Dallas' Parcells, Cincinnati's Lewis suffering sophomore slumps


Saturday, November 6th 2004, 12:13 pm
By: News On 6


Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis finished second in voting for the NFL's coach of the year last season and Dallas' Bill Parcells was only a half-vote behind. Both were recognized for taking over beaten-down franchises and immediately breathing life into them.

So halfway through this season, their second on the job, things should really be clicking. Right?

Wrong.

The Cowboys and Bengals hit the season's midpoint against each other Sunday in Cincinnati playing for demoralizing stakes. The winner gets to keep alive long shot playoff hopes, while the loser may have to start viewing the rest of the season as groundwork for 2005.

``We both had some success last year, but we're not getting the same results this year,'' Cincinnati receiver Chad Johnson said. ``We know we're good. We know we can do it. It's just a matter of a little fine-tuning. There's no magic solution. It's just a matter of you have to keep working hard.''

Dallas is 3-4, third in the NFC East with two games remaining against unbeaten Philadelphia.

Parcells told players two weeks ago to aim for being .500 with half the season left. The Cowboys took the first step last Sunday by beating Detroit 31-21, ending a three-game losing streak while scoring their most points of the season.

Dallas' slow start is a big change from last season, when an early five-game winning streak helped break a cycle of three straight 5-11 finishes. The Cowboys went 10-6 and made the playoffs, something Parcells had never done in his first season with a club.

Now he's in jeopardy of another first: missing the playoffs in his second season.

Parcells insists it is too early to panic. He says the standings change so much between the seventh and 12th games every season that a team only needs to emerge from that stretch close to the leaders, then can pull together in December.

``That's why you have to keep plugging along, putting one foot in front of another,'' he said. ``You got to try to maintain hope. And until you get seven or eight losses where you start to get mathematically eliminated, you have that.''

Hope and Cincinnati rarely went together until Lewis arrived last season and went 8-8.

But the Bengals (2-5) are back to their bungling ways. At least they have a good excuse _ youth, particularly at quarterback _ and there is faith that Lewis will straighten out everything.

Yet if this is the season that they end a playoff drought dating to 1990, they better get cracking. Only three teams have gone from 2-5 to the postseason (1990 Saints, '95 Lions and 2002 Jets) and all won their eighth game.

``It's now time to push over that hump and quit looking and being a little bit hesitant about sticking our neck out there,'' Lewis said. ``Let's just go push over and make football plays and win games.''

Both of Cincinnati's wins were at home, including two weeks ago on a Monday night. Being in that spotlight was a rare treat for players and fans, and they responded nicely.

Now comes Dallas' first trip to Cincinnati in seven years, perhaps giving the locals something else to rally around.

``Guys are fired up to get a chance and to get a shot to beat the Dallas Cowboys,'' said Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who grew up rooting for the Cowboys. ``Guys are optimistic, showing up to work and excited to get going again to get that bitter taste out of our mouths.''

Cincinnati players also were refreshed this week by having a Monday off for the first time all season. Lewis did it as a reward for how they played in a 27-20 loss at Tennessee.

While Parcells isn't likely to do that, he does see some of himself in Lewis. Both are former defensive coordinators who started at small colleges in small states (Lewis in Idaho, Parcells in Nebraska). They've spoken several times, with Parcells telling Lewis to call back if he ever wants to chat.

``I like his approach,'' Parcells said. ``He has thought about his job seriously. He seems like a good football guy to me.''

Dallas quarterback Vinny Testaverde was Baltimore's quarterback for two seasons while Lewis was the defensive coordinator. Testaverde said the two coaches have ``more similarities than most people realize.''

``Both of them are very competitive,'' he said. ``Obviously they both have great minds for the game. (They're) just two guys that really are able to communicate with their players and get a lot out of their players.''