Bengals' Backslide Leads to Questions at Coach, Quarterback

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 10, 2008

They are back to being the same old stumbling and bumbling Cincinnati Bengals. The respectability to which Marvin Lewis and Carson Palmer elevated them just a few years ago is a quickly fading memory.

Now the questions are: Will Lewis hang around as their coach beyond this season to try to get things fixed again? And will Palmer be healthy enough to assist him as the team's quarterback?

The answers probably won't be known with any certainty until after the Bengals finish playing a dreary season that next includes a meeting with the Washington Redskins on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Bengals take a record of 1-11-1 into the game, and there's little reason to believe things will be any different for them in the coming weeks. Palmer has been sidelined since Oct. 5 by an ailing right elbow, and his replacement, Ryan Fitzpatrick, neither scares anyone nor has much help. The Bengals lost Sunday to the Indianapolis Colts, 35-3.

Lewis is doing his best to remain upbeat.

"I'm positive we're going to win the last three games," he said during his postgame news conference Sunday. "Very positive. That's what we're going to do. We're going to work our butt off to win the last three games."

But what really matters for the franchise is what happens when the season ends. Any NFL team revolves around its head coach and its quarterback, and the Bengals have huge questions about both.

Several people within the league said in recent weeks they believe owner Mike Brown is unlikely to fire Lewis and pay him the remainder of a contract that runs through the 2010 season. In a recent interview with the team's Web site and the Cincinnati Enquirer, Brown praised Lewis for continuing to get his players to put forth effort.

"In many ways he's done an incredibly good job," Brown said, according to the Bengals' Web site. "Our players still try hard, and that's hard to come by when you go through all the losing this team has gone through."

But some also speculate privately that Brown and Lewis could agree to part ways after the season over team operational issues. Lewis fueled the notion an offseason parting is possible when he said in a story published last month on NFL's Web site, "It's not a shock to say that we have to make some changes for the future for me to remain here."

Lewis was asked about that statement during his news conference on Nov. 20 following a loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh. He said: "We need to change how we're getting things done. And I'm talking about playing. I'm not talking about anything other than that. . . . I didn't mean anything other than that context. We need to make sure that we continue to develop our guys and do a good job of coaching and playing."

Lewis also said that night he hadn't given any thought to not being with the Bengals next season. He was asked how draining this season has been on him, and said: "It's part of my job. When you don't win, it's draining. When you win, it's draining. It's all the same. It doesn't change much. . . . My feelings don't matter for anything, anyway."

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