Rex Burkhead Gashes Ravens’ AFC-Best Run Defense

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Rex Burkhead's career-high 144 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns led the Bengals to their first season-ending victory since 2008. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Rex Burkhead's career-high 144 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns led the Bengals to their first season-ending victory since 2008. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /
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In a week 17 matchup between two eliminated teams, the Bengals were led by Rex Burkhead’s big day on the ground.

The Cincinnati Bengals ended their season the same way they started it: with a win. After winning just six of 17 games in the year 2016, the Bengals started a new slate with a convincing 27-10 victory over division-rival Baltimore.

Facing a set of nagging injuries, Jeremy Hill was ruled out of the season-finale. This coming after just one second-half carry in the Christmas Eve loss in Houston.

With Hill out, Rex Burkhead was given his first career start. The fourth-year running back would make the most of the well-deserved playing time. He carried the rock 27 times for a career-high 119 yards and two touchdowns.

Burkhead opened and closed the game’s scoring with a pair of five-yard touchdown runs. He became the first Bengal to run for 100 yards against the Ravens since Cedric Benson‘s 120-yard  outing at M&T Bank Stadium in October 2009.

Hello…It’s Me

Burkhead’s breakout day came exactly four years since his last 100-yard performance — when he gashed Georgia for 140 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-31 loss in the Capital One Bowl.

Rex became just the fourth 100-yard rusher allowed by the Ravens’ AFC-best run defense this season. The reported lack of effort from Baltimore–after being mathematically eliminated in a last-second loss at Heinz Field on Christmas–comes into question.

It certainly didn’t look like a Ravens team that had a 10-point lead against Pittsburgh just seven days earlier, but Burkhead gladly took advantage. He started the afternoon with a career-long 17-yard run and never looked back.

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With many calling for Burkhead to get more snaps, he finished the 2016 season with 4.6 yards per carry on 74 attempts. Over the last two seasons, Hill has only managed 3.7 yards per tote, but his impressive goal line acumen makes him an attractive option in the red zone.

It’s now decision time for Mike Brown and the Bengals’ front office. Burkhead, a sixth-round pick, is set to be a free agent. Unfortunate injuries to Hill and Giovani Bernard in ’16 allowed Burkhead to finally touch the football after just 13 carries in the previous four seasons combined.

Adding in Burkhead’s 17 receptions, he averaged 5.4 yards per touch this season, higher than Hill (4.2) and Bernard (5.2).

Sign On The Dotted Line

Will he earn another contract? Bernard was signed to a three-year, $15.5 million extension last June, keeping him in the Queen City until 2019. Hill is coming up on the end of the four-year, $3.7 million he signed before his rookie season. If Burkhead is retained, it would send a strong message to Hill. The Bengals may be leaning to a backfield duo of Rex and Gio in the near future.

Next: A J Trade Bait?

Marvin Lewis, who announced prior to the game he would return next season, had high praise for Burkhead. When asked about the possibility of re-signing him, Lewis was upbeat.

"“There’s no question. We always like our guys (free agency).”"

Burkhead commented on the free agent discussion, too, saying, “I love Cincinnati. I hope I can stay here, but we’ll see how things play out.”

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