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Palmer suggests coaching changes needed; Lewis defends assistants

CINCINNATI -- For the first time under coach Marvin Lewis, the Bengals took a
big step backward. Their 7-9 finish was a stark reminder that there
are long-standing problems with the franchise that haven't been
resolved.

Lewis is safe, but change could be coming to the coaching staff.
The defense again finished near the bottom of the league, a common
occurrence during Lewis' five seasons. The offense went stale,
scoring fewer than 20 points in four of the last five games.

Asked on Monday whether he thought the current coaching staff
could take this team to the next level, quarterback Carson Palmer
said, "I don't think so."

But Palmer said it's not his call to make.

"If I'm asked my opinion, I'll be more than happy to give it," Palmer said, according to the team's Web site. "I haven't been. This isn't my team. I'm the quarterback. If I can help in any way, I'd love to. I think I can be a valuable help and if a situation comes up, I'll help out."

Lewis acknowledged that the team went stale, but defended his
assistant coaches.

"I'm very pleased with what our coaches have done this year,"
Lewis said. "They went through some trying times with new players
and injuries and so forth, so it's very difficult. Each and every
week, you're looking at a different group of guys and moving guys
from position to position. I thought they handled that very well."

The front office can't avoid the introspection. Palmer and
others complained about the poor quality of the team's grass
practice field and the lack of a covered facility for when the
weather turns nasty.

When the Bengals moved into Paul Brown Stadium before the 2000
season, ownership had the option of covering a practice field at
its expense. There is still no covered field, which is a drawback
in recruiting free agents.

The lack of a general manager also came under scrutiny when the
team struggled to replace injured players. Decisions are made in a
group setting, with owner Mike Brown having the final say. Lewis
won't talk whether change is needed in the front office operations.

Players assume there will be more significant changes this
offseason, given the way they underachieved as a group.

"This year has been an eye-opener for everybody," receiver
T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. "We expected, worst-case scenario, that
we were going into the playoffs as a wild card. It kind of wakes
everybody up, myself included."

Houshmandzadeh tied for the league lead in catches, receiver Chad Johnson set a club record with 1,440 yards, and Palmer set another
club record by throwing for 4,131 yards.

Didn't matter. The Bengals still finished below .500 against a
schedule that was as favorable as any in recent years. They faced
only four playoff teams this season, including Pittsburgh twice,
but scuttled their chances by losing six of their first eight
games.

"A lot of guys weren't attuned to winning," safety Dexter
Jackson said. "They were attuned to getting a certain amount of
yards or a certain amount of this instead of winning the game."

Defensive end Justin Smith said the same thing: The locker room
has some players who were more interested in themselves than the
outcome. At times, they played like a team that wasn't very focused
on what had to be done.

So many things went into the 7-9 record. So many things have to
change.

"I thought about that a lot, man," Houshmandzadeh said. "It's
almost like trying to do a Rubik's Cube."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.