewis. They turned it around late.
    (62 votes)
  • 81%
    It’s just Lewis being Lewis - only able to win when there is nothing to be won.
    (266 votes)
328 votes total Vote Now