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Brown changed some of his team’s operating philosophies. He stopped drafting and signing troubled players in hopes he could redeem them. Rather than letting star players leave when they were in line for big contracts, they began keeping them.

“We knew it was going to take a lot of change on everybody’s part,” Lewis said. “I got a chance to start over again here as a new coach.”

The last four drafts have brought a treasure trove of talent _ Jermaine Gresham, Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard. They took a gamble on a player with a trouble past by signing linebacker Vontaze Burfict as an undrafted free agent and it paid off.

The Bengals finished in the top 10 in offense and defense for the first time since 1989, and the coaches think the recent continuity is a big part of it.

“Having the players and they hear the same message from the first day I’ve walked in here until last week _ I’m preaching the same message all of the time,” defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. “I think that’s important to have guys that understand these things. Communication is a big part of football and the way I say things, they’ve heard it now for a few years.”

A win on Sunday would end that long playoff drought and be a huge step in refurbishing their image.

“Now, the next hurdle is winning this game on Sunday,” said Lewis, who is 90-89-1 with the Bengals. “That pushes to another hurdle. And the next hurdle.”

Notes: The Bengals practiced at Paul Brown Stadium in snow Thursday with temperatures in the 20s and wind chills in single digits. They don’t have a covered practice field, but have rented the University of Cincinnati’s covered field from time to time. … CB Dre Kirkpatrick was sick and didn’t practice. LT Anthony Collins (ankle) and CB Terence Newman (knee) also were held out. Nine others were limited, including WR A.J. Green (sore knee). … The Bengals got an extension until 4 p.m. Friday to sell out the game and avoid a local television blackout.


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