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.