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Bengals owner defends Lewis pact: 'We're not far off'

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The Cincinnati Bengals made the surprising decision two weeks ago to retain long-time coach Marvin Lewis for a 16th season, just as it seemed they were finally ready to move on.

Owner Mike Brown's decision to run it back one more time came after reports trickled out weeks prior to the end of the season that Lewis intended to "mutually part ways" with the organization. Odd enough, these rumblings were from Lewis himself; the Bengals coach told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport that moving into a front office role was "something I would listen to."

Eventually, Brown and Lewis met and concluded that, after a second consecutive playoff-less season, Cincinnati's best chance to reach the postseason in 2018 and 2019 came with Lewis at the helm.

"We had a disappointing season because we didn't win our share of those close games that we could've, should've won. I think it goes beyond that, though. I think we tailed off in some areas that brought us down," Brown told the Cincinnati Enquirer in a one-on-one interview on Friday. "I think those issues are correctable. I don't think we're far off. I think we can make the changes that we need to make and quickly rebound to the level where we were a couple years ago."

That level, from 2011 through 2015, could either be described "division champion" or "wild-card hopeful", but always "first-round casualty." Cincinnati lost five consecutive Wild Card Weekend games during that span. The Bengals have not won a playoff game under Lewis, who assumed control of the franchise in 2003.

Brown resented attitudes among fans that his extension of Lewis signals that the franchise aspires to nothing more than an AFC, and AFC North, bridesmaid.

"We all want [to win the Super Bowl]. Every owner wants that. Every coach wants that," Brown said. "I think Marvin said that because there is a theme amongst all the other themes that somehow we really don't aspire to a high enough goal. That's baloney."

Brown described his relationship with Lewis as a "healthy" one and that while the two don't always see eye-to-eye, at least they "understand each other."

"Well, there are issues. They are countless. We discuss them all. More often than not, way more often than not, we agree," Brown told The Enquirer. "There are occasions when we'll see it differently. Quite often I permit him to go forward when I don't necessarily see it the same way. Occasionally, I will say no, it's going to be this way. It's a mix of all that. That's a day to day part of the business."

Regarding the state of the roster, Brown blames much of last season's woes on an overmatched offense, singling out the offensive live which lost major talent (Andrew Whitworth, Kevin Zeitler) in the offseason. The owner added that his offense's struggles affected the play of Cincinnati's defense, but the players currently on the roster are "talented enough to win a lot for us."

When Lewis does eventually leave the Bengals franchise, he will do so as one of the most successful coaches in team history; he currently has a higher winning percentage (.527) as Cincinnati's skipper than Paul Brown (.495) and Sam Wyche (.480). But the feeling will be that Lewis overstayed his welcome. That is unless, in these next two seasons, the Bengals recover their early-decade form and get over that playoff hump.

Brown is counting on it.

"I do think, repeating again," Brown concluded, "that our best chance to get there is with him having another run at it."

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