Bernard carries Bengals over Lions
CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals have been dealing with key injuries for weeks, but their offensive line on Sunday against the Detroit Lions was patchwork at best.
Clint Boling had never played left tackle and Christian Westerman had never played left guard. It’s the most snaps right guard Alex Redmond had ever played.
Obviously, we’re trusting the guys to get the job done,” said Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. “But you just never know until you get into the game”.
Things turned out pretty well.
Giovani Bernard rushed for 116 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown as the Cincinnati Bengals eliminated the Detroit Lions from the playoffs with a 26-17 victory Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals’ situation became even more dire when leading rusher Joe Mixon, who had just returned from missing two games with a concussion, left with a left ankle injury in the first quarter. But, Bernard stepped up as the Bengals rushed for 142 yards as a team.
“Yeoman’s effort,” said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. “We felt pretty good with Joe Mixon back in there, but that didn’t last long.”
Sunday’s game might have been Lewis’ last home game as Bengals head coach. Lewis’ contract is up after this season and he is reportedly stepping down. He has repeatedly denied the reports.
What’s certain is that Detroit (8-7) is out of the postseason. The Lions needed a win and plenty of help to make the postseason. Lions head coach Jim Caldwell also is on the hot seat, especially after Sunday’s loss to the struggling Bengals.
“You gotta own it and I’m responsible for it,” Caldwell said. “Any time you lose, everything’s up for consideration. You’ve never heard me try to defend myself before, I’m not going to do it today.”
Caldwell said he hasn’t had any conversations with ownership about his future. But, Detroit’s loss on Sunday was unexpected.
The Bengals (6-9) had lost their previous two games to Chicago and Minnesota by a combined score of 67-14.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who had a 27.3 passer rating last week, the second-lowest of his career, passed for 238 yards and a touchdown on Sunday.
Matthew Stafford started the scoring with a 33-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eric Ebron on a third-and-5 play in the first quarter, putting Detroit ahead 7-0.
Ebron beat linebacker Jordan Evans, who was making his third start of the season. Evans later left the game with a head injury. Ebron had five catches for 83 yards.
Stafford was 19 of 35 passing for 203 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
“There were times where we had success but when it matters most you have to cash in,” said Lions receiver Marvin Jones, a former Bengal. “We didn’t do that. If we win, we’re still in. We lost, so we’re out. That’s tough.”
Cincinnati dominated the game statistically in the first half, outgaining Detroit 194-126 yards, with 13 first downs to the Lions’ six, but still trailed 7-6 at halftime on two Randy Bullock field goals.
The Lions led 10-6 when Brian Hill’s 34-yard catch set up Dalton’s 1-yard TD pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah, putting Cincinnati ahead 13-10.
It was the Bengals’ first second-half touchdown in three weeks.
Matt Prater missed a 50-yard field goal that would have tied the score, and Bullock connected on his third field goal early in the fourth quarter to give Cincinnati a 16-10 lead.
But, a mental error by the Bengals’ Jordan Willis set up a go-ahead TD for Detroit.
When the Lions were forced to punt because of a false start on fourth-and-1 in Bengals’ territory, Willis ran into the punter, resulting in a 5-yard penalty. The Lions brought the offense back out and Tion Green picked up the first down. He then scored on a 5-yard run to put Detroit ahead 17-16 with 9:49 left.
“We weren’t making enough big plays,” Stafford said. “For some reason or another, we didn’t score enough points. We weren’t moving the chains enough. It’s not fun when you get eliminated.”
Bullock kicked a 51-yard field goal to put Cincinnati ahead with 4:49 left and Bernard’s 12-yard touchdown with 1:54 remaining knocked the Lions out of playoff contention.
“Credit it to the o-line,” Bernard said. “I know that’s a cliche, but guys were shuffling in and out and those guys did an amazing job.”
NOTES: Lions C Travis Swanson (concussion) and G T.J. Lang (foot) were inactive after missing practice last week. OT Rick Wagner (ankle) practiced last week on a limited basis but also was inactive Sunday. ... Bengals LT Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder) was inactive and RT Andre Smith (knee) was placed on injured reserve earlier last week. Clint Boling started at LT and Christian Westerman made his first start of the season at LG. ... Cincinnati leads the series 9-3, including six straight wins.