CINCINNATI -- As the Bengals' season wore on and continued to spiral downhill, the theme week after week was the same.
"We’re not making the game-winning plays."
"We need to be better in the fourth quarter."
Fans got tired of hearing it and the players and coaches got tired of saying it. And as for coach Marvin Lewis, well...
"It pisses you off, if I'm allowed to say that," he said. "It gets you upset, and you stay upset. Unfortunately, I've got a little bit longer to be upset than in the past. Whenever the final day comes, unless you're the last one standing, you're always upset with it. That's the way it is."
And, just like in years past, we're hearing that the team will work on its shortcomings.
"We'll get to work immediately in righting it, and making a new way, a better way, with everybody understanding it," Lewis said. "We have to be better because we weren't good enough this year. We fell short scoring, fell short early on in stopping scores, and we haven't made any explosive plays in special teams -- or very few."
OK, that's the problem. How do they fix it?
Let's stop right here and say it: Replacing Lewis is almost certainly not going to be part of the solution.
Team President Mike Brown did not fire Lewis after a 4-11-1 year in 2008 or after a 4-12 year in 2010. Lewis is under contract. The rumor that Hue Jackson will come back as coach and Lewis will be kicked upstairs persists, but Jackson still has a job with Cleveland.
The Bengals were competitive in all but two games this year -- road losses to Dallas and New England, the likely top seeds in the playoffs -- so it's debatable whether the team needs a huge makeover.
"I think the guys developed a lot," defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. "But we're missing some big things from what we had last year. I'm curious to see how they fill those voids."
A lot of people are curious. Here are some things the Bengals must address in the offseason:
This won't be easy. The two best offensive linemen -- left tackle Andrew Whitworth and guard Kevin Zeitler -- are free agents. Whitworth told writers that he wants to be back. Signing him would seem priority No. 1, given his leadership and play.
The fact that Jake Fisher started at right tackle and played well against the Steelers is comforting, but the Bengals probably need to address the line either in the draft or free agency -- and figure out what to do with Cedric Ogbuehi.
Lewis talked about not being able to "push the right buttons" with players this year. He's got to figure out a way to get Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones under control in big games. Both had personal foul penalties against the Steelers. Burfict threw Ben Roethlisberger down once in front of the ref. Maybe he needs to be benched for a series after pulling stunts like that.
Ken Zampese was in his first year as offensive coordinator. It's always difficult to judge a play-caller definitively because a quarterback like Andy Dalton can change things at the line.
But two Sundays ago against Pittsburgh, Zampese seemed determined to run the ball when the run wasn't there. Jeremy Hill ran the ball 20 times for 43 yards, and he had a 12-yard run, so he averaged 1.6 yards on his other 19 runs.
I don't know how much blame Zampese deserves, but the Bengals are currently ranked 23rd in the NFL in points scored; they finished seventh last year under Jackson.
Help for Green
Brandon LaFell, the free agent wideout the Bengals signed, had two of the best games over the last three, but there were a lot of games in which he was not a factor. Rookie Tyler Boyd has his moments as well, but the Bengals need another threat to go along with A.J. Green.
Letting both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu go was a mistake. The players in the locker room think that.
The Bengals probably need to address wide receiver in the draft.
The Bengals had the oldest defense in the NFL, with an average age of 27.6. Carlos Dunlap, at 27, is the youngest member of the defensive line. The Bengals haven't gotten an impact defensive player out of the last three drafts, despite picking 12 players.
The Bengals build through the draft as a rule, but given the fact that a free agent or two could make a big difference, it should make for an interesting offseason. But it's hard to say what exactly the Bengals will address. Despite his anger with the season, Lewis would not point to specific areas of concern.
"I'm not going to sit and talk about anything that matters that way," he said. "It's not fair to the players. We'll fix it."
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.