Lewis committed to QB Carson Palmer

Updated: January 5, 2011, 11:07 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Marvin Lewis is returning next season as the Cincinnati Bengals' coach, and he made it clear Wednesday in an ESPN Radio interview that Carson Palmer will be his starting quarterback in 2011.

"No question in my mind that Carson Palmer is our quarterback," Lewis said in an appearance on "Mike and Mike in the Morning." "He really weathered quite a storm this year and took another step as a leader."

The 31-year-old Palmer, who completed his seventh season as the Bengals' starting quarterback, threw for 3,970 yards and 26 touchdowns, but his 20 interceptions tied his career-worst total in a single season and were the most in the AFC.

The Bengals slumped to a 4-12 mark, which included a 10-game losing streak, one season after winning the AFC North.

The future of Palmer's top two receiving targets is also up in the air. Terrell Owens, 37, is a free agent this offseason, and Chad Ochocinco, who on Sunday will turn 33, is scheduled to make $6 million in 2011 unless the Bengals cut him, which they can do at no cost to the club.

Ochocinco's numbers were down this season, as many teams game-planned around the receiver.

"He didn't have the kind of season starting out that we hoped he would have," Lewis said. "As Terrell drew more and more of the coverage, we found ways to get the ball to Chad."

Ochocinco also missed the Bengals' final two games with an ankle injury. However, Ochocinco is the Bengals' franchise leader in receptions (751), receiving yards (10,783) and touchdown receptions (66).

"[Ochocinco] is under contract for the 2011 season," Lewis said. "He's a member of this football team and at some point he's going to address his ankle this offseason and move forward."

Owens' status is even less certain because of the shaky status of the collective bargaining agreement negotiations. If the league and its players can't agree to a new CBA by March 3, then the owners likely will lock out the players.

But Lewis said he was impressed by Owens' play this season. Owens' 72 receptions were his most since 2007, and he finished with 983 yards, but a knee injury kept him out of the team's last two games. He also scored nine touchdowns.

"I thought Terrell played his tail off this year. To me, he's an impressive football player," Lewis said. "He plays through pain and injury. He practices hard and he does a really good job with that."

Lewis, who is 60-69-1 in eight seasons as the Bengals' coach, agreed to an unspecified contract extension Tuesday that will make him the longest-tenured coach in club history. Owner Mike Brown agreed to changes in the coaching staff and the roster as part of a deal that left both sides comfortable.

"This was a chance for a new start," Lewis said of signing the extension. "We could go back and reaffirm some of the things that we had spoken about, that we speak about all the time. It was a chance to reconfirm the direction from the top and make sure we were all on the same page."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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