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Bengals fire Bratkowski in attempt to fix sputtering offense

The Cincinnati Bengals fired longtime offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski on Monday, the first change in their coaching staff following a 4-12 season that's still reverberating through the franchise.

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The move came two weeks after quarterback Carson Palmer asked to be traded because of the franchise's futility. The Bengals have just two winning records in the last 20 years.

"I want to thank Bob for his role in helping us win two division championships," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said in a statement released by the team. "But after reviewing our season in depth, we've decided it's best for the team to make this change at this time."

Bratkowski had been the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati since 2001, two years before Lewis took over as coach. The Bengals reached the playoffs in 2005 with a balanced offense that featured Palmer and a core of young receivers. Knee and elbow injuries limited Palmer over the next few years.

The Bengals made it back to the playoffs in 2009 after switching to a run-based offense that Lewis preferred. Their inability to throw the ball successfully in the playoffs prompted yet another philosophical switch -- Cincinnati signed Terrell Owens at the start of training camp last July to team with fellow wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.

The Bengals threw the ball a lot more and won a lot less, dropping 10 consecutive games at one point. Owens complained about the coaching and said he wasn't having the ball thrown his way enough. Running back Cedric Benson said the team made a mistake by going away from the run-first philosophy that pushed it to the playoffs in 2009.

"It's good to see the Bengals making some moves," Benson told the team's offical website Monday. "It's not just about going back to that '09 style, but being able to fit everything together and use our talent. And we've got a lot of talent, and I don't see any drop-off if those guys (Owens and Ochocinco) don't come back."

Benson said he hopes Palmer will be back with the Bengals.

"But he's got to be happy," Benson said. "He's such a big part of the puzzle that for him not to be happy, it would be tough."

The season ended with Lewis unsure about whether or not he wanted to stay -- his contract was up. After two days of discussions with Bengals owner Mike Brown, Lewis decided to stick around despite no significant changes in how the franchise operates.

After Lewis agreed to return, Palmer told Brown he wanted out of Cincinnati. Brown said he's not inclined to trade the franchise quarterback.

Cincinnati's coaching staff was intact when it directed the North team in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last week. The South beat the North 24-10 on Saturday.

Brown keeps assistant coaches even when he changes head coaches. Bratkowski was one of three offensive assistants with more tenure than Lewis: Paul Alexander has been offensive line coach for the last 16 years, and Jim Anderson has been running backs coach for 27 years.

Brown praised Bratkowski in the team-issued statement but added that "the time is right for us to make a change."

Brown confirmed last Monday that Brad Childress will not serve as the team's offensive coordinator, which was speculated after the former Minnesota Vikings coach and Lewis had dinner earlier this month. A league source told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora the same thing and said the Bengals could look at other products of the West Coast offense, such as Jim Zorn or Jeremy Bates, who were fired by the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks, respectively.

Cincinnati finished in the top 10 in rushing when it made the playoffs in 2009, but it had the 26th-ranked passing game. That led the Bengals to draft tight end Jermaine Greshman and wide receiver Jordan Shipley and sign Owens, looking to throw the ball more effectively.

The passing game improved to 13th in the league this past season, but the running game fell to 27th as the Bengals often found themselves throwing the ball to try to catch up.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) rushes during an NFL football game between the between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)

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