CINCINNATI (AP) — Marvin Lewis got the Bengals’ head coaching job because of his reputation for defensive excellence. He’s now in charge of trying to resuscitate a historically bad unit and pulling Cincinnati’s season back from the brink.
The Bengals fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin on Monday, a day after a 51-14 loss to the Saints that ranks among the worst in franchise history. New Orleans scored on every possession except the last one — when it took a knee while in field-goal range — during its rout at Paul Brown Stadium.
The fading Bengals (5-4) fired a coordinator in midstream for the second season in a row. And it’s up to Lewis to get hands-on and try to fix the mess while filling two roles at once.
“Teryl worked very hard, but I just felt like we have to rock their world, shake things up,” Lewis said.
The timing was curious. The Bengals were coming off their bye week that would have given them time to adapt to a change at coordinator. Now, they’re changing on the fly while getting ready for a pivotal AFC North game at Baltimore (4-5) on Sunday.
Lewis made another interesting move, re-hiring fired Browns coach Hue Jackson, who served as his offensive coordinator in 2014 and 2015. Jackson, who was dismissed by Cleveland on Oct. 29 after winning just three games in two-plus seasons, will take on an unspecified role within Lewis’ staff, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press on Monday night.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced Jackson’s addition.
The Bengals host the Browns on Nov. 25.
Lewis took the defense aside a few times on Sunday, trying to clear up confusion. While he won’t change the defensive schemes, he’ll try to bring more clarity to players’ responsibilities.
“They want help: ‘Give me something,’” Lewis said.
The Bengals have given up at least 500 yards in three straight games — a first in the Super Bowl era — and are on pace to give up an NFL record for yards in a season . In the past four games, Cincinnati has allowed 481, 551, 576 and 509 yards.
Lewis has one thing in his favor: The schedule is far more favorable the rest of the way.
Cincinnati has faced six offenses currently ranked in the league’s Top 10 — Tampa Bay (No. 1), Kansas City (3), Pittsburgh (4), New Orleans (5), Atlanta (6) and Indianapolis (9). Only two are left on the schedule: the Chargers (8) and the Steelers again.
With three losses in the past four games, Cincinnati has fallen from first place to trailing Pittsburgh (6-2-1) by two games in the loss column. They can’t afford to fall any further behind, which was a factor in the firing.
“They’re trying to get things fixed now,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “If you weren’t paying attention, you’re paying attention now.”
It’s the second time during his 16-season tenure in Cincinnati that Lewis has gotten directly involved in the defense.
The Bengals hired him in 2003 in large part because of his reputation for defensive coaching — he coordinated the Ravens’ Super Bowl-championship defense in the 2000 season. Defense has been a regular challenge during his tenure.
Lewis became so frustrated with the defense in 2004 that he took over play-calling from coordinator Leslie Frazier during a game against Cleveland. The Bengals lost 34-17 and Lewis left the defense in Frazier’s hands the rest of the way, and then fired him after the season.
Now, he’s back in charge.
“We’re not playing well, so something had to change,” safety Jessie Bates said.
Lewis hired Austin from Detroit after defensive coordinator Paul Guenther left to join Jon Gruden with the Raiders. The Bengals gave up a lot of yards while opening the season 4-1, with the defense scoring four touchdowns off fumble and interception returns to overcome the poor showings overall.
With injuries sapping the defense during a stretch of games against the NFL’s top offenses, the unit imploded. The Saints scored touchdowns on all five first-half possessions Sunday, and moved the ball easily even when they were running out the clock in the fourth quarter.
The Bengals matched the club record by giving up 28 points in the second quarter. The 51 points allowed were one shy of the club record.
Austin is the fourth coordinator fired in the NFL this season. Tampa Bay fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith, Arizona fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, and the Browns fired head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Jackson has a close relationship with Lewis, who has declined to discuss whether he’d bring him back to Cincinnati. Jackson coached on both offense and defense in Cincinnati.
Last year, the Bengals fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese after an 0-2 start, but the Bengals missed out on the playoffs for the second year in a row. Lewis got a two-year contract extension after the season even though he’s 0-7 in the playoffs — an NFL record for futility.