The Cincinnati Bengals' season is now over after a 27-10 defeat at the hands of the San Diego Chargers. It was a very dissatisfying way for their season to end after so much promise was shown this year, but one bright spot that came out of Sunday was the play of rookie running back Giovani Bernard.
On a day when the offense struggled mightily, Bernard managed to play hard throughout the contest. He showed how he can make an impact both in the passing game and on the ground running the ball.
Here are three takeaways from his performance in his first NFL playoff game.
Fumbling is not an issue
That seems like a crazy proclamation given his crucial second-quarter fumble in the red zone that cost the Bengals points in a 7-7 game.
But that was only the second time in Bernard's rookie year that he fumbled the ball. His first came in Week 5 against the New England Patriots when heavy rain was affecting the game, making the ball harder to grasp.
That was the case again Sunday, as rain made the ball harder to control and led to several drops and fumbles by Bengals players.
If anything, it's an indictment of the staff for not having the team more prepared to play in adverse conditions, but that is beyond the point.
For a rookie running back who had 226 touches this year (170 rush attempts and 56 receptions), to fumble only twice is astounding and shows how disciplined Bernard is with the ball in his hands.
A true dual threat
Bernard finished the game with 118 total yards on just 19 touches, but because the Bengals were behind for the majority of the game, he only got 12 carries for 45 yards. Regardless, he showed he can still make an impact even when the Bengals are forced to pass more.
He caught seven passes for 73 yards and drew 10 targets from quarterback Andy Dalton, who clearly showed a lot of trust in the rookie. That's good to know going into next year, and there shouldn't be any question as to whether he'll be the featured back in this offense going forward.
Bernard is far too shifty for any normal linebacker to cover him, and when he runs routes out of the backfield, it often demands that a defensive back cover him in order to prevent him from catching passes in space and making defenders miss.
It also leaves one less defender in the defensive backfield to prevent All-Pro receiver A.J. Green and Marvin Jones from getting behind the defense for big plays. The emerging Jones caught eight passes for 130 yards, all of which were with just a cornerback covering him with no safety on top.
Bernard simply is capable of making an impact as long as he's on the football field, and he should be one of the best running backs in the NFL once he gets more touches and opportunities to impact games.
The No. 1 back
Over the first nine games of the 2013 NFL season, Bernard was averaging only 12.33 touches per game. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was getting the bulk of the carries, and while Bernard was a better pass-catcher, the Bengals weren't using him in situations where he could catch passes often. That required him to be a good pass-blocker, which he wasn't early in the year.
But as time wore on, Bernard learned the offensive system and blitz protection better to the point that he was left in more spots where pass protection was necessary.
Over the final eight games, Bernard averaged 16.75 touches per game, and after getting 19 on Sunday in the team's biggest game of the year, it's clear the Bengals are confident he is the top running back going into next year. Green-Ellis had eight runs with no catches in the game, while he averaged 13.65 touches over 17 games.
All of these takeaways from Sunday are just an overall reminder as to how special of a player Bernard is, and he'll be one of the most exciting players to watch in the NFL next year.