Last year, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported in Week 15 that Marvin Lewis was planning to leave the Cincinnati Bengals, and yet, he returned for a 16th season.
Defensive lineman Jordan Willis said he learned then not to assume anything about potential coaching changes, but he won’t pretend that possibility doesn’t hang over him and the rest of the players this week as they prepare for the season finale at Pittsburgh.
The Bengals signed Lewis to a two-year deal in January, but that included a team option for 2019, according to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. No matter what happens Sunday, Cincinnati (6-9) will finish last in the AFC North and will cap off a third straight losing season. Lewis is 131-121-3 in 16 seasons in Cincinnati.
“It’s not like I’m not going to think about it, because whatever happens obviously affects my future as a player and my career,” Willis said. “You may think about it every now and then, but you don’t make it a focus of what’s going on.”
Lewis said in his press conference Wednesday that he is not thinking beyond Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh (8-6-1) and the outcome of that game, from his perspective, does not have an effect on his future.
Owner Mike Brown said at a media luncheon before the start of training camp that a strong finish last year factored into the decision to bring Lewis back, but Cincinnati has lost eight of its last 10 games, and one win at Pittsburgh might not be enough this time, if Lewis even wants to return. The Bengals have a chance to spoil the Steelers’ playoff hopes, as they need a win and a Browns win over the Ravens to make the playoffs. Baltimore currently leads the AFC North at 9-6.
Willis said the feeling in the locker room now is a lot like it was in Week 17 a year ago.
“It’s similar to last year, but I think every player handles it differently,” he said. “For me, I just want to play the last game and try to put the best effort I can out there and go into the offseason. That’s really all you can do. You can ask every single player, and they will all have a different perspective on it.”
A lot has happened this season that was not in anyone’s control, though. The Bengals placed 15 players on injured reserve, and Lewis said last week the organization has people looking into whether there are any trends or reasons behind the abnormally large number of serious injuries that have occurred.
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Injuries are only partly to blame for the team’s struggles since a 4-1 start, though.
“A lot of it has to do with consistency in expectations and then play individually,” Willis said. “…It’s being able to handle adversity. Things are going to change, people are going to be injured, but you still have to go out and play. It all adds up. I’m not going to say it was just injuries because we almost beat the Chargers with a backup quarterback … and they are talking about the Chargers could be a Super Bowl team.” ”
Cincinnati made several coaching changes last offseason with expectations that would be enough to turn things around. New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was fired after a Week 9 loss, marking the second coordinator change in two years, as Bill Lazor replaced Ken Zampese after just two games last year.
Willis said people ask him all the time if Lewis is going to be back next year, and he gives the same response every time.
“I’m like, ‘I have no idea,’” Willis said. “My dad had to tell me the D-coordinator was fired, and he’s in Kansas City. He called and told me that Teryl Austin was fired. I’m lying in my bed, and I didn’t even know so that just goes to show how much we know and don’t know as players that if someone nine hours away has to call me and tell me, ‘Hey, your D-coordinator was fired.’ I don’t know. You don’t ever want to speculate on things. You just try to handle what you can handle. For me, I just want to do my best in the last game and go from there.”
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