ORLANDO, Fla. – Marvin Lewis isn't having any of the Andy Dalton bashing.
The Cincinnati Bengals' head coach was ardent and somewhat testy in his defense of his embattled quarterback here Tuesday, insistently supporting a passer who is 0-3 in the playoffs, a record that includes a sloppy home defeat to the San Diego Chargers in January when he committed three turnovers.
"I'm tired of answering questions about Andy that don't make sense," Lewis said at the NFL owners meetings.
Those questions make a lot of sense to the Bengals fans losing patience with a quarterback who led their team to nine- 10- and 11-win seasons only to throw one touchdown against six interceptions in the postseason.
Lewis refused to blame Dalton, saying he's done "a really good job."
"He's done what most people have never done," Lewis said, speaking of Dalton's three straight playoff appearances to start his career. "We lost a football game. We didn't cover people on third down. We didn't protect Andy."
There is an inordinate pressure on both Dalton and Lewis this season. Lewis has lost both of his coordinators to head coaching jobs – Jay Gruden to Washington and Mike Zimmer to Minnesota. So his imprint is on this team and franchise more than ever. Those who say the Bengals' recent success is a product of Lewis' assistants will get their chance to see if they're right.
Meanwhile, Dalton is going into the final year of his rookie deal. A franchise sold on its quarterback would normally rush to get him locked up on an extension, but owner Mike Brown was lukewarm in an interview Monday with Cincinnati.com:
"We are going to try to get something done, but I don't know if we are going to be able to or not. At some point we are going to have to do something more than just let everyone else leave waiting to get something done with that situation. We held back this year trying to put ourselves in a position to get him done. If it turns out it can't be made to work we will do something elsewhere."
Not exactly a hearty endorsement.
Lewis, however, showed zero hesitancy in a roundtable with reporters Tuesday. He dealt with a variety of questions which all asked pretty much the same thing: is Dalton really the guy?
"We put a chip on him three years ago," he said, "saying he's our guy."
Asked if the players around Dalton can have full confidence, Lewis said, "They can play very confidently because they know the quarterback is going to play his tail off."
This situation is unique: Dalton has been outstanding in the sense that he's led a struggling franchise to a new level of success. If you asked Bengals fans three years ago how they would feel about their rookie quarterback (drafted in the second round, no less) taking them to the playoffs three straight years, they would have reacted in happy shock.
Dalton's performance in the postseason, though, has brought shellshock. As comfortable as he's looked in the fall, he's looked just as uncomfortable in the winter.
Lewis always seems to look comfortable, but that may change as well. He's the longest-tenured coach in the NFL other than New England's Bill Belichick, and he has zero playoff wins to show for his 11 seasons in Cincinnati. He's 90-85-1 as a head coach, not the kind of winning percentage that leads to job stability in the NFL.
A playoff win would make a major difference for both Lewis and Dalton, but another year without any success in the postseason might mean neither one is around to be peppered with questions next year.