CINCINNATI -- In a room packed with reporters late Sunday afternoon, 10 silent seconds ticked by between the time Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis ended his opening postgame comments and was asked his first question.
"Is this your toughest day as a coach?" a local television reporter finally ventured.
"Tough day," Lewis said. "Yeah it is. Tough day. It's disappointing."
There have now been five days like this one in Lewis' 11-year tenure as the Bengals' leader. Five times he has been to the playoffs, and five times he's exited with a first-round defeat.
On most teams, such a string of misfortunes would lead to firings, scheme changes and head rolls. Put it this way about the Bengals: Some changes should and likely will come this offseason, but don't expect any to result in a head-coaching vacancy.
Why? Think back to Jan. 4, 2011.
In the days leading up to that date, it looked a lot like Lewis was about to be booted after going 4-12 the previous regular season. But Bengals owner Mike Brown caught his fans and those covering the team off guard, completely reversing course and announcing in a news conference that Lewis was being retained and extended as head coach. It was his way of giving Lewis a blank slate, and a brand new opportunity to build the program the way he wanted in hopes of getting it back to the playoffs, and back, and back. Lewis' latest contract expires after the 2014 season.
Thanks to a strong draft that year and in the years since, Lewis has done exactly what Brown expected. He's made consecutive trips to the postseason. Three straight, in fact; an accomplishment no other coach had been able to reach in the 45 years the franchise has existed. For that alone, he has the respect and support of his owner.
Lewis isn't going anywhere ... for now.
When asked what on the team needed to change in the wake of the string of playoff losses -- which actually stretch all the way back to the 1990 season -- receiver Marvin Jones stated it perfectly.
"The only thing that needs to change is us just winning the game," Jones said. "That's pretty much it. Taking advantage of our opportunities. The games that we lost, we didn't take advantage of our opportunities."
Other Bengals shared that perspective.
"It is what it is," rookie running back Giovani Bernard said. "Doesn't matter what the year is, you're losing in the first round. It's always disappointing."
What may make this particular exit more disappointing than others Lewis has had was the fact that this year's group finally had the roster that the coaching staff had been trying for so long to assemble. An already good defense was even more talented than it had been in recent years. The offensive line finished the regular season as arguably one of the league's best statistically. Playmakers like Jones, Bernard, A.J. Green and BenJarvus Green-Ellis gave the Bengals a multi-pronged offensive attack that proved difficult to defend often this year, particularly at home.
Cincinnati had something special, it seemed.
"The type of players we have, the high-character players we have, we wanted special things for them this year," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. "They worked so hard toward that goal.
"We just have to live with another tough experience and hopefully grow from it."
After three straight playoff losses, the Bengals are finding there's plenty of room left to grow. With Lewis and quarterback Andy Dalton possibly in contract years next season, the only question to ask now is: Do the Bengals still have time to grow?
We'll know for sure in about 365 days.