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Mike Preston: Bengals' success under Marvin Lewis has led to roughest season in years

After more than a decade of turning around one of the NFL's worst franchises, Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis' success might finally be catching up with him.

In recent years, he has lost coordinators Jay Gruden, Hue Jackson and Mike Zimmer, who went on to become NFL head coaches, and during this past offseason he lost two top receivers in Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in free agency.

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The Bengals are 3-6-1, and could have their worst season since going 4-12 in 2010. Quality teams always get raided by the opposition and they don't always overcome it.

Maybe that's what is going on with the Bengals, but Lewis won't get any sympathy around the league. And he won't have a personal pity party, either.

"We've had an influx of new players year after year after year," said Lewis, in his 14h season as the Bengals coach. "It's been important that we continue to draft and develop players, and that's part of it. That's the challenge year in and year out, is fitting the guys in, keeping the guys going and moving forward.

"We went from Carson Palmer, who is a tremendous player, to Andy Dalton, and we've been fortunate enough to make the transition through that. Andy has been able to carry this football team again. We continue to try to put guys around Andy that help him affect the game."

Finding those players will be the key if the Bengals are to beat the Ravens (5-5) on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. Star receiver A.J. Green, who has almost single-handedly crushed the Ravens in recent games, is out with a hamstring injury and backup running back Giovani Bernard (337 rushing yards, 336 receiving yards) is out for the season with a torn ACL. Both injuries occurred last week against the Buffalo Bills.

But the Ravens won't overlook the Bengals, a team which has beaten them in five straight games. The Ravens also have tremendous respect for Lewis, who was the architect of the Ravens' record-setting Super Bowl defense in 2000.

Not only can Lewis coach, but he might be in the healing business as well.

"I don't know. They could," Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said when asked if Green and Bernard could pull a "Roethlisberger" and play Sunday. "This is a miraculous league. They have stuff. … Guys can get back pretty fast, you know what I am saying? You never know. I think it is their coach. We respect Marvin, and they are going to play hard for Marvin. We think whoever we line up against is who we are going to line up against. We are not going to be shocked by anything."

Sorry, the Bengals aren't going to shock the world Sunday with Green and Bernard playing. Bernard was placed on injured reserve this week. It's going to be rookies Alex Erickson and Tyler Boyd rounding out the receiving corps with James Wright, Brandon LaFell and tight end Tyler Eifert.

According to Lewis, the Bengals now have receivers faster than Green. Regardless, Ravens safety Eric Weddle has put his teammates on high alert. The Ravens only have to look back to last season when they played the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second time. Because of injuries, the Ravens were basically a bunch of no-names at that point.

Final score: Ravens 20, Steelers 17.

"When that happens [injuries], teams rally," Weddle said. "The person who is getting a chance to play feels it is his time and they will step up and show out. It's the NFL. We've got to be ready."

The Ravens certainly can't afford to overlook anybody, especially with a .500 record. The statistics for the two teams are similar, except the Bengals have a strong offense and a weak defense, as opposed to the Ravens who have a good defense and inconsistent offense.

The Bengals are ranked No. 24 in total defense allowing 372.1 yards per game, which in surprising considering they have two of the game's most dominant players in defensive tackle Geno Atkins and linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

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But according to Lewis, the Bengals can't finish off opponents.

"We haven't won close games. We've had opportunities in the fourth quarter of football games," Lewis said. "We've had leads. We've had opportunities, and we haven't closed the games out."

The Bengals also can't finish games because they don't have closers like Jones, who had 65 catches for 816 yards and four touchdowns last season, and Sanu, who had 33 catches for 394 yards. They also don't have Jackson, who had been dialing up the offensive plays in the previous two seasons.

Lewis, though, won't use those losses as an excuse. But he isn't used to losing and it showed earlier this week in a conference call with local reporters.

He wasn't combative, but his answers were short at times. The Bengals' chances of winning the AFC North are already slim, and losing to the Ravens on Sunday would make their chances of winning the division about as good as Cleveland's.

The Bengals still have some fight left.

"A.J. is obviously a tremendous, tremendous player," Lewis said. "He has been a big focus for us. He's a big focus for the opponent. Now, we'll have some other guys in there that can, in some cases, they actually run faster, but they're obviously not A.J. Green. It was unfortunate that we lost Gio. He's been a big part of what we do.

"That's where we are right now. We have a lot of football ahead, and we have a big football game for us come Sunday in Baltimore. We have to take care of our business. That's an opportunity where we have a chance to put a step forward on Sunday."

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