Bengals need more BenJarvus 'The Closer'

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
11:15
AM ET
CINCINNATI -- He may be the NFL's most nicknamed player.

"BJGE." "The Law Firm." And now, it seems, "The Closer."

He's BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Cincinnati Bengals' veteran running back whose lengthy, official-sounding birth name was reason enough for football fans to create the first two sobriquets that he has been known by since he entered the league six years ago. But now, his play, it appears, is earning him the other.

"Yeah, I get a lot of that Mariano Rivera stuff," Green-Ellis said earlier this week, referencing the former New York Yankees closing pitcher. "People call me 'The Closer.' "

[+] EnlargeBenJarvus Green-Ellis
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziWhen they needed to close out the Chargers, the Bengals handed the ball to BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Why might they be calling him that now? Because Green-Ellis seems to be tapping back into a portion of his game that made him such a success during his latter seasons with the New England Patriots, and in his final two years of college ball at Mississippi. The more he runs the way he did at the end of Sunday's 17-10 win over the Chargers, the more the new nickname looks like one that will stick.

As the Bengals prepare for an all but certain playoff appearance, they will need the "The Closer" to keep finishing games. When Green-Ellis is finishing games the way he did the last one, it's a sign Cincinnati is about to walk out of that stadium victorious.

"Obviously, you like to have the ball in your hands to close out games," Green-Ellis said. "I just want to continue to play well and try to win games for the team; that's my ultimate goal."

Cincinnati was able to win Sunday in large part because of Green-Ellis' 20 carries that went for 92 yards. One of them, a 4-yard dive on the first play of the second quarter, gave the Bengals one of their two touchdowns.

As meaningful as that early score was, Green-Ellis' final six runs of the game may have had even greater impact in the win. The Bengals were up 17-10 with just inside five minutes to play when the veteran kicked into bottom-of-the-ninth-inning gear.

His patented pitch to shut down the Chargers' defense was his hard, straight-ahead style of pile-pushing running. Just like Rivera's cut fastball caused countless hitters to shake their heads over the years, Green-Ellis' penchant for picking up final-drive first downs confounded for San Diego's linemen and linebackers.

"At the end of the game, that's when you need him," Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. "Four-minute drill, 17-10, and the last thing we want to do is go three-and-out and punt and let [Chargers] quarterback Philip Rivers come back because they've got some good players over there."

Once the Bengals began their game-ending drive with a 28-yard pass down their sideline to a wide open A.J. Green, they knew it was officially time for the Green-Ellis takeover. With the ball well in San Diego territory, it was time to eat up clock and allow Green-Ellis to make up for a miscue he had on the previous drive.

About three minutes earlier, Green-Ellis lost a fumble as he was stumbling forward into red zone territory at the end of a 5-yard run. The Chargers were down by 10, and the turnover gave San Diego a great opportunity to come back on the Bengals. At the end of the ensuing drive, the Chargers closed the gap to 17-10 after Nick Novak's 48-yard field goal.

The fumble was only the fifth of Green-Ellis' career.

"You could tell ... it hurt him more than it hurts us," Gruden said. "It hurts us a lot, but it really hurt him. You want to make up for it. And he did."

The game was on the line and the Bengals wanted to close it out on the ground. They needed to maintain faith in Green-Ellis.

Gruden went to him. And went to him. And went to him. Six times in all, including three times on first-down conversions, Green-Ellis ran right into the heart of San Diego's defense and picked up yards. In all, he rushed for 29 yards on what became the game's last drive. The last carry -- a third-and-4 that became a first down after a 5-yard run -- was the strikeout pitch the Bengals had been seeking. From there, with the ball in goal-line territory, they were able to kneel on the ball until time ticked completely off the clock.

"When you mess up, you feel like you owe people," Green-Ellis said. "I felt like I owed the other 52 guys on the team, and I owed the whole Cincinnati Bengals organization and staff and all of our fans. When you hold the ball, you have the fate of the team in your hands. And if you lose it, it basically means you let everyone down. When you mess up like that, you've got to come back and show some aggression and take your pain out on the other team."

Perhaps that quote best exemplifies why, fumbles or not, when the Bengals have a lead and the game is getting late, the "The Closer" has to keep getting fed. When blocking schemes and rotations are set to allow that to happen, Green-Ellis has an even better chance to grab the yards he so desperately wants.

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