Esiason blames coach; Lewis, Burfict, Jones out?

Posted at 3:45 AM, Jan 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-10 13:20:11-05

CINCINNATI – Bengals great Boomer Esiason thinks Marvin Lewis should lose his job, and Esiason wasn't the only NFL icon to say so after the Bengals' meltdown Saturday night.

An angry Esiason could hardly control himself on the set during the CBS post-game show.

"I'm a former Bengal. I'm embarrassed by the way that this game ended and by the way these guys carried themselves on the football field today," the former NFL MVP and Super Bowl quarterback said, his voice cracking with emotion. "I feel bad for Marvin Lewis. I'll tell you one thing, if Lewis can't control his players, then maybe Marvin Lewis shouldn't be on the sideline coaching that team."

The biggest question following the Bengals' 18-16 loss to the Steelers has to be: Will Lewis, linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback-return man Adam Jones be back next season, or has Mike Brown seen enough after the franchise's fifth-straight one-and-done in the playoffs?

With the possible exception of "The Comeback," this figures to go down as the biggest choke in NFL playoff history. The only thing that compares is the Houston Oilers' blowing a 35-3 lead to the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 3, 1993.

Lewis has one more year on his deal, but he will come under intense scrutiny after his team self-destructed. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap tweeted: "Bengals beat Bengals ... No 1 to blame but ourselves."

Two other CBS analysts, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher and future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, said the two personal fouls by Burfict and Jones that doomed the Bengals at the end were "on" Lewis. The three CBS analysts put the blame squarely on the Bengals coach for not being able to keep his players under control.

After Esiason spoke, Cowher agreed, saying "Vontaze Burfict ... He lost it during the game. That's on the head coach."

Gonzalez said he was "embarrassed for the NFL" and singled out Lewis. The 30 yards of penalties set up Chris Boswell's 35-yard game-winning field goal with 14 seconds left.

Afterward, Lewis didn't even call out Burfict and Jones for their stupid penalties, which only raised more doubt about his handle on the locker room. It's one thing to defend your players when their actions are defensible and quite another thing to act like they didn't do anything wrong when everybody saw what they did.

Instead, team captains Andy Dalton and Andrew Whitworth stepped up and answered the hard questions for Lewis.

"You can't have stupid penalties at times like that," Dalton said about Burfict. "Vontaze is obviously a great player for us and he's done a lot of great things, so I'm not saying he's hurting this team, but the penalties are."

"We have to be smart in situations all throughout the game and make the best decisions to win," Whitworth said.

Burfict and Jones are two of the Bengals' best players, and they showed it Saturday night. Jones' 24-yard punt return gave the Bengals a short field for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:50 to go, and Burfict's interception with 1:36 left seemed to seal the victory. But their stupid penalties and childish post-game behavior had to remind fans of Chad Johnson (Ochocinco), Terrell Owens and all the other bad actors and criminals that filled the Bengals locker room during The Lost Decade.

Jones posted a profanity-filled rant against the referees, and Burfict answered reporters' questions in the locker room with one "I don't know" after another until he walked off.

Neither Burfict nor Jones has been a model citizen, though Burfict's crimes have happened on the field. He took so many personal foul penalties in college that no team drafted him. But Lewis wanted him, believing he could rehabilitate him, so the Bengals gave him a chance.

Burfict rewarded Lewis by leading the team in tackles his first two years and leading the league in his second season (2013) and making the Pro Bowl. He didn't stop making stupid penalties, but they weren't so egregious.

After a 2014 season mostly lost to injuries, Burfict came back this year with fire and more penalties. After the last Bengals-Steelers game in December, the NFL fined Burfict $69,454 for three separate infractions - roughing the passer, a facemask and unnecessary roughness..

Burfict even got into it at midfield before the game when he butted helmets with Pittsburgh linebacker Vince Williams. He didn't get fined for that.

FLYING PIGSKIN: Burfict needs to 'check himself'

Jones' many problems with the law and the NFL (he was suspended for the 2007 season) have been well documented, but except for ripping off Amari Cooper's helmet in September, he has kept fairly clean in the last year or two. 

Jones, 32, is an unrestricted free agent. Burfict, 25, is signed through 2018.

Once the pain of Saturday's loss wears off, maybe no one will hold any grudges and Lewis, Jones and Burfict will be back to try to make a playoff run next season. For now, though, the Bengals are the only team in NFL history to go one-and-out in the playoffs five straight years. And they are 0-7 under Lewis. The Bengals haven't won in the playoffs since Jan 6, 1991.

Otherwise, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will probably get a head coaching job, but he'll leave a legacy of  questionable play calls anyway (Why not take a knee so Jeremy Hill doesn't fumble? What about that 2-point conversion try?)

AJ McCarron's emergence as a starter could raise a QB controversy here in the offseason. McCarron was unable to put any points on the scoreboard until the fourth quarter, but he made amends by leading three scoring drives and throwing a 25-yard TD pass to A.J. Green with 1:38 to  go that put the Bengals ahead 16-15.

It's hard to see McCarron unseating Dalton after Dalton had the best year of his career. But stranger things have happened, as we saw Saturday night.

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