Marvin Lewis has built the Cincinnati Bengals on the tenets of consistency and continuity, but the franchise is facing some major changes with a handful of coaches moving on to other opportunities and a large number of key players set to become unrestricted free agents next month.
But that, Lewis said Friday afternoon during a break at the NFL Scouting Combine, could be what the Bengals need.
BENGALS COORDINATOR: Nothing wrong with Burfict hit
“It’s a good thing,” Lewis said. “We’re going to start fresh again. There’s no doubt about it. We’re going to start fresh, and I feel good about that. That’s what we need to do.”
Lewis said he’s as disappointed as the fans and everyone else in the organization by the five consecutive first-round playoff exits, but he said he never gave a thought to resigning after the Bengals committed two 15-yard penalties to blow the lead in the final seconds of this year’s wild-card loss to Pittsburgh.
“Anytime you go out there, there’s an opportunity to fail,” he said. “You just have to detest losing, hate losing, and that’s part of it. That’s what drives you. It’s not the winning part of it. It’s the losing part of it.
“It’s hard,” he continued. “We were having this conversation with somebody the other day. Coaches, we unfortunately remember the games we don’t win more than what you do win. Because you expect to win. And when you don’t win, that part sticks with you more.”
Two players who no doubt will join Lewis in embracing a fresh start are linebacker Vontaze Burfict, whose 15-yard penalty not only put the Steelers in position to kick the game-winning field goal but also resulted in his being suspended for the first three games next year, and running back Jeremy Hill, whose late fumble started the chain of events that led to the playoff meltdown.
“Hill’s a young guy, and he’s going to have thousands of opportunities,” Lewis said. “He might have another 300-400 opportunities to carry the football — whatever a running back ends up with at the end of the year — so Jeremy will be fine.
“I don’t want to keep getting into Jeremy,” Lewis continued. “One play doesn’t win or lose the football game for us. I would tell our coaches to quit talking about Jeremy. All of them. They just need to shut up and we need to get ready for this football season and do what we need to do. That’s our own jobs, everybody.”
Quarterback Andy Dalton will be starting anew as well after fracturing his thumb in December and missing the final four regular-season games and the playoff loss.
Lewis said he expects Dalton to be fully healed and ready to participate in April, when the fresh start begins in earnest with OTAs, leading into the draft.
“We’ve got to drive, and drive harder, and find better ways and find the better way to do our job in every way, and that’s coaches and players alike throughout this thing,” Lewis said. “And when we get started in April, we’ll spend a lot of time about that. It’s not going to be about X’s and O’s. It’s about all the other things that contribute to winning and losing.”
“We’ve got a group of guys who have grown up together,” he continued. “It seems like every year we’ve got 12 to 16, 17, new guys that make up the roster and we’ll probably have that again this year. That’s a good thing. We’ve got to keep churning it over and keep getting better, keep it competitive throughout.”