The Cincinnati Bengals started off the season looking as though they were back following a two-year slump, posting losing records and missing the playoffs. They were 4-1 to kick things off, but have gone just 2-7 since then, sitting at 6-8 on the year and already eliminated from the postseason.
And they likely will not be favored to win in either of their final two games, especially considering the number of big names that they have sitting on injured reserve, including their starting quarterback. They have the resurgent Cleveland Browns up next, and then have to visit the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will be guaranteed to at least be playing for seeding, if not for a playoff berth.
But the organization has shown a baffling loyalty to Head Coach Marvin Lewis over the years, one of the longest-tenured coaches currently active in the league, and he still has the support of his players as well. Among them is sixth-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who absolved Lewis of all responsibility for the team’s inability to win games.
As he told ESPN’s Katherine Terrell, “Marv ain’t going anywhere. How? We’re down. We’re hurt. It’s not his fault. As players, we’ve got to take full responsibility for it and quit letting it run off to the coaches”.
To play devil’s advocate, let’s just take a quick look at some of the names that the Bengals have on injured reserve this year. We can start off with quarterback Andy Dalton, who suffered torn ligaments in his thumb. Perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green is another, with torn ligaments in his toe. He briefly tried to returned but immediately went down in pain without contact.
Then there is tight end Tyler Eifert and his veteran backup, Tyler Kroft, both on the shelf. Tackle Jake Fisher is on injured reserve, though he wasn’t in a starting position. Young linebackers Carl Lawson and Malik Jefferson are both on there, as is starter Preston Brown. They also have three defensive tackles on injured reserve, making their interior depth thinner than ideal.
Beyond that, wide receiver Tyler Boyd, a 1000-yard player this year, is currently sidelined, and John Ross, another receiver, has missed three games due to injury. Darqueze Dennard and Vontaze Burfict, as well as Nick Vigil and Kirkpatrick himself, have all missed multiple games.
“I’m not about to put nothing on that man”, Kirkpatrick said of Lewis. “I feel like he’s coaching his heart out. He’s trying to do everything he can to get wins around here, and as players, that’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to execute for him”.
Lewis has an all-time 131-120-3 record since 2003 as the Bengals’ head coach. He has seven winning seasons, five of which came from 2011 to 2015. He has reached the postseason seven times in his 16 seasons but has been eliminated in the first round every time.