Bengals running back Giovani Bernard strapped his team on his back in the steamy fourth quarter of a tight AFC game that may very well determine a play-off spot, skittering for 66 of his 120 yards in the 24-19 victory over the Chargers at Paul Brown Stadium.
And, yes, he had some motivation from that key red-zone fumble against the Chargers in the Wild Card loss at Paul Brown Stadium 623 days ago.
"It burned in my belly," Bernard said . . .
It is ironic because it was two Jeremy Hill fumbles that put him out there. When Hill, the other half of the duo that A.J. Green called "Lightning and Thunder," after the game, bobbled a pitch and lost it with 7:44 left in the third quarter, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis benched him.
"I would have taken me out, too," Hill said. "You can't do that."
Hand it to Hill. He was right there at his locker and took on all media after the game. He may be in the doghouse, but he proved you can be a stand-up guy in it.
"No one has talked to me," Hill said. "They don't need to. It's pretty obvious. We can sit there and talk about what happened doing this and doing that. At the end of the day it's over with and you have to move on to the next week. I can't let it happen.
"I wouldn't put myself back in in that situation," he said. "Guy turned the ball over twice. He hurt the team. You lose games like that. Especially in this league with that quarterback. I can't be mad at anybody but myself." . . .
A salute to the Bengals cornerbacks, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick, who did the heavy lifting in shutting down the NFL's leading receiver, Keenan Allen. Allen had 15 catches for 166 yards against the Lions' soft zone last week, and he got 80 of them, according to profootballfocus.com, after the catch.
But like Kirkpatrick said, "That's not the way we play." For the second straight week, Jones led the Bengals in tackles, this time with nine, and Kirkpatrick was second on Sunday with seven. They get in people's faces.
"It was a press day," Kirkpatrick said. "They like to do a lot of free releases, under cuts. We were real hard on our linebackers getting their hands on them when (the receivers) come across. That was the whole game plan. Just going out there and being physical with them and re-routing them." . . .
Poor Chris Hairston, the Chargers tackle making his first NFL start at guard. Bengals Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins ate him alive on a day he hit quarterback Philip Rivers three times for a sack and forced Hairston into two holding calls and a false start.
"We knew Geno had a great matchup and that was our thing inside," said left end Carlos Dunlap, who benefitted with 1.5 sacks himself. . . .
Rookie offensive lineman Jake Fisher took a lot of ribbing after his 31-yard catch as a tackle eligible in the third quarter. It looked to be about 25 yards after catch because he was all alone and Green told him he would have score if he side-stepped Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle at the Chargers 16.
"That was the play he knew the best this week,' said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "Of all the plays. He's usually asking us what to do, but on that one he didn't need any help. He knew exactly his responsibilities." . . .
Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey knew Chargers rookie running back Melvin Gordon had a big day. Try 88 yards on 16 carries with three runs of at least 20 yards.
"I was the only guy wrong on some of those long runs," Rey said. "It was probably me."
But Rey kept at it until the end. Knowing Rivers needed to score from his own 31 with 61 seconds and no timeouts left, Rey dropped deep to tackle the check down. When Rivers went deep to wide receiver Malcom Floyd, Rey said, "These hands didn't fail me," and he picked it off.
"I didn't have a good day overall, but you know what they say," Rey said. "It's not how you start, it's how you finish." . . .
Here are two stats you know the Bengals lead the NFL. No interceptions and no sacks as Whitworth extended his streak to 25 straight games without allowing a sack . . .