CINCINNATI (AP) -After thinking about it for a night, Marvin Lewis defended his most unpopular decision in five seasons as Cincinnati Bengals coach.
He would kick it again.
Lewis was criticized by fans and second-guessed by players for playing it safe during a 24-13 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday. With Cincinnati's season on the line, Lewis chose a field goal instead of going for a touchdown late in the first half.
The move backfired, and Lewis agreed after the game he probably should have gone for the touchdown. A day later, he did an about-face and defended a decision that was interpreted as a lack of faith in his offense.
``I'm probably still going to kick the field goal at that point with where we were in the game and so forth,'' Lewis said Monday afternoon. ``It's easy to look back on it now, particularly after they score a touchdown, and think that makes a difference. But at that point, getting the (three) points was important.
``Obviously, the players always want to go, the fans always want to go, because the next day they really don't care. And if we don't make it, if we run it we should have thrown it, and if we threw it we should have ran it. So there's the other sides of those coins.''
There was no disputing the outcome. At 2-5, the Bengals have essentially scuttled their season. And the decision by Lewis represented their season in a microcosm.
They can't make - or don't try to make - the game-turning play.
They trailed 14-3 late in the first half Sunday, but had a chance to change the momentum when they put together a 10-play drive behind Carson Palmer, who was 7-of-7 for 46 yards on the drive.
His third-down completion put the ball just inside the 2-yard line, a couple of feet shy of a first down. Lewis initially considered going for it, then called a timeout after a measurement. Then, he opted for the field goal.
The largest crowd in Paul Brown Stadium history booed when kicker Shayne Graham went onto the field, and again when his 20-yard kick split the uprights. One of Cincinnati's best chances had ended the way Pittsburgh wanted: in a field goal instead of a touchdown.
Lewis feared if the Bengals went for it and failed, the Steelers could have taken control of the game.
``If we are unsuccessful, we give them quite a bit of momentum,'' he said.
They got it anyway.
Pittsburgh took the kickoff and drove to Cincinnati's 1-yard line with 9 seconds left in the half. Unlike the Bengals, the Steelers didn't hesitate to go for it all. Willie Parker dived into the end zone for a 21-6 lead with 4 seconds to go, then did a muscleman pose in the end zone.
The contrast was striking. First-place Pittsburgh was determined to get into the end zone. Last-place Cincinnati was content to kick.
Several players said after the game they wished they'd gone for it on fourth-and-1 instead of taking the field goal. Those feelings didn't change overnight.
``My take on it was the same as yesterday,'' receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. ``I thought we should have gone for it, but he's the head coach. He chose not to go for it, and we didn't.''
Houshmandzadeh disagreed with the call, but didn't blame the loss on that one play.
``Y'all are making a big deal about that call, but even if we get the first down and we score, do we win?'' Houshmandzadeh said. ``We don't know that. You can't point to that one thing and say that we lost, because there's no guarantee that if we score we win the game anyway.''

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