CINCINNATI -- Following Sunday's debacle in Pittsburgh, you have to ask: Can the Bengals survive and salvage the season?
Sure, this is the NFL, where ups and downs come every week, but recovery is not going to be easy considering how bad the loss was and how bad the offensive line is.
So the more pertinent question is this: If it continues to go bad, can Marvin Lewis survive and keep his job?
Only owner Mike Brown knows for sure, of course, but things don't look great for Lewis. His contract is up after this year. He's never had back-to-back losing seasons in his tenure with the Bengals.
Pittsburgh, the Bengals' main rival in the AFC North, has completely dominated the series lately. Sunday was the Bengals' eighth loss in nine meetings with the Steelers.
Lewis's prized pupil, Vontaze Burfict, had another mini-meltdown in the game. He clearly kicked Steeler fullback Roosevelt Nix in the face after a play.
The one glaring thing missing on his coach resume is a playoff win. At this point, getting to the playoffs would be a huge thing.
The guess here is Lewis gets the rest of the season to right the ship. The Bengals haven't fired a coach during the season since Dave Shula after a 1-6 start in in 1996.
This Bengal team is not reeling like that. Sunday's loss was a bad one, but Lewis was Lewis Monday. He talked about not making enough plays.
"We had positive plays, negative plays but way too many negative," Lewis said. "We weren't good enough to win yesterday. We have to coach better, play better, execute better and handle every situation better."
Here's what ticks fans off about Lewis: He didn't have any scathing criticism for any of players. Instead, he gently chided Burfict and Joe Mixon, who popped up after he thought he didn't get the ball in the second half.
On Burfict: "The player pushed Vontaze back after the play or whatever. The official is right there and warned (Nix) not to do that."
Lewis further defended Burfict, then added, "You can't react. Everybody on the football team knows."
Knowing and doing it anyway is not a good thing.
On Mixon: "He should show maturity. That's all part of it. I didn't know anything about it until I was told. Show maturity, just like everyone else. Everyone wants to be out there all the time.
". . . Be strong enough to not to be led into questions after the game."
The rap on Lewis has long been he fails to control his players. Burfict is a repeat offender. The biggest loss of Lewis's career -- the Wild Card to Pittsburgh in '15 -- was the result of meltdown by Burfict and Adam Jones.
There was a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that players were laughing and joking in the locker room after the loss. Members of the Bengals traveling party said the report was overblown.
"I'm not going to dignify that any further," Lewis said. "I didn't know anything about it until (a media relations person) briefed me."
Lewis said he would not accept such behavior.
"It would matter to me," Lewis said. "I think certain players, some players handle situations differently. I can point them out. Sometimes it's a defense mechanism."
I don't think Lewis has lost the locker room, and I don't think the Bengals have any more players act up than, say, the Steelers do.
I do think Lewis has to win to keep his job.
Brown has been remarkably patient. He brought Lewis back after the disastrous 2010 and stuck with him through the seven playoffs losses, but the fact that Brown at least authorized the firing of offensive coordinator Ken Zampese shows that his patience is not unlimited.
You can make a strong case that this season's failures fall more with the front office than Lewis. It was Brown and Co. who allowed Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler to walk and then didn't address the offensive line early in the draft.
However, it's pretty certain that Mike Brown is not going to fire Mike Brown, so if Lewis doesn't get the Bengals turned around, it might cost him his job.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.