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Players find inspiration if not victory with Marvin Lewis calling defense

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BALTIMORE -- Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was admittedly rusty calling his first plays in more than a decade, at least regarding some things.

Lewis would call in the play and wonder why he was getting a blank stare from middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson, who had the headset with the microphone on Sunday in place of injured linebacker Preston Brown. He eventually realized he wasn’t actually pressing down the button to get the call in.

“Poor Hardy had it tough early on, no doubt. He’s standing there looking at me, and I’m pushing the wrong button,” Lewis said. “After the first drive, it kind of settled down a little bit. But there were a couple of times, even with the timeouts, he’s looking at me, and I’m wondering why he’s looking at me.”

That anecdote would undoubtedly be more humorous if the Ravens hadn't driven down 75 yards to score on that drive, or if the Bengals had won the game. But considering the Bengals left Baltimore with a 24-21 loss, it was almost more of a statement on how things are currently going for a team that fired its defensive coordinator last week.

“It’s one of those things where I think he’s going to be more comfortable next week,” Nickerson said. “But, to not do this since 2002, and to come out and call plays, I thought he did a hell of a job.”

There would be no happy homecoming for Lewis in the place where he once oversaw one of the greatest defenses of all time to a win in Super Bowl XXXV during the 2000 season. But those days are long behind him. Right now, Lewis is left trying to patch up a defense that certainly has no Ray Lewis waiting in the wings.

Perhaps that’s why Marvin Lewis and several Bengals players tried to find silver linings from a loss that puts their playoff hopes on life support. With six games to play, there’s nothing else to do but try to rebuild off a decidedly shaky foundation.

But it’s clear the players haven’t quit after two straight losses. If anything, they seem to like the change to Lewis.

“Coach Lewis, he’s always out there on the field and you feel like he’s in the fight with you,” linebacker Vinny Rey said. “We feel like we’re fighting for Coach. Even though we’re professionals and we’re all grown men, you still go out there and you play for somebody. I do. I wanted to go out there and win this one for him. I wish we did. We came up short, but it’s a long season.”

Several players spoke during halftime of the loss to the Ravens, apparently urging the team to come together, and although the statistics wouldn’t indicate it, Rey thought it helped them play better in the second half.

“We learned we have to fight together,” Rey said. “At halftime we had some guys come in here on defense and say some words. It really brought us together, just knowing you’re not out there playing for yourself. ... You’re playing for someone else. If you play for yourself, you’re not going to do that great. If you’re playing for others, you’re playing for something bigger than yourself, and you’re going to play harder than you ever think you could.”

Although Rey said it was unusual for players to speak up at halftime because of the short time that the team is in the locker room, defensive end Carlos Dunlap waved off the notion.

“There’s no news there,” Dunlap said. “We speak at halftime of every game. ... We weren’t ahead at halftime, we had to come out and get a great stop on defense because they were getting the ball. I could give you that speech any day. That’s routine.”

Dunlap said he sensed a change in Lewis this week that he hopes everyone can use moving forward.

“I think he did really good. It’s like naturally in his DNA to have those reins as a D-coordinator,” Dunlap said. “He seems motivated and inspired, and it sparked something in him. I liked the energy…

“We definitely played better today. We definitely have enough to build on. We’ve just go to go do it.”