“This season obviously has been a disappointment for everybody, top to bottom, in terms of what we wanted to accomplish,” he said. “But if you end it with two wins, that gives you some encouragement going into next year, some excitement going into next year.”
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Quarterback Andy Dalton, who will be under center for his second consecutive meaningless home finale, said there is a struggle before the battle.
“Complacency can set in, but that’s what you have to fight at this point,” he said. “This is obviously hard. I’ve won at every level I’ve been at. To be where we are is not what we expected. This year has not been the year that we wanted, the year we expected to have. We’ve just got to finish strong.”
Perhaps the most notable strong finish in the face of apathy was in 2002 in Dick LeBeau’s final year as head coach.
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The Bengals were 1-13 and riding a six-game losing streak heading into the home finale against the New Orleans Saints, who were 9-5 and in need of one win in their final two games to clinch a playoff berth.
Down 13-7 at halftime, Cincinnati rallied for a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown runs from Nick Luchey, with the game-winner coming with 1:36 remaining.
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That was the year before Marvin Lewis arrived in Cincinnati, but there is another Bengals coach who was on the field that day. Linebackers coach Jim Haslett was the head coach of the Saints, who lost their final three games that year to miss the postseason.
Here is a look at the other hopeless home finales in PBS history:
2000: In one of the coldest games in franchise history, the Bengals were 4-10 and seven-point underdogs to the Jacksonville Jaguars but prevailed 17-14 on Neil Rackers' 27-yard field goal at the gun.
2001: At 4-10 and riding a seven-game losing streak, the Bengals beat a 12-2 Steelers team 26-23 in overtime on a Rackers 31-yard field goal. Pittsburgh would go on to win the following week to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
›› Marvin Lewis press conference transcript, talking offensive woes, regret
2004: The Bengals were coming off back-to-back losses that dropped them to 6-8 and quashed their playoff chances. But they responded with a 23-22 victory against the New York Giants (5-9), with Chad Johnson catching the game-winning touchdown pass from Jon Kitna with 44 seconds remaining.
2007: The Bengals were 5-9 and three-point underdogs to the Cleveland Browns, who were 9-5 and in the thick of the playoff race. Cincinnati raced out to a 19-point lead and hung on for a 19-14 win that ultimately cost Cleveland a playoff berth. The Browns won the following week to improve to 10-6, but Tennessee also went 10-6 and edged them for second wildcard based on the third tiebreaker (win percentage in common games).
2008: Neither the Bengals (3-11-1) nor the Kansas City Chiefs (2-13) had anything to play for in Week 17. Shayne Graham kicked three field goals and Cedric Benson ran for a touchdown as the Bengals rolled to a 16-6 victory.
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2010: Thrust into the role of spoiler again after losing 10 of 11 to fall to 3-11, the Bengals ruined the playoff hopes of the 8-6 San Diego Chargers as Carson Palmer threw four touchdown passes and had a near-perfect passer rating of 157.2 in a 34-20 victory.
2016: In another situation where both teams were out of the playoff race, the Bengals coasted to a 27-10 victory against Baltimore behind Rex Burkhead's 119 yards and two touchdowns.
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Sunday’s game will be similar to the 2002, 2007 and 2010 home finales as the Bengals have a chance to eliminate the Detroit Lions (8-6) from playoff contention.
Lewis said he expects his players to be up to the task again.
“They have something to play for each week,” he said. “It’s their job. That’s why they do this. Their next week is not promised — or next season.”
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Asked if he looks back on another lost season with any regrets, Lewis said he does.
“I regret that we haven’t won enough football games,” he said. “That’s it. I haven’t gotten us in good enough positions to win games, and that’s my responsibility.”
Lions at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7