Lewis, Del Rio are NFL’s ultimate survivors

Published 12:01 am Sunday, October 9, 2011

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis and Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio are the NFL’s ultimate survivors.

With just four postseason appearances and one playoff victory between them, they have lasted nine seasons in a league that has little patience for losing.

They even got rare, second chances to rebuild: Lewis essentially started over this season, and Del Rio wiped the slate clean three years ago.

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“There are some teams that before the coach’s guys, his system or the things that he wants to do, before they even take root, he’s gone and they’re doing it again,” said Del Rio, who has one win in two postseason appearances. “Rarely are those situations any good.”

Some would argue that Lewis and Del Rio outstayed their welcome. But thanks to loyal owners and possibly some pitches that would make used-car salesmen smile, the two will be on opposite sidelines Sunday when the Jaguars (1-3) host the Bengals (2-2).

“We’re still doing it and still doing it at the same places,” said Lewis, winless in two playoff games. “Not many people get to start over like I did, coming in and basically starting from scratch. … Most times, coaches have to go to another club in order to have a new beginning, and I was able to do that here.”

Lewis could be around a while, too.

With rookie quarterback Andy Dalton making progress, rookie receiver A.J. Green showing big-play ability and a rebuilt defense that ranks No. 1 in the league, the Bengals could be a factor in the AFC. They believe they are a few third-down conversations away from being undefeated.

There was the two-point loss at Denver in which Cincinnati failed to convert 10 of 11 third-down opportunities and were denied points on three consecutive drives in Broncos territory in the final seven minutes.

The Bengals struggled in the fourth quarter the following week against San Francisco, having to settle for a short field goal in a tie game late, then giving up a long touchdown drive and throwing back-to-back interceptions.

“Against Denver and the 49ers, I think we left some plays out there,” linebacker Rey Maualuga said. “They’re two games that we think we should have won and we just didn’t quite finish in the fourth quarter like we wanted to.”

The Jaguars haven’t started or finished like they wanted this season.

Del Rio has changed starting quarterbacks twice since the end of the preseason, parting ways with David Garrard and then benching Luke McCown after Week 2.

Rookie Blaine Gabbert has avoided major meltdowns in two starts, but his few mistakes have been costly and his inexperience has been evident.

The Jaguars have lost three in a row and have scored an NFL-low 39 points. It’s the lowest-scoring, four-game stretch in franchise history, and has some wondering whether Del Rio will make it past the bye week early next month.

Team owner Wayne Weaver said in January that “if we’re not in the playoffs next year, there won’t be many people around here.”

Del Rio has two years remaining on his contract, but Weaver declined to extend deals for all of Del Rio’s assistants. General manager Gene Smith and his entire personnel department also are in the final year of their contracts.

“I’m fighting my honesty policy right now,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said Thursday when asked whether he thinks about possibly being out of a job in three months.

“My personal honesty policy is under attack. It’s in the back of your mind. You can’t deny it. It’s in the back of your mind, but again, it happens to coaches at all levels all the time. It’s not like, if something bad happens, you’re never going to work again.”

Players seem resigned to what’s happening, too.

“There are some things that you have to take into consideration,” running back Maurice Jones-Drew said, explaining why he’s been so calm about the team’s offensive woes.

“Under the circumstances, it’s not time for the old me to come back out. I don’t think there will ever be a time again. There are just some circumstances that are going on in here, but we’re working on it. We’re getting better.”

But is it enough to save Del Rio?

The Jaguars haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, and with an injury to Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, the AFC South seemed wide open heading into the season. But Jacksonville is already two games behind Tennessee and Houston.

“We expect to be division champions this year,” Del Rio said. “I don’t think I can convince anybody by talking about it right now.”

Probably not.

Lewis has a better chance. He has the only two winning records in the franchise’s past 20 years, and his do-over is off to a better start than Del Rio’s.

“We’re just trying to see if everyone can mold together and become something special like we talked during camp,” Maualuga said.