<
>

Marvin Lewis admits Bengals' prime-time play is confounding

CINCINNATI -- Like a bloodied boxer whose corner reluctantly ceded defeat, Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis gave in once and for all.

On the issue of his team's performance on the national stage, the white towel was finally thrown.

He admitted that his team's woes on the big, prime-time stage were bothersome to him.

"It does confound me," Lewis said following the Bengals' 24-3 loss Thursday night to the division-rival Browns. "It does."

The losing record (now 6-14) his teams have shown in Sunday, Monday and Thursday night games since he took over as head coach in 2003 has rankled a fan base that is now used to division titles and playoff berths. This season's 0-2 showing in prime time has fans even more restless than normal. A breaking point is close, and it's one that may completely burst if the Bengals get embarrassed at home in six weeks when one of the best quarterbacks in the league, Peyton Manning, brings the Denver Broncos to town.

Clearly, Lewis was troubled Thursday night as he sought to find an answer as to why yet again, it appeared his team was ill prepared for the moment.

"For whatever reason, two times this year, we haven't played very well," Lewis said, referring to the 43-17 loss at New England on a Sunday night last month. "The one thing that comes out of both of those [games] is turning the ball over. You can't do those things."

The Bengals had three turnovers in the loss to the Patriots. They had four Thursday night, including three interceptions by quarterback Andy Dalton who played the worst game of his career. It was arguably the worst quarterbacking performance in about 15 seasons for the Bengals.

Ask most Bengals players about the worrisome prime-time play, and they'll dismiss it.

"I don't know going way back what's going on," said veteran Terence Newman, a cornerback in his third year in Cincinnati. "But we played in prime time two years ago in Philadelphia and won that game. You could say it's prime-time games, but we're just flat-out not getting it done. You just have to put that on us. That's where it starts. We've got to go out and play the game. We're not playing it the way it should [be]."

In addition to the 6-14 prime-time record Cincinnati has in the regular season under Lewis, the team also is 0-5 in playoff games in that stretch. If we consider "big games" to be those that occur in prime time in the regular season, and all postseason contests, then Lewis' all-time "big game" record dips to 6-19. Using that same formula, it means the Bengals have won just two of their last 14 "big games."

Only five of the 12 losses in that stretch have come at home.

Lewis thought his team might buck that bizarre pattern of defeat since they were in Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday.

Before the game started, he thought this one felt different.

"Because it was at home and there was a certain energy and excitement, rather than the steely-eyed focus maybe you've got to have," Lewis said.

Normally reserved, coaches were bouncing around, excitedly giving players high-fives during pregame warm-ups. From the field there was a sense the stakes were higher, and all involved appeared to be relishing the moment.

Apparently, they soaked in a lot more than they should have.