Here's C. Trent's transcription of Marvin's explanation for his decision to kick a field goal in the 4th quarter, facing a 4th-and- goal from the Steelers eight and trailing by 13 points:
"I thought it would be difficult to score the touchdown there, so Itook the points with the ability to kick the football off and we had an opportunity for a play there that didn’t materialize itself within
the kickoff and then have the chance to stop them and get the ball back," Lewis said. "But obviously we ended up having to kick the football deep (on the kickoff) as we did and at that point we never stopped them, they go down score a touchdown and basically the ball game is over."
Let's unpack that quote from Marvin. Near as I can tell, he looked at the percentages and saw two scenarios:
- Kick FG (20-10)
- Force a "play that didn't materialize itself within the kickoff", i.e., a fumble or other turnover. Alternatively take advantage of "chance to stop them and get the ball back."
- Drive back down the field and score (20-13 or 20-17)
- Kickoff, force a 3-and-out
- Score again
- Go for it on 4th down and either (a) lose or (b) find yourself down 20-14 with 6 minutes left.
- Kick long and stop Pittsburgh.
- Watch Ernster shank another punt.
- Score again to win game.
Granted that Pittsburgh scored on the ensuing possession so it's a moot point. But the mental gymnastics in the above quote are just incredible. Down 13 points with 6 minutes left in a tough road game, against a team that's absolutely owned the Bengals, Lewis figured he had a better chance to stop Pittsburgh--a fantastic running team-- twice in six minutes rather than make a 4th and 8 play and stop them once. I really can't imagine how he--or any football coach--came to that conclusion, especially given the momentum that would inevitably shift to a team that scored on a big play.
Maybe we should psychoanalyze Lewis. That's what Paul Daugherty would do. He'd postulate that Lewis has become Bengalized, and is so hidebound in the gutless conservatism of this franchise that he
genuinely believes the only options available to a coach on fourth down are to punt or kick a field goal. He might even draw wider parallels to so many failed Bengals policies--the "scouting department", the "my kids and buddies can run the team" attitude--and bring this back to Mike Brown's feet.
But I think the real answer is simpler. The 14th century logician William of Occam postulated that, when confronted with a difficult situation, the simplest solution is likely the correct one. And the
simplest solution I can come up with is that Marvin Lewis had given up. By the time he made that decision, he was not making a good-faith effort to win the game. He was content to keep it close and
respectable and move on to next week. There's golf to be played and tennis to be served up.
[That, or he had pulled a Pete Rose and bet a couple of dimes on his team to cover the spread.]
As I remarked to a friend (and when I say "remarked", I mean "screamed at the top of my lungs in a shower of spittle and rage") at the time, it reminded me of lopsided college games where plucky Rice would
finally put it together and kick a field goal in the closing minutes to draw within 70 points of Texas.
Chances are that we lose the game regardless of what decision Marvin makes there. But it is unacceptable to give up. The Bengals have been unwatchable crap for 90% of my lifetime, but at least I thought we were beyond directly insulting the fans.
-Marx and Bengals