CINCINNATI (AP) - The desperation was evident when coach Marvin Lewis fired his defensive coordinator and installed himself in the role the rest of the way.
Another season was slipping away. There was no more time to lose.
“Game day will be different for me,” Lewis said three weeks ago. “It will be a different approach, and it’ll be fun.”
No fun. No victories. And now, virtually no hope.
The Bengals (5-7) have unraveled the past three games, allowing more than 200 yards rushing twice while dropping all three and falling out of contention. A season that started with raised hopes at 4-1 has crashed with six losses in the past seven games. It’s their worst stretch of losing since they dropped 10 straight in 2010.
And there’s no reason to think it’ll get much better in the final four games.
The Bengals lost quarterback Andy Dalton to a torn ligament in his passing thumb a week ago. Receiver A.J. Green returned from a toe injury that sidelined him for three games, but aggravated it in the second quarter of a 24-10 loss to the Broncos on Sunday, likely ending his season.
The offense is missing its best players and the defense is still getting flattened with Lewis and special assistant Hue Jackson calling the shots in place of fired coordinator Teryl Austin.
The Broncos ran for 218 yards , the fourth time this season that Cincinnati has given up at least 200 yards rushing - a shocking statistic. The Bengals also gave up 198 yards rushing by Kansas City.
It’s only the fourth time in franchise history that they’ve allowed four 200-yard games in the regular season. The club record is six allowed in 1969, their second season as an expansion team.
Next up is a game on the West Coast against the Chargers (9-3), who rallied for a 33-30 win in Pittsburgh on Sunday night. The Bengals then host the Raiders (2-10). The finish with road games at Cleveland (4-7-1), which got four TD passes from Baker Mayfield in a 35-20 victory on Nov. 25 , and at Pittsburgh, which won 28-21 at Paul Brown Stadium on Oct. 14.
The only intrigue left is how owner Mike Brown reacts to the latest debacle.
The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest streak of futility in NFL history.
Lewis has gotten the Bengals into the playoffs seven times during his 16 seasons, and has lost in the first round every time for the worst postseason coaching mark in league history.
There were indications that Lewis’ stay in Cincinnati was ending last season when the Bengals got drubbed by the Bears and Vikings in successive weeks, dropping them to 5-9.
Even Lewis was noncommittal at that point about whether he’d be back. The Bengals won their final two games, and Brown - who has a deep aversion to change - decided that was good enough reason to give Lewis a contract extension.
This time, Brown could use the team’s injuries as cover for keeping Lewis in place if he wants to do so, although they still must find a defensive coordinator and figure out where special assistant Hue Jackson fits into next year’s plans.
The Packers fired head coach Mike McCarthy after a 20-17 loss to Arizona on Sunday left them 4-7-1. Brown always waits until the end of the season to decide next year’s plans, so Lewis is safe until at least then. Lewis said Monday he’s had no discussion with Brown about the future.
“The least of my worries,” he said.
Players understand that all the talk about turning the season around has become irrelevant.
“At some point, it’s not even about that,” receiver Alex Erickson said. “It’s up to you to perform. If you don’t, obviously there are going to be consequences.”
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