Giovani Bernard keyed the biggest rushing day against Pittsburgh in 13 years.
The Bengals come back to work Wednesday not only knowing they're all but eliminated from the postseason but also looking at being short-handed for Sunday's short turnaround (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) against the Bears at Paul Brown Stadium.
Monday night's 23-20 at-the-gun loss to the Steelers marked one of the costliest games in franchise history when it not only put them in a 5-7 hole with four to play, but it also marked just the second time in head coach Marvin Lewis'15 seasons they blew a 14-pont half-time lead and both have come this season.
Plus, Monday's bone-crusher probably cleans them out for 3-9 Chicago. Three of their starters (linebacker Vontaze Burfict, running back Joe Mixon, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick) went into concussion protocol and that's usually a week-long process. And pending Wednesday's decision on his appeal, starting strong safety George Iloka is suspended for his hit on Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown's head on the game's tying touchdown.
Throw in starting cornerback Adam Jones' groin injury and, hey, there could even be room on the active roster for John Ross.
So it's a good thing the Bengals have finally greased up the running game after the season-long struggle, On Monday they racked up their second most rushing yards ever against the Steelers under Lewis and their most in 13 years with 130 a week after putting up season-high 152 yards against a Browns team that led the NFL in defending yards per rush.
And third-down back Giovani Bernard kept it going after Mixon exited late in the second quarter with nearly five yards per carry on his seven shots. Bernard finished it off with a season-high 77 yards on 13 carries.
It was Bernard's busiest workload in both categories since he racked up 80 yards on 15 carries in the Oct. 23, 2016 win against Cleveland. That was a month before he tore his ACL, but on Monday the 5-9, 205-pound water bug showed he's also a horse and can take a pounding in one of the most brutal games in club history.
The encouraging thing for them has to be they did it against a good group. The Bengals hadn't rushed for more than 78 yards against the Steelers since they rushed for 116 against them in the regular-season finale in 2014. But since they allowed 231 to the Jags back on Oct.8, the Steelers hadn't allowed more than 80 rushing yards.
After it was over Bernard tipped his hat to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and said they stuck with what worked against Cleveland.
"Coach Lazor called the right plays at the right time," Bernard said. "Coming from last week we used the same type of running plays and it carried over into this week. So hopefully we can just continue that through the season."
The offensive line seems to be settling into a more straight-ahead blocking scheme instead of zone runs in an effort to get the line and the backs more downhill. In the last three games fullback Ryan Hewitt has received his most play time of the season with 14 snaps each against Denver and Cleveland and 13 against the Steelers.
A concussion may sideline Joe Mixon.
But Bernard was the only guy that seemed to finish in a game the Bengals kept a two-year trend intact of doing nothing offensively in the second half. In that stretch they've been not only outscored by 70 points in the second half, but by 164-106 in the fourth quarter. Monday night is the sixth time in 12 games this season they didn't score a touchdown in the second half.
"Whatever it takes to finish," Bernard said. "Stamp it down to convert (third down), beating man, picking up a blitz, being able to throw it in a zone. Whatever it is. We just have to figure it out. It's not always going to be the same thing."
The one TD they scored in the second half was called back on Bernard's holding call, but that's uncharacteristic. Rating him at No. 16, profootballfocus.com has Bernard in the top half NFL backs in protection. He didn't sound like he agreed with the call, but he wasn't too enthused about hearing back from the league if it decides it wasn't a good call.
"What are they going to say?" Bernard asked. "'Oh, that wasn't a good call? Sweet. What is that going to do for me now?"
Bernard did a great job picking up one half of the Steelers' blitz of two corners on third-and-11 from the Steelers 15 with 31 seconds left in the first half, resulting in Andy Dalton's 15-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green.
Cincinnati Bengals host Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium in week 13 of the regular season.
"We obviously knew they were going to pressure us in certain situations," Bernard said. "And we were going to have to capitalize on those moments and we did that a couple of times."
If anyone knows how brutal a Bengals-Steelers game is its Bernard. After watching Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier leave the field Monday night strapped to a board with a back injury, he admitted his mind shot back to the 2015 Wild Card Game when Shazier knocked him out on a helmet-to-helmet hit that has since been outlawed.
"I'm praying for him," Bernard said. "That's just football. That's part of it. I was standing right there hoping he got up … It's tough to see a guy like that go down. A good player like that. Even when our guys went down. Joe and Vontaze.
"There's not much to say (to Shazier). It's more inner thoughts. I hope he gets better. I'm praying for him. I'm a believer in Christ. I know he has a plan for everything."
The danger won't deter Bernard from running the ball this Sunday. He hopes players, coaches, and officials keep becoming more aware of using, teaching, and enforcing proper tackling and blocking. But he won't stop running.
"I've been in a lot tougher games, but obviously that was a tough game," Bernard said. "We love this game. We're going to play it no matter what. We're not going to say, 'That guy got knocked out, we're not going to play.' It's just part of the game."
Cincinnati Ben-Gal Cheerleaders perform during the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals game - 12/06/2017 *Photos taken by Steve France