The Cincinnati Bengals won their fifth consecutive home finale Sunday by coming from behind twice for a 26-17 victory that eliminated the Detroit Lionsfrom the playoff race.
Backup running back Giovani Bernard sparked the rally with 116 rushing yards and seven receptions for 52 yards after taking over for injured starter Joe Mixon in the first quarter. It was the third career 100-yard rushing game for Bernard, and his 168 scrimmage yards were a career high.
Randy Bullock added four field goals, including a go-ahead, 51-yarder with 4:42 remaining.
The victory snapped a three-game losing streak as the Bengals improved to 6-9. The Lions fell to 8-7.
Here are six things to know about the game:
The last of Bernard’s 23 carries resulted in a 12-yard touchdown that gave the Bengals a 26-17 lead with 1:54 left in the game. It also resulted in an urge for Bernard to apologize.
“I was definitely supposed to go down on the 1,” he said. “I definitely apologized to (defensive coordinator Paul Guenther) after. It was my fault. I should’ve just gone down. That’s a little selfish. So I’ve got to go apologize to Marvin about that. That’s not too good.”
The touchdown came on third and 6 with Detroit out of timeouts. Had Bernard gone down at the 1, the Bengals could have run out the clock with three kneel-downs.
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Quarterback Andy Dalton wasn’t bothered at all by Bernard getting into the end zone.
“Get the points,” he said. “Obviously the game could’ve been over at that point, but it was open. I’m happy for him.”
Bernard was happy, too. Instead of going down, he went airborne with a celebratory leap across the goal line.
“It’s always exciting getting into the end zone,” he said. “You don’t know how many times you’re going to be able to do it year in and year out. So every single one counts. I was just excited.
Linemen come up large
The 142 rushing yards the Bengals gained were the second most of the season, and they came with two players making their first career starts at their position, along with 11-year veteran Eric Winston starting for the first time since the team signed him off the street Nov. 8.
Seven-year veteran Clint Boling made his first start at left tackle, filling in for the injured Cedric Ogbuehi, while 2016 fifth-round pick Christian Westerman not only made his NFL debut, but his first career start. Westerman (first and third quarters and 2016 college free agent Alex Redmond (second and fourth quarters) rotated at left guard.
“Christian missed the one trap play where Gio got clocked, but all in all those young guys went in there and battled their butts off,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “And Clint battled his butt off out there at tackle. They’ve got to feel good. It was great.”
On the one-year anniversary of his missed 43-yarder at the gun in a 12-10 loss at Houston, kicker Randy Bullock drilled a go-ahead 51-yarder with 4:42 to lift the Bengals to the win.
“I felt like I hit the ball really clean today,” Bullock said. “I was just excited to do my job and help my team.”
The 51-yarder was Bullock’s longest of the season, and it was his fourth of the game after also connecting from 29, 27 and 35 yards. It was only the second time in his career Bullock made four field goals in a game. He was 6 of 6 against Baltimore in 2014 as a member of the Texans.
After missing extra points in back-to-back games last month, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was asked if the team was committed to Bullock for the rest of the season. His response was “We’re committed to Randy for this week.”
Since then, Bullock has not missed a kick, making 9 of 9 PATs and 9 of 9 field goals.
Five of the eight Bengals who left the game with injuries did not return, including starting linebacker Vontaze Burfict (shoulder) and Jordan Evans (concussion), starting safety Shawn Williams (concussion) backup safety Clayton Fejedelem (calf) and Mixon.
Burfict was playing for the first time since suffering a concussion against Pittsburgh on Dec. 4. He injured his shoulder while hitting Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford on a pass that linebacker Vinny Rey intercepted late in the second quarter to set up Bullocks’ second field goal.
One play earlier, Burfict hit Evans in the head as they were tackling Lions receiver Kenny Golladay. Television replays showed Evan’s eyes rolled back in his head before he landed, at which point his head smacked off the turf again.
That left the Bengals with just three healthy linebackers for the second half. Starters Kevin Minter (Dec. 15) and Nick Vigil (Dec. 22) recently went on season-ending Injured Reserve.
“We had to battle the war of attrition once again out there, and guys had to step up and play,” Lewis said. “I think we went into the game with the most linebackers we’ve had for a while, and we quickly went without them, and (it was a) nice job (by the backups).”
Bernard also left the game briefly with a right ankle injury but only missed a couple of plays. On the first one, third-stringer Brian Hill turned a screen pass into a 34-yard gain to the Detroit 18.
Wide receiver Alex Erickson suffered an ankle injury on a punt return in the first quarter but returned for the next punt. And Michael Johnson suffered an undisclosed injury while chasing Stafford out of bounds in the first quarter, but he was back for the following series.
Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green and Detroit wide receiver Marvin Jones, a former Bengal, both reached the 1,000-yard mark Sunday.
Green finished with 81 yards on six catches, the second of which sent him over 1,000 for the sixth time in his seven seasons. Green heads into the season finale with 73 receptions and 1,061 yards.
Jones, who had three catches for 50 yards, topped the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career on a contested 31-yard reception in the third quarter in which he out-leaped and out-fought Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard.
With the possibility existing that Sunday was the final home game in which Lewis will be the head coach of the Bengals, Lewis was asked in his postgame press conference if he was emotional.
“Emotional? Why? Do you know something I don’t know,” he said with a laugh.
Prior to that, he struck a more serious tone.
“I know it hasn’t been a year that any of us expected, but our guys came out today, hung in here and kept it alive,” Lewis said. “That’s what it is in the NFL — it’s a year-to-year, day-to-day (situation). We’re not done yet, but we did not (give up). Our goal as an organization is to be world champions. We’re not going to get there this year. That’s my job, to get the team to win the Super Bowl, and we’re short of that this year.
“That’s all I can say,” he added. “There’s nothing in between as a coach — you either do or you don’t. And this year we didn’t.”
Bengals at Ravens, 1 p.m., WHIO-TV Ch. 7, Ch. 12, 700, 1530 102.7, 104.7