Lewis needs to realize the rules are changing

Alan Truex

Marvin Lewis lost another playoff game, but the Cincinnati Bengals’ head coach won’t be losing  his job for doing what he’s expected to do.   He’s now 0-7 for the postseasons.

What makes this year’s different from past failures is that the victory slipped away because two flagrant personal fouls gave Pittsburgh 30 free yards to set up its winning field goal.

The fact that the fouls were committed by veteran stars, Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict, caused many observers to wonder about the team’s lack of discipline.

Which points inevitably to the head coach.

Michael Silver of NFL.com reported that “several” Bengals veterans told him after the game that this season discipline was lacking among the defensive players, that it was noticeable during practices and meetings as well as during games.

Lewis is in the camp of coaches that includes Jeff Fisher and Rex Ryan that emphasizes aggressiveness over discipline, intimidation over compliance with rules.  Lewis, Fisher and Ryan apparently do not see that times are rapidly changing.

The rulebook has been rewritten to discourage violence and protect the lives and brains of the players, whether they want such protection or not. 

Burfict’s helmet to helmet attack on Antonio Brown is likely to cost the Steelers his services in Sunday evening’s division championship game in Denver .  The NFL office suspended Burfict for the first three games of the 2016 season, citing “repeated violations of safety-related playing rules.”

Instead of apologizing for what he had done, Burfict appealed the suspension.   He argued that his head-jarring hit on Brown was legal.

Marvin Lewis, being Marvin Lewis, backed up his player, insisting “it didn’t go over the edge.” 

That view apparently was not shared by Andy Dalton, who’s as close as the Bengals have to being a team leader.  Dalton, referring to Burfict’s foul, said, “You can’t have stupid penalties at times like that.”

Shortly before Burfict’s attack on Brown, cameras had shown Lewis on the sidelines, speaking with the player and presumably cautioning him to maintain his composure in the waning moments.

The fact that Burfict paid so little regard to his head coach says much about both men.  Burfict had violence issues when he was in college, and it may be that at 25 he hasn’t mastered control of his emotions.  Teams will goad him, as the Steelers may have done (what was linebackers coach Joey Porter doing on the field besides agitating?).

But this is on the Bengals.  They aren’t going to win a playoff game until their players learn to maintain their composure under stress, have some courage.

I’ve long felt that what athletes crave is a coach who’s a father figure, generous with praise and support, meting out serious but fair punishment whenever a player’s carelessness betrays his teammates.

Vontaze Burfict should ask himself this:  How long would Bill Belichick or Andy Reid, or even Chip Kelly, put up with his nonsense?  

Sometimes the fatherly coach turns grandfatherly, mellowing too much to instill and maintain the discipline necessary for a champion.  We saw this happen to Tom Coughlin, failing to warn Odell Beckham Jr. before a violent outburst against Josh Norman proved disastrous to the New York Giants.

This is a time, much more than any in the past, when football success requires self-control.  In the age of social media and omnipresent cameras, athletes must act appropriately on and off the field.

And by the way, let’s not let the town of Cincinnati get by for setting a new low in sportsmanship.  Their fans cheered with joy when Roethlisberger headed for the locker room with his left arm holding the right one against his body.

Later, as Roethlisberger with his shoulder separated was screen-passing his way down the field, a fan took out his frustration by, allegedly, urinating on a fan in the row in front of him.  Martin Cook, 33, was arrested and charged with assault and disorderly conduct.

Even in the Jungle, we would expect more civilized behavior.  It does make you wonder if there’s something wrong with the football culture in Cincinnati.   The Bengals need to recognize their bungles, and it starts with the head coach.  Or maybe with the owner who hired him.

Bengals insiders say the reason Lewis has survived his seven years of playoff drought is that he’s the first Bengals coach who could get along with Mike Brown.

So give Lewis credit for that.  And for being a smart organizer and judge of talent.  His offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, is highly respected, as was his predecessor, Jay Gruden, now head coach in Washington.

Lewis has done a fine job of making a playoff team out of the Bengals.  But what seems to weigh more is the fact that the team hasn’t won a playoff game in 25 years.  Nice guy that he is – probably too nice – you have to wonder how many more chances Marvin Lewis will get.

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