Lions trying to stay alive in postseason hunt vs. Bengals
By all appearances, Marvin Lewis will be coaching his final home game for Cincinnati on Sunday. The Bengals' opponent needs him to go out on a sour note in order to remain in the playoff hunt.
Multiple reports indicate that Lewis, the league's second-longest tenured coach behind New England's Bill Belichick, will mutually part ways with the franchise after the season. Lewis refused to discuss his future with the team in a conference call on Wednesday but there's little doubt his long run is coming to an end. The Bengals host the Detroit Lions before finishing the regular season at Baltimore.
"I regret that we haven't won enough football games. That's it," Lewis said. "I haven't gotten us in good enough positions to win games, and that's my responsibility."
There's also some heat on Lions coach Jim Caldwell. The Lions (8-6) need help to make the NFC playoffs, even if they defeat Cincinnati and Green Bay in the final two weeks.
Atlanta currently holds the final wild card spot by a game over Detroit and has the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Lions. Detroit has a better chance to win tiebreaker scenarios if one of the two co-leaders in the NFC South, Carolina and New Orleans, drops their last two games.
Caldwell doesn't want to talk about his team's postseason push.
"All I'm worried about is Cincinnati, Cincinnati and Cincinnati," he said. "That's it."
The Bengals (5-9) appeared to wave the white flag their last two games, losing to Chicago and Minnesota by a combined score of 67-14. They generated just 17 points over the last eight quarters. But Caldwell doesn't see a gap in talent between his club and the Bengals.
"They're dealing with the same exact salary cap that we are," he said. "They have really good players. I see a team with talent and ability. You look at how they started out in a few games not too long ago, they're still very capable."
Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. will return to the place he began his career. Jones played his first three season with Cincinnati before signing a free-agent contract with Detroit prior to last season.
Jones bounced back from a subpar first season with the Lions by catching 58 passes for a career-high 970 yards and eight touchdowns so far in 2017. He didn't score in Detroit's last nine games a year ago.
"Marvin's put a lot of work in," Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "I think our system and the system he came from in Cincinnati is quite a bit different. He did a great job of adjusting and putting the work in, and then on Sundays, he just goes out there and makes plays. I'm giving him chances on certain throws and he's going up and making me right more often than not."
Stafford will once again be working behind a banged-up offensive line. Center Travis Swanson (concussion) and guard T.J. Lang (foot) missed practice on Wednesday, while tackle Rick Wager (ankle) was limited.
Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion) and tackle Andre Smith (knee) were among the notable players who missed Wednesday's practice. Running back Joe Mixon (concussion) appears to be on track after missing the last two games, which would give the ground game a much-needed boost.
The approach the Bengals will take with a seemingly lame-duck coach is another matter.
"Complacency can set in, but that's what you have to fight at this point," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "We still have two games left, there's still competition out there and you want to win every time you're out there. For us, that's our mindset, and that's got to be our goal. We still have to compete, we want to put good stuff on tape, and we want to play like we know we can."
It would help if Dalton and top receiver A.J. Green got back into a rhythm. Green, who was voted to the Pro Bowl, had just two receptions against the Vikings.
"We've got to put ourselves in positions to make plays and move the football productively on offense. That has to be our goal," Lewis said. "Those are our great players. We have to rely on them and give them opportunities, then we have to make the plays."
Updated December 20, 2017