Everyone knew it, including Lewis. Was his career as Cincinnati's coach over, and if so, who would make that decision? The team or Lewis?
In 2009, Lewis was named NFL Coach of the Year after the Bengals improved from four wins to 10 amid several tragedies. In 2010, however, the Bengals regressed to 4-12. That gave Lewis an eight-season record of 60-69-1, including a pair of one-and-done playoff appearances.
"I was fortunate that at a point where I'm wondering whether or not this is right for me and they're wondering whether I'm right for them, I decided it was time to start fresh and start new and I didn't have to move addresses," Lewis said during a conference call on Wednesday. "We threw all the old stuff away and we started again. I think that was important. As a coaching staff, the point was, we've got to start new, we've got to start fresh and do things differently. I didn't know we were going to do it with a new quarterback. It happened fast."
Quarterback Carson Palmer, who demanded a trade, was replaced by second-round pick Andy Dalton. Lightning rod receivers Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens were replaced by first-round pick A.J. Green. Jay Gruden replaced Bob Bratkowski as offensive coordinator.
Those changes have helped changed the Bengals' fortunes. Cincinnati reached the playoffs in 2011, then became just the ninth team since 1990 to reach the playoffs after a 3-5 start by winning seven of its final eight games in 2012.
Remember the Bungals? Cincinnati is one of just seven teams to qualify for the playoffs in three of the past four seasons.
The Bengals enter Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers with a 1-1 record, including a 20-10 victory over rival Pittsburgh on Monday night after blowing the opening game at Chicago.
"It got us to 1-1. People make more of that than anything else," Lewis said in a statement underscoring his even-keel approach. "I've coached everyplace and it's not a rivalry until you win the games most of the time. Right now, it's big because it was a division game and it was at home. We have a bigger game coming this Sunday than last week's."
These games against the Steelers and Packers are part of a telling five-game stretch to open the season for the Bengals. After a game at Cleveland next week, the Bengals host New England in Week 5.
"I told our players when the schedule came out and then again when we began training camp and then when we cut the team down and we got started again, that we will know what kind of football team we have after the first five weeks of the season because we're playing great football teams," Lewis said. "We'll set our jaw and we'll know where we are. That's what we've got to point to. Each and every week, it's going to be a grind, it's going to be physical. We've got to strap it up and put an extra chinstrap in your locker and let's go."
The Bengals appear poised to be good for quite a while. Dalton isn't a dominant player but he is 20-14 as a starter. Green is an elite receiver. The additions of tight end Tyler Eifert (first round) and running back Giovani Bernard (second round) add skill to an offense that was lacking dynamic talent beyond Green. And the defense has the potential to be a dominant unit. In fact, no team in the league had more sacks than the Bengals' 96 over the previous two seasons.
Lewis, however, wasn't ready to be overly complimentary of anyone on his team. This is just the start of the season. With an 0-4 record in the playoffs, Lewis knows there's more work to be done.
In discussing his defensive line, Lewis made a statement that applied to the state of affairs in Cincinnati: "When you're great is at the end of the year. We're just getting better right now."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.