Bengals run over Chargers in 17-10 win

The Bengals once went four seasons without one of their running backs having a 100-yard game but in the 10 previous seasons Marvin Lewis has been the head coach they’ve always managed to have at least three games in which someone rushes for 100 or more yards.

It hasn’t happened yet through the first 12 games but there was no bigger offensive reason for the Bengals leaving San Diego with a 17-10 win over the Chargers than their run game. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a season-high 92 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries while Giovani Bernard added 57 yards on 14 carries as part of an overall 164-yard effort behind a reshuffled offensive line.

The Bengals came into the game with the No. 20 rushing attack in the NFL but Sunday was the seventh time they’ve gone over 100 yards as a team and the fourth time they’ve had at least 160 yards on the ground in a game this season.

“We’re a tough bunch and they thrive on toughness and grit,” said Lewis. “It was a day where we knew that running the football was going to be important and I thought we did a very good job of that.

“We came in and did what we had to do.”

The Bengals are 8-4 and still have a two-game lead in the AFC North over Baltimore because they did. The offense managed just 104 yards and seven first downs in the first half, most of which came on a 10-play, 67-yard drive that Green-Ellis capped off with a 4-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter.

Quarterback Andy Dalton completed just 5 of 10 passes in the first half for 41 yards and one interception for a passer rating of 21.1.

In the second half, Dalton was 9-of-13 for 149 yards, one touchdown and a 133.1 rating. It’s amazing what a sustained running game can do for the rest of the offense.

“The run game was big for us and I think we put an emphasis on it and the guys responded,” said Dalton. “The guys up front played really well getting a lot of movement and the backs did a really good job getting a lot of tough yardage that helped us win the game.”

The Bengals were without starting right guard Kevin Zeitler for the second straight game because of a foot injury, but with a veteran like Mike Pollak that wasn’t as much of a concern as one might think.

When left guard Clint Boling went down with 3:29 remaining first quarter with what Lewis described after the game as a significant knee injury, that’s when the shuffling began. Rookie Tanner Hawkinson was on the inactive list. Anthony Collins was starting at right tackle in place of Andre Smith, leaving second-year center Trevor Robinson as the only other offensive lineman on the bench.

Shuffling didn’t equal panic. The defense has been shuffling all season, having lost eight of its members to injured reserve. If Boling’s season ends up being done, as Lewis indicated, he would be the first offensive player to go on IR.

Smith entered the game at his normal right tackle spot, Collins flipped over to left tackle and Whitworth slid inside one spot to left guard. He started 24 games at that position his first three seasons (2006-08) but has been the starting left tackle in 74 of 76 games since 2009. As many times as Whitworth pulled to the right and led a power run by Green-Ellis or Bernard, it was if he had never left the position.

“That’s the kind of style that we want to do and get after people,” said Whitworth.

The Bengals had a 17-7 lead in the fourth quarter when safety George Iloka forced a fumble by San Diego wide receiver Keenan Allen that linebacker Vinny Rey recovered at the Chargers’ 34-yard line. The Bengals were in prime position to put the finishing touches on the game with 7:00 left when Green-Ellis burst through the line to convert a third-and-1 play.
 
Green-Ellis made one mistake on the play. He lost the ball when San Diego safety Marcus Gilchrist tackled him. San Diego recovered the fumble and got a 48-yard field goal by Nick Novak to cut the Bengals’ lead to seven points with 4:43 remaining.
 
The Chargers never got another shot at the ball. The Bengals ran out the remainder of the clock, calling running plays eight times for 35 yards, including six carries for 29 yards and three first downs by Green-Ellis. His last carry for five yards allowed Dalton to take a knee twice and run out the clock.

It was an appropriate way to finish off the game.

“We’re fortunate to have such a great runner that rarely fumbles,” said Lewis. “Unfortunately we had a chance to put some distance between us there then the fumble was unfortunate. He’s our guy and we have a lot of confidence in him.”

The last time the Bengals failed to have a single running back rush for at least one 100-yard game in a season was 1996. That was the last year of a four-season stretch without a 100-yard back.

If the Bengals don’t get a single 100-yard back this season, it doesn’t seem like a big matter. When they run the ball like they did against the Chargers, it just doesn’t matter.