CINCINNATI — Running back Jeremy Hill stood at the end of the bench with his helmet on, watching his backup lead Cincinnati to another win.
It was another reminder of the depth in the Bengals’ offense.
Few teams have the option of benching a 100-yard rusher and feeling good that his backup can hit triple figures, too.
Hill didn’t play after his second fumble during a 24-19 win over San Diego on Sunday. Giovani Bernard — who lost the starting job to Hill last season — got the bulk of the plays in the second half and ran for 123 yards overall.
“When the opportunity arises, that’s the biggest thing for anybody,” Bernard said. “Anybody out there with opportunities, go ahead and just do what you do.”
The question now: What will the Bengals do at the position?
They took Hill in the second round of the 2014 draft looking to get more of a power back to complement the smaller, quicker Bernard. Midway through the season, Hill emerged as the starter and ran for at least 100 yards five times.
Bernard’s role increasingly diminished. He had fewer than 10 carries in four of the last five games, including a playoff loss at Indianapolis. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson would give him a couple of series each game.
Hill fumbled a pitch-out near midfield during the third quarter on Sunday and didn’t get back on the field again.
“Gio obviously did a good job of stepping in there and finishing the game for us,” Hill said. “We needed that from him. We were able to overcome my turnovers and win the game.”
Although none of the coaches told Hill he was being punished for the fumbles, he knew they were sending him a message.
“Jeremy’s a talented young player, and we’ve got to keep the football,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “That wasn’t part of his deal last year, and we can’t let it creep in.”
The Bengals ran for 175 yards overall, with Hill getting 39 on 10 carries before the benching. He’s likely to remain the primary back, although Bernard’s success on Sunday could earn him a few more carries going forward.
In an opening 33-13 win over the Raiders, Hill carried 19 times for 63 yards and Bernard ran eight times for 63 yards. Cincinnati (2-0) leads the AFC North by a game heading to Baltimore (0-2) for its first division matchup of the season.
“I’m trying to do my thing, and he’s doing his thing,” Hill said. “We complement each other well, with two polar-opposite styles of running. Anytime we can both get going, it’s very good for our offense.”
The Chargers (1-1) had trouble dealing with Bernard’s quickness. He had runs of 26 and 11 yards during a drive to Andy Dalton’s third touchdown pass of the game for a 24-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter. He ran through defenders several times to get more yards.
“Gio’s always ready to go and Gio’s so electric with the ball,” Dalton said. “You never know what’s going to happen when he’s got it.”
Notes: It was the sixth time in the past 16 games that the Bengals have rushed for at least 170 yards. … Last season, they had a high of 244 yards in a win at Cleveland followed by 207 yards in a home win over Denver.