When Giovani Bernard went down with a torn ACL in the Bengals’ Week 11 loss to the Bills, it signaled an opportunity for Rex Burkhead to finally get his shot at proving his worth in the NFL.
Burkhead got just that in Week 12 as he played 38 snaps in the Bengals' loss to the Ravens, which is actually one snap more than starter Jeremy Hill played in the game.
“Gio is a very big part of what we do, but we still have to go forward,” Hill said after Sunday’s game. “Rex did a really good job for us today.”
That he did. Burkhead was the Bengals' leading rusher with 29 yards on five attempts (a 5.8 yard per carry average), including a long of 17 yards. It's a pretty sad state of affairs when the Bengals' leading rusher notches only 29 yards. Burkhead added to his total yardage on the afternoon with two catches for 19 yards. Coincidentally, he also had a 17 yard catch. The Bengals were slow to put their trust in Burkhead as he only carried the ball five times, and they will need to —and should— trust him more in the weeks ahead. Jeremy Hill had 12 rushes for 21 yards on Sunday, (a 1.75 yard per carry average), with the Bengals inexplicably running the ball only 17 total times (not including Andy Dalton's three running plays). Even against a tough defense like the Ravens’, the Bengals typically don’t succeed when they abandon the run game.
“It felt good to get out there, to get your hand on some balls and get some touches,” Burkhead said after the game. “I feel like I could have played better, of course. I’m never satisfied. I always look for ways to improve, but my number one priority is to get a win for this team, and we didn’t do that today.”
In the fourth quarter, Burkhead did the bulk of his damage, getting his hands on the ball five times, including three consecutive run plays where he accumulated 28 yards and netted the Bengals first downs on two of the three plays.
Prior to Sunday’s loss to the Ravens, Burkhead had 70 career rushing yards, 167 receiving yards, 1 rushing touchdown and 1 receiving touchdown. He has mostly made an impact on special teams during his time in Cincinnati, including being used as a return man this year. On six kickoff attempts this season, Burkhead has accumulated 114 yards including a long of 26 yards (averaging 19 yards per attempt). His impact is sure to increase in the five games ahead on offense. And, for Burkhead, it’s good timing as he’s set to become a free agent in March 2017.
“I haven’t had that many opportunities in my career, so finally I got some chances, and it felt good. I got into the rhythm. I was comfortable in the run game. I just went out there and tried to do my best,” Burkhead said.
Prior to last season, there was significant hype surrounding Burkhead and the impact he could make as a pass catcher. But, the Bengals have hardly utilized the player who many have referred to as an X-factor. Burkhead sounds like his has the right attitude and all the motivation necessary to try and steal some wins in the Bengals’ final games of the season.
“We’re disappointed, but we’re going to keep fighting,” he said. “That’s what this team is made of – high character guys who are going to keep fighting.”
Burkhead figures to be a big part of that fight for the rest of the season.