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CINCINNATI – The Bengals still don't have a 100-yard game by either of their running backs, a surprising statistic for a team that likes to grind it out whenever possible.
Just shows how well their tandem is working.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis had his best game of the season Sunday, finishing off a 17-10 win in San Diego by running over defenders while the Bengals (8-4) ran out the clock. The tackle-to-tackle runner finished with a season-high 92 yards. Rookie Giovani Bernard added 57 yards.
Cincinnati piled up 164 overall on the ground, the fourth time the Bengals have rushed for more than 160 yards in a game this season.
There's no single star in this running game.
"Those guys really complement each other well," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said on Monday. "Bennie's obviously a banger and Gio can do some different things. He softens up the defense because they're worried about the passing game with him swinging out of the backfield. So both of them are very effective with what they do.
"The important thing is to keep them fresh and try to stick with it."
Their showing on Sunday was in some respects their most impressive yet, even though they remain one of only six teams in the league without a 100-yard rusher this season. The line was in flux after left guard Clint Boling tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the first quarter.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth moved into Boling's spot and Anthony Collins came in to play left tackle. Coach Marvin Lewis said Monday that Boling would have surgery.
Despite the line changes, the Bengals were able to run the ball when it mattered.
Green-Ellis scored on a 4-yard run in the second quarter. With the Bengals leading 17-10 and 4:43 left, they got the ball at their 34-yard line and ran out the clock. Their last eight plays were runs, followed by Andy Dalton twice going to his knee as the clock ran out.
Green-Ellis converted a pair of third-down rushes to keep that final drive going.
"I get a lot of that Mariano Rivera stuff," Green-Ellis said Monday, referring to the Yankees closer. "I guess I'm getting a new nickname. It's fun. Obviously you like to have the ball in your hands to close out games."
Green-Ellis, whose nickname is "The Law Firm," is known for holding onto the ball when other teams are trying to rip it out of his arms. The Bengals had a chance to put the game away midway through the fourth quarter on Sunday, but he lost a fumble for only the fourth time in his career.
The Bengals got the ball back, and he held on.
"When you give up one of those, it's like you have something burning inside of you that you didn't even know you had," Green-Ellis said. "You just get a lot more energy and power."
Gruden could sense an extra determination by Green-Ellis on that last drive.
"He hasn't put the ball down too many times in his career," Gruden said. "You could tell when he does, it hurts him more than it hurts us. It hurts us a lot, but it really hurts him. And you want to make up for it, and he did."
Part of the reason the Bengals don't have a 100-yard rusher is because their two backs are sharing plays. Green-Ellis has carried 176 times for 614 yards; Bernard has 119 carries for 521 yards. Using them interchangeably has kept both fresh and allowed Gruden to get creative.
"It lets coach Gruden utilize his entire playbook and not limit him at all," Bernard said. "If there's a situation where I need to go in, he'll throw me in. If there's a situation he wants Benny in, he'll throw him in. It definitely helps us and we definitely use it to our advantage."
NOTES: Lewis is considering keeping Whitworth at left guard this Sunday against the Colts (8-4) at Paul Brown Stadium. Lewis said there's a chance right guard Kevin Zeitler, who missed the last two games with an injured right foot, could be back in practice this week. ... CB Dre Kirkpatrick said he left the locker room quickly on Sunday because he was emotional over his first career interception. "I just wanted to take it all in," he said.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org