INDIANAPOLIS -- Marvin Lewis, still bothered by the way the 2013 season ended for his Cincinnati Bengals, again cautioned Friday those who might cast blame for the wild-card playoff loss on quarterback Andy Dalton.
"It's not all his fault," Lewis said. "It was a whole team collapse."
The loss will keep bugging the coach until the Bengals finally get over the postseason hump that has been the bane of his 11-year tenure with the franchise.
"It hurts, it aches," Lewis said, talking to reporters during an interview session at the NFL scouting combine. "We're not going to get over it until we get an opportunity to fix it. We're not going to get over losing. ... The only way to get rid of the ache is to get after it and to get going again."
In Lewis' eyes, that means focusing on establishing depth in this year's draft, retaining as many free agents as possible and continuing to express support for his starting quarterback.
While Dalton's three second-half turnovers factored heavily in the Bengals' 27-10 playoff loss to visiting San Diego, Lewis still believes there is no need for the Bengals to start jumping ship on the signal-caller.
"He is our quarterback and he represents us and is the leader of our football team," Lewis said. "He's ascended into that and has done a great job doing that. We continue to back him and we have to do better things around him."
Those statements echoed sentiments Lewis expressed in the days after the Bengals' season ended.
When asked about the likelihood that Dalton will get a contract extension this offseason, Lewis would go only as far as saying he and the team's other decision-makers want to do what they can to retain young star players they have signed in recent seasons. That, of course, would include Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green, whose contract expires after the 2014 season, as does Dalton's. Although both are officially free agents next March, they are able to extend their rookie contracts this spring or summer.
"As a football team, we would continue to like to keep our good, young players," Lewis said. "That's something that at some point here in the future will require representation from our people and [Dalton's] people to get together and we'll try to discuss something. We feel great about what Andy has done over his first three seasons. We hope to continue to put people around him to allow him to play better and get us where we want to go, and that's to win a championship.
"There's nobody who's going to work harder at it than Andy Dalton and [it's on] myself to continue to help in him in that fashion."
Lewis' comments come as the Bengals weigh whether they ought to look at taking a quarterback in the middle or late rounds of May's draft. Dalton's current backups haven't had much of an opportunity to prove themselves in the event something happens to the starter. Perhaps a new quarterback would add to the competition and give the Bengals another player to trust behind Dalton.
Just as Lewis doesn't appear to be fretting over Dalton's contract situation, he's similarly not too concerned about his own status. His contract also expires after next season. Lewis said he and Bengals owner Mike Brown have had informal talks about extending his contract but haven't agreed on anything remotely resembling a new deal.