The Bengals (3-4) are languishing in a three-game losing streak, and they know getting swept by the Brothers Manning over the next two weeks at home would all but end any postseason aspirations. This team is in desperate need of a spark, and Lewis made sure to provide it Wednesday. He singled them out in a conference call with Denver reporters, and in a session with Cincinnati-area media. The only thing Lewis didn't do was plaster this challenge to Dalton and Maualuga on a billboard outside Paul Brown Stadium.
“We're looking for our quarterback and our middle linebacker to take hold of our football team,” Lewis said. “I think both guys are such good people, that you got to be a little bit of a [jerk].”
Lewis didn't say "jerk" but you get his drift. This was Lewis telling his quarterback that he's no longer a rookie. He has to be a leader. Dalton has to get in the face of a teammate who runs the wrong route or misses a block. He has to hold teammates accountable.
“We are looking for Andy to take the next step of being the leader of the football team,” Lewis said. “Confident, being vocal if it needs to be, but grab this football team by the back of its neck and let's go. Let's move forward.”
As I wrote a week ago, the problems on offense aren't all Dalton's fault. But the best way to get the attention of a team is to challenge the quarterback. Where Dalton needs to step up as a leader the most is in the fourth quarter, which he's failed to do during the three-game losing streak.
With the Bengals down four points in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins, Dalton's last pass of the game was intercepted. In the fourth quarter against Cleveland, he had an interception returned for a touchdown before ending the final two drives with a fumble and an interception. In the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh, he never even threatened to make a comeback, failing to move the ball past the Cincinnati 39 on three drives.
“Andy has a great deal of confidence, self-confidence, internal confidence, confidence in the guys around him,” Lewis said. “But at some point you step out of your skin and you go. It's time to go. It's time to step out of our skin. Both places. All throughout. We've wallowed around here in mediocrity. Let's go.”
There are times when Lewis doesn't make the right call, like replay challenges. But this time, Lewis made the smart play in challenging Dalton.