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CINCINNATI — Giovani Bernard was heading back to the huddle after a long run when he got a compliment from one of the Colts linebackers.
“After the play, he was like, ‘You’re a shifty dude,’ ” Bernard said.
Shifty. Elusive. And quickly growing into an integral part of the Cincinnati offense.
Bernard had his best game on Sunday, running for a career-high 99 yards and catching four passes for 49 yards during a 42-28 win over the Colts. He leads the AFC in yards from scrimmage by a rookie with 1,023, giving the Bengals (9-4) the dual threat out of the backfield they’ve lacked for years.
With BenJarvus Green-Ellis filling the role of power runner, the Bengals have a combination that reminds them of the last time they made a deep playoff run.
They made it to the Super Bowl in 1988 with a running tandem of James Brooks and Ickey Woods. Woods did the straight-ahead running and danced his “Ickey Shuffle” after a score. Brooks was the dual-threat back who was second on the team in rushing and fourth in receiving.
“It’s just going to continue,” Bernard said. “We’ve just really hit our stride.”
The Bengals have been looking for a dual-threat back for years. They took Chris Perry in the first round in 2004, but he was hurt a lot. They took halfback Kenny Irons in the second round in 2007; that didn’t work out either. Change-of-pace running back Bernard Scott came in the sixth round in 2009, but also was hurt.
Bernard, a second-round pick out of North Carolina, has finally filled the niche.
“I think back to 2008 when Ray Rice was a rookie,” coach Marvin Lewis said, referring to the Ravens’ star running back. “Some of his runs — low to the ground with his hands down — that’s who we kind of likened Gio to as we evaluated him out of college.”
The Bengals have taken a while to figure out how to blend the two together. They’ve found the right mix in the last few weeks.
Bernard has at least 95 yards rushing and receiving in four of the last five games. On Sunday, he came up one yard shy of becoming the first Bengals running back to run for 100 yards this season.
“For me, the biggest thing that I try to do is just all-purpose yards,” Bernard said. “It’s not the running, it’s not the [receiving], it’s just a combination of the two.”
While the Bengals haven’t had a 100-yard rusher, they’ve had big games with the two of them running the ball. They piled up 155 yards against the Colts, the fifth time this season they’ve rushed for more than 150 in a game.
Green-Ellis had 48 yards on 17 carries against the Colts and a pair of touchdown runs, including one they were still talking about Monday. The Bengals went for it on fourth down from the Indianapolis 1-yard line late in the first half.
Nose tackle Josh Chapman swiped at Green-Ellis’ feet and appeared to trip him in the backfield. Green-Ellis stumbled forward and landed at the 1, then stretched the ball into the end zone. He was initially ruled down at the 1, but the Bengals were awarded a touchdown upon review.
Referee Jeff Triplette said the review focused only on whether Green-Ellis was touched as he fell at the 1-yard line, not whether he was tripped in the backfield.
Triplette’s crew had trouble getting the down and distance correct at the end of the Giants’ 24-17 win over Washington last week.
“I guess it’s just not a good week for those guys,” Green-Ellis said Monday. “I’m just happy that we get one in our favor. Man, we’ve had so many calls go against us in the opposite direction. So I’m happy to get one and that we got away with that one like that.”