CINCINNATI – Bengals coach Marvin Lewis admitted he was "negligent" about the Bengals-Steelers social media threats that may have helped incite the headhunting and other ridiculous behavior in the playoff game here Saturday.
But Lewis said he laid down the law in a year-end meeting with his team Monday: Discipline will be the first order in 2016.
"The message to the players is that they are privileged to play in the National Football League, and we have to win with class. We have to control us and not worry about the other team or other circumstances. We've had to reinforce that at an unfortunate moment," Lewis said Monday afternoon in his season-ending news conference.
The Steelers got away with their ill behavior Saturday and the Bengals didn't, and that proved to be the difference in the Bengals' 18-16 loss. Specifically, it was linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam Jones and their out-of-control antics in the last 22 seconds.
Their personal foul penalties, following Jeremy Hill's fumble and the coaches' decision to not take a knee and try to run out the clock, cost the Bengals their first playoff victory in 25 years.
Lewis said he regretted not recognizing the seriousness of threatening tweets and not taking social media more seriously. He also criticized the NFL, saying Bengals security reached out to the league about the issue, but the league ignored it.
Lewis apologized to Bengals fans for the heartbreaking loss. The Bengals had taken a 16-15 lead with 1:30 to go and the crowd at Paul Brown Stadium and fans watching on TV had already started celebrating and shedding 2-1/2 decades of frustration.
"I feel bad for our fans. I feel sick for them," Lewis said.
Lewis said Burfict and Jones, whose penalties set up the Steelers's game-winning field goal, "couldn't be more heartbroken."
He said Burfict and Jones had taken "the first step - realizing I'm wrong."
After the morning meeting, several players said they eagerly accepted accept the new order. Nose tackle Domata Peko and linebacker Vincent Rey told Bengals.com that they looked forward to coming back to a more disciplined team in 2016.
“Coach has already said that moving forward here we’re not going to do things that way,” Peko said. “If anybody is having any arguments with referees he’s going to get you out of there. Moving forward, we’re going to make that change, and it’s a good change.
“Through the midseason and later in the season, that’s when we started making it a real emphasis,” Rey said. “This coming season from day one in April, I bet, it’s going to be about having poise. That’s going to be a big emphasis.”