Bengals clinch last place in AFC North for first time since 2010 season

CLEVELAND -- The Cincinnati Bengals got used to pushing around the Cleveland Browns for most of the past four seasons.

Now they're the ones being pushed around.

The Bengals will finish last in the AFC North for the first time since the 2010 season after being swept by the Browns for the first time since 2002. The Bengals finished 2-14 that season and fired Dick LeBeau, eventually hiring Marvin Lewis.

Lewis' future is uncertain now as the Bengals' front office decides whether he should return for a 17th season. The Bengals will finish with a losing season for the third straight year.

"It sucks. It pisses me off," tight end C.J. Uzomah said. "When you go through OTAs, minicamp, camp, the ins and outs and the grind of a season, of a year, to not be in a position to get in the playoffs is one thing, but to be last in the division is another. I have a bad taste in my mouth and hopefully next week I can at least [get rid] of a little bit of that."

Lewis can't even point to an improved finish at the end of the year as a definite reason to stay. The 26-18 loss to the Browns looked close on paper, but it was never really a contest.

The Bengals could do nothing on offense for most of the day and actually had negative net yards at the end of the first half. Running back Joe Mixon passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season, but without Tyler Boyd, he was running into a stacked box, eventually finishing with 17 carries for 68 yards.

The defense gave up 493 yards, more in line with how it played before the firing of defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, instead of the improved showing it has had lately. The Bengals are on pace to break franchise records for most yards and points allowed in a season.

It has been a frustrating year for the 6-9 Bengals, a team that has been decimated by injuries to everyone from starting quarterback Andy Dalton to starting weakside linebacker Vontaze Burfict to starting wide receiver A.J. Green.

"I feel like this football team that we have here should never be last in the division," defensive end Carlos Dunlap said.

While the players have been answering questions about losses, they've also had to deal with questions about Lewis' future for the third straight season.

Although cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was adamant last week that Lewis wasn't going anywhere, other players weren't so sure about guessing the future. Many simply said it's out of their control, which has been somewhat of a constant answer over the years.

The Bengals improved enough at the end of last year to give owner Mike Brown the confidence he needed to stick with Lewis for at least one more season. This year is trickier. They started the season like playoff contenders but essentially got blown off the field when facing some of the league's best teams in the Saints and the Chiefs.

The offense has never really been the same since losing Tyler Eifert against the Falcons in September, and things only got worse when the team lost Dalton and Green. The starting offense against the Browns on Sunday was composed of players who would have barely seen the field if not for injuries.

But the Bengals couldn't beat the Steelers even when healthy, and they weren't in the same league as the Chiefs and Browns, injuries or no injuries.

It wouldn't be out of the question for the Bengals' front office to give Lewis a pass based on the extraordinary number of injuries to starting players this year. They also could decide they need a fresh start and move on from Lewis completely.

"I don't know," Dunlap said. "This is a professional football league. A lot of things happen. Everybody is making business decisions. I have confidence in the football team and the players that we have here, that we can do what we need to do. We've been there before. I'm not going to make arguments any way, but I just want to get back to it. Whatever it takes to get back to it, where we started off here. I want that feeling back, and today is not that feeling."

Whether the team beats the Steelers next week means little now except for pride and draft position. At this point, the Bengals certainly should have seen enough to make a decision regarding the future of their coach.

Whatever decision they make will carry a huge impact. If the Bengals don't make the correct one, they could be staring at the cellar of the division for a long while.

"It is very frustrating. I have never been a part of a losing program. I am never going to get comfortable with being part of it," Mixon said. "At the end of the day, I am going to take it for what it is this year, build, and try to get better and get ready for next year. We still have another week coming up. It is a big one. I promise you we are not going to be in this for long, and that is a fact."