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Thread: Marvin Lewis is counting on 'closers' to get Bengals back to playoffs

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    Marvin Lewis is counting on 'closers' to get Bengals back to playoffs

    Marvin Lewis is counting on 'closers' to get Bengals back to playoffs

    Sep 8, 2017

    • Katherine TerrellESPN Staff Writer

    CINCINNATI -- Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was fuming when he sat down to assess the 2016 season.

    As he let the anger and disappointment of a 6-9-1 campaign wash over him, he and the rest of the staff asked themselves a question: How do they fix it?

    The solution sounds simple, but it isn't: Get closers.

    The Bengals perfected the art of the frustrating loss last year, finishing 1-9-1 in games decided by eight points or fewer. They couldn't finish out games.
    "Well, first off, we missed kicks," Lewis told ESPN. "I think early in the season we didn't play as well as we needed to on defense and late in the season we were banged up on offense and not as productive as we needed to be.

    "It was the imperfect storm that killed us. We just didn't find a way. I didn't get us to find a way to somehow jerry-rig or get some kind of unconventional scores, touchdown, stops, whatever it is, we were never able to do that."

    With that in mind, as the staff began to shape the 2017 roster, Lewis knew what type of player he wanted to target in the draft.
    "We wanted to go get closers," Lewis said.

    Those closers were players Lewis could build a new foundation around. They wanted talent, of course, but they also wanted to find players who had it in them to outwork everyone else through sheer force of will.

    "My thing is we've got to go grind every week," Lewis said. "And at the end of the day you want to have one more point than the opponent, take a deep breath and sigh, enjoy it for a moment and get right back to work on the next one.

    "That's what I say to our coaches time and time again. ‘We suck. We've got to get better.' And we've got to go about it that way. We can't ever think we're better or worse than we are. ... The only way we're going to win games is to outwork people, out-prepare people, and we've got to sell that throughout this building."

    Consider it sold. The Bengals drafted what they think are their closers: players like running back Joe Mixon, linebacker Carl Lawson, defensive end Jordan Willis and linebacker Jordan Evans.

    In their own ways, they've all bought in, whether it's Lawson popping into Lewis' office to watch film together or Mixon hanging around the building for a few extra hours to soak everything up. Even Evans, who began training camp in the shadow of Lawson and Willis' stellar preseasons, has Lewis raving.

    "I couldn't be more excited about a young player than I am about him," Lewis said.

    With players like that around, it is easy to forget that Lewis will turn 59 years old at the start of his 15th season in Cincinnati. They make him feel young.

    "Oh, I see the fun of it," Lewis said. "We go through fun stages. The fun stage is when you're waiting to get back to the team, you're waiting for the team to go to the OTA phase, and then training camp is a different thing because now we're doing football and we're trying to get guys up and running.

    "Can Carl rush against guys with pads on when it matters? And then now he's got to rush against an opponent. ... There's a lot to do. I think, still, the joy of it is Jordan Willis, Jordan Evans and these guys are fun. (Vontaze Burfict) makes me pull my hair out, but he's still fun."

    Those moments, of watching young men grow up before his eyes, keep Lewis going during the tough times. He'll admit he dwells on the losses as much as anyone, and rattled off a few that gave him some sleepless nights.

    The 2003 loss to the Browns that dashed a chance at a playoff berth in his first year was a tough pill to swallow. So were the three straight losses to end the 2006 season that came when the Bengals needed just one win to get a wild-card berth. When Lewis went into his office at the end of the 2006 season, there was a message on his whiteboard from his son Marcus.

    "The next morning I look over on the board and he's written on the board ‘lost three in a row,'" Lewis said.

    "Those are things, they stick with you," Lewis said. "The playoff losses here at home ... Pittsburgh twice and San Diego, where we had the lead in all three games."

    It's those moments of frustration that gave Lewis his plan for the final week before the season opener. He wanted the players to know what it really means to be a closer.

    "What it takes to win games, win close games. (We'll go) back and look at that," Lewis said. "And closing games out. We tried to go get some closers, with Mixon and the guys on defense."

    Lewis' 14 seasons have been filled with highs and lows, but as Year 15 approaches, he feels there's so much more to come.

    "I think time goes by very fast," Lewis said. "The end of the season to the start of the season always seems so far away, and yet it always comes so quickly."

    There's no understating the importance of this season. Lewis took the franchise out of the doldrums of the '90s and turned it into a playoff contender, but fans are impatient for more. Ultimately, the seven playoff appearances under Lewis will mean very little if he can't deliver that elusive win.

    "I don't think it's any more or less (pressure) than we always have on ourselves," Lewis said. "But I do think when you have a season you're not satisfied with, I think your jaw is set. I think everybody understood it. We haven't been satisfied with the finish of any of the seasons. But I think when you don't reach the postseason it's even more magnified. Everybody understands that. Most of the guys in this building have never not been to the playoffs. So that's a thing that for the first time, they had a shock to their system."

    But if Lewis feels that pressure, he keeps it to himself. He has long learned he can only control so many factors. For every move he has made to improve the Bengals, the other teams have countered with moves of their own, like a never-ending chess match.

    He just hopes his "closers" will make the difference this time.

  2. #2
    There's a lot to that "closers" thing. That, and having your best players make plays when it counts. They need more of that, too. Oh yeah, and that includes not losing the game... a critical missed assignment, dumb penalty, or loss of poise (looking at you, Adam Jones and Tez). Jimmie Johnson always used to say that more games are lost than won, and over the years I've seen that to be true.

    The margin of error is really thin and a play or two makes the difference - a lot.


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