CINCINNATI -- Winning time is that crucial part of a game or season when a team's best players must make big plays in order for it to, well, win.
As the regular season begins wrapping up and the playoff chase intensifies, the Cincinnati Bengals have reached end-of-year winning time. For that reason alone, it makes perfect sense that they are turning the reins of their backfield this week over to the player who has been the best at in-game winning time all season: Jeremy Hill.
Earlier Thursday, fellow Bengals running back Giovani Bernard let it slip that Hill would be starting this week at the position. The news came one day after offensive coordinator Hue Jackson hinted he favored a one-back system over the two-man tandem Cincinnati has tried to implement in the games when both running backs were healthy.
It might have been fine at the start of the season to appease all parties involved and to share backfield touches, but the time for appeasement is over. With the Bengals facing the possibility of losing out and missing the playoffs for the first time in four years, they have to pull out all the stops, and do what's necessary to win at all costs.
Clearly, Hill gives them the best chance to do just that from a running back perspective. He has rushed for more yards and has a better yards per carry average this season than Bernard. Statistically, Hill has been the best and most consistent back.
He also has been the more prolific of the two when it comes to the final two quarters and overtime.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, 405 of Hill's 729 rushing yards have come in the second half. That means 55.6 percent of all of his rushing yards have come in the more crucial moments of a game, when winning is on the line.
In Bernard's case, 189 of his 557 rushing yards have come in the second half. Just 33.9 percent of his total rushing yards have come with the game on the line.
That's not all. Bernard's second-half numbers are dramatically worse in other areas, too. He has five total touchdowns this year, one short of Hill. Just two of Bernard's five scores have come in the second half, while all six of Hill's have.
In terms of rushing average, Bernard's 2.78 yards per second-half carry are far behind Hill's 4.82 yards per second-half carry. Remarkably, that's right in line with Hill's overall average of 4.8. Bernard's overall average actually ticks up to 3.92, another indication that his best work has come in the first and second quarters.
This disparity in numbers between the two shouldn't be much of a surprise. After all, Hill's nickname in college at LSU was "The Closer." He was known to churn out big ground gains in the fourth quarter as his Tigers tried to put wins away. The Bengals have been wanting to use him in that capacity more often this season, but game circumstances -- and blowout scores in losses -- have stymied some of that.
But since he's now getting starting snaps, don't be surprised if Hill will have more opportunities the next three weeks during winning time.