This was originally published in The Athletic.
It was not too long ago, when any discussion about Marvin Lewis and his time coaching the Bengals had to begin with the good stuff. The mid-oughts when it seemed like he could no wrong, and when his team owned the city. Those early years when it felt like, finally, the Bengals had a coach who knew what he was doing. The ushering of the franchise into a new millennium. Sure, there’s never been quite enough winning, but remember what it was like before Marvin got here, right!?!?
It was even more recent that Marvin’s Cincinnati legacy could accurately be labeled as complex. Good mixed with bad. Achievement meshed with failure. Successes intertwined with heartbreak. On-field triumphs and community contributions blended with excruciating losses and a stodgy public persona. Complicated.
Marvin’s legacy is becoming less complex with each passing week and the loss that comes with it. The good stuff fades deeper into the background with every mailed-in Bengals effort, drowned out by the boos, obscured by the shots of all those fans who aren’t there, outweighed by another failure.
The mechanics of the Bengals’ most recent defeat seem irrelevant. The Bengals lost, which was to be expected. Their play was uninspiring, which for this team is on brand. If you went into Sunday hoping that a win over the Broncos would steer the season back on course, igniting a mad dash toward the postseason, and continuing with a run deep into January, you are A) delusional, B) surely convinced now that all hope is lost, and if not, please see A. I think we can stop referring to the standings.
We are instead right back where we were this time a year ago. The Bengals will spend the final quarter of the season playing out the string while we wonder what’s next for Marvin Lewis, the job he currently holds and a franchise that’s composing a 28th consecutive season without a playoff victory. What happens on the field is insignificant compared to whatever back-channel developments determine who’s coaching the Bengals next season, and how things may or may not end for the franchise’s all-time winningest coach.
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