Mike Goff hasn’t played for the Bengals in 10 years but even from 2,200 miles away he seems to have a pretty good read on them. Goff was the Bengals’ starting right guard in 2003, the first year Marvin Lewis was the head coach. It was his only season playing for Lewis but it was an impressionable season.
“What I took from him was a man who was committed to winning,” said Goff by phone in San Diego on Friday. “I think when Marvin first got there his thing was that we’re not going to be the same old Bengals that everybody knows. He made that a point of emphasis right from the get-go.”
Goff will have a chance to see the Lewis and the Bengals up close this Sunday when they play the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. It’s a big game for San Diego, which stayed in the AFC playoff hunt with a 41-38 win at Kansas City last Sunday. It’s as big, if not bigger, for the Bengals as they attempt to maintain their control of the AFC North over Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
If there are two teams Goff should know, it’s the Bengals and the Chargers. He spent the first six years of his 12-year career with the Bengals after they picked him in the third round of the 1998 draft out of Iowa. He left the Bengals after that 2003 season and signed with San Diego, where he started 80 straight games plus seven more playoff games in five seasons.
Goff is now an NFL analyst, working for radio station XTRA Sports 1360 as well as KNSD-TV, San Diego’s NBC affiliate.
“I think what the Brown family has done, even though it hasn’t always been wine and roses, is commit to Marvin Lewis and his staff and how he approaches things,” said Goff. “That was the one thing that I could tell right away that he wanted to do. I think especially as a first-time head coach there are growing pains that are going to happen. We’ve seen that out here with coach (Mike) McCoy but I think every head coach wants to put their stamp on something. It’s taken several years but we’re seeing the Marvin Lewis stamp of having competitive tough teams who are going to be physical and you know you’re going to be in for a fight week in and week out.”
McCoy has the Chargers at 5-6, one-half game behind Baltimore for the final playoff spot in the AFC. The Ravens got back to .500 by beating Pittsburgh Thursday night, 22-20. A Cincinnati win at San Diego would allow the Bengals to keep a two-game lead on the Ravens with four games remaining.
A loss makes things much tighter. The Bengals have lost their last two road games, at Miami and at Baltimore, in overtime.
Goff doesn’t see a Bengals team succumbing to any sort of pressure. That, he said is a testament to the program Lewis has established.
The Bengals had a shot at a winning record and the AFC North title in 2003 when they hosted Cleveland in the regular season finale. The Browns spoiled both chances with a 22-14 win that included 264 yards on the ground. Lee Suggs ran for 186 yards and two touchdowns. While that was a letdown, Lewis backed up his words with actions that week in practice.
“On Christmas Day his first year we had a three-hour practice because he didn’t like how the defense was practicing,” said Goff. “Christmas Day we started practice over. Unfortunately it didn’t work out because our defense gave up over 200 yards rushing on the game on Sunday but that wasn’t the point. The point was that he is committed to winning and he knows he wants to put his stamp as a first-time head coach on this team. It’s his legacy.”
The Bengals have beaten San Diego the last two times the teams have played, including in Week 13 last season when they scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to rally for a 20-13 victory on the road. Andy Dalton had an interception returned for a touchdown in the first half of that game but scored the go-ahead touchdown on a six-yard run with 4:11 remaining.
The Cincinnati defense kept San Diego and quarterback Phillip Rivers without a touchdown last season. Safety Reggie Nelson intercepted Rivers in the end zone with 49 seconds remaining to seal the win. They’ll be facing a different Phillip Rivers on Sunday, said Goff.
“I think he’s playing almost like he was in 2009 when he went to the Pro Bowl,” said Goff. “One of the biggest question marks going into this season was the offensive line. What this coaching staff has done is incorporate everybody. They have come up with a game plan to set everybody up for success. You’re not seeing a lot of deep passes any more. You’re seeing a lot of quick passes, getting the ball out in about 2.4 seconds. It really eliminates a lot of the pressure on the offensive line.”
Five of San Diego’s six losses have been by eight points or less, including four by four points or less and an overtime loss at Washington.
“I think every game is important for the Chargers going forward but I think this game is super important to the Cincinnati Bengals,” said Goff. “The Chargers know they have to win on Sunday. They can’t lose any more because of losses to the Titans, to the Redskins, to the Raiders, to the Dolphins. They’re going to be doing whatever they need to from here on out.
“I caution all of the Chargers fans to be ready for the Bengals to do whatever it takes to win because they need a home playoff game. They don’t want to go on the road for a third year in a row. That’s a hard thing to do in the regular season. It’s even harder to do in the playoffs.”