CINCINNATI — While Bengals fans are calling for Marvin Lewis's head, the coach is gaining support from an old friend and new foe.
Mike Zimmer, Lewis's former defensive coordinator, is standing up for his former boss this week even though his Vikings will be trying to put another nail in Lewis's coffin Sunday.
In fact, Zimmer thinks the Bengals should give Lewis a lifetime contract.
"In my opinion he should be able to stay there as long as he wants,” Zimmer said of Lewis this week.
Despite the Bengals' 5-8 record and last Sunday's humiliating 33-7 loss at home to the Bears, Zimmer made it clear he thinks the Bengals owe Lewis job security, not a ride out of town in three weeks when his contract expires.
“When he first started, they weren’t very good,” Zimmer said. “He got them to a place where they got to six playoffs games [in seven years]. I think he’s a heck of a coach. He does unbelievable things in the community. I learned a lot for him. I’m happy for him.
"I love Marvin Lewis. He’s an unbelievable person, great guy.”
Told about Zimmer's endorsement, Lewis was grateful.
"I guess I owe him a check, huh?" said Lewis. "We all realize when you sign up for these jobs, the thing is it's not forever. I think we all accept that."
How the Bengals play in December will be a reflection on Lewis. Back-to-back home losses against the Steelers and Bears doomed Cincinnati to a second straight season without a winning record.
Meanwhile, Zimmer is having his best season in his fourth year with the Vikings. Minnesota is 10-3 and can clinch the NFC North with a win over the Bengals
Zimmer coached an 11-5 Vikings team into the playoffs two years ago, losing in the first round.
Like the Bengals, the Vikings are dealing with an onslaught on late-season injuries as they come off a 31-24 road loss at Carolina. Tight end Kyle Rudolph (foot) from Elder High School is one of six starters who didn't practice Wednesday. The others were cornerback Xavier Rhodes (hip), tackle Riley Reiff (ankle), linebacker Emmanuel Lamur(foot), tight end Blake Bell (shoulder) and cornerback Mackensie Alexander (ribs).
The Bengals' defense was missing six starters last week and will be limited again Sunday.
What will Zimmer's former defense muster in a game with such little significance for Cincinnati?
"I just told them, the veteran guys in this room, there'll be a lot said over the next three weeks on how you lead the team," Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said.
"At the end of the day, it's my job to get you guys ready to play, but on Sunday the pressure is on you guys. You guys have to do this."
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick are still in concussion protocol and were held out of practice again Wednesday. Linebacker Nick Vigil has an ankle injury. Defensive tackle Geno Smith was limited to a dozen plays against the Bears because of a toe injury.
A priority this week is getting the energy level up among whoever is on the field.
"There's no magic drink," safety George Iloka said. "On Sunday, every individual has to find it within themselves. There's nothing anybody can do or say."The Bengals signed safety Robenson Therezie, a third-year player who appeared in 25 games with the Falcons, including two starts.