Chargers score 20 unanswered points to upset Bengals
Cincinnati, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - The Chargers snuck into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season with a little help from the Bengals, and San Diego unabashedly gave thanks by continuing Cincinnati's postseason misery on Sunday.
Philip Rivers played mistake-free ball and the plucky Chargers took advantage of three second-half turnovers from Andy Dalton to knock off the favored Bengals, 27-10, in the Wild Card Round of the AFC playoffs.
Dalton got sloppy when a mix of rain and snow began falling at Paul Brown Stadium, throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble that the Bengals, who have not won a postseason game since 1991, couldn't overcome.
It was the first loss at home by Cincinnati the entire season.
"It's disappointing. All the good stuff we did this year, to come out and not win this game it hurts," said Dalton, who has lost all three of his postseason starts. "We didn't do enough to win."
Rivers threw for a modest 128 yards but tossed a go-ahead touchdown pass to Ladarius Green in the third quarter that started a string of 20 unanswered points that earned San Diego a trip to Denver next Sunday to face the top- seeded Broncos.
"It was an outstanding team effort," said first-year Chargers head coach Mike McCoy, who was the Broncos' offensive coordinator the previous three seasons. "We knew it was going to be a slugfest from the first snap all the way through the game."
The Chargers had everything go their way in Week 17, as the Bengals beat the Ravens, the Jets beat the Dolphins and they upended the Chiefs in a controversial overtime finish to steal the AFC's final wild card berth.
They only had two sustained drives on Sunday, but they proved to be enough to keep the surprising playoff run going.
After failing to even gain a first down in the second quarter, San Diego used a combination of runs and passes during a 10-play, 80-yard trek to jump in front, 14-10, with 6:46 left in the third.
Green hauled in Rivers' 4-yard jump ball in the corner of the end zone, and San Diego settled for a pair field goals following two Dalton turnovers to extend the lead.
Dalton, trying to dive for a first down, lost the ball upon contact with the ground, and since he wasn't touched, the play was ruled a fumble that the Chargers turned into a 25-yard field goal by Nick Novak with two minutes to go until the final stanza.
Shareece Wright's 30-yard interception return set up Novak's 23-yard kick early in the fourth, and the Bengals' next two possessions ended in another interception and a turnover on downs.
Ronnie Brown put the game away with a late 58-yard TD run, and Cincinnati fans were sent home from Paul Brown Stadium disappointed for the first time this season, but with a feeling not unfamiliar to them come playoff time.
San Diego's balanced 12-play, 86-yard drive in the opening quarter gave the visitors the early lead. Rivers completed all three of his passes for 42 yards on the seven-minute march, and Ryan Mathews carried the load on the ground before Danny Woodhead capped it with a five-yard touchdown run.
The Bengals, after punting in Chargers territory their first two times with the ball, started their third drive at their own 40-yard line, and it didn't take long for a series of runs by BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Gio Bernard set the stage for Dalton's first career postseason touchdown pass.
Dalton barely released the ball before getting blind-sided by Melvin Ingram, and Jermaine Gresham pulled down the toss and carried a defender with him into the end zone for a 4-yard score with 5:59 remaining in the half.
Cincy was on the doorstep again thanks to Marvin Jones' diving 49-yard catch just before the two-minute warning, but Bernard was stripped from behind by Donald Butler just before the goal line.
The Bengals forced a third straight three-and-out to get the ball back, and Mike Nugent's 46-yard field goal sent them into the break with a 10-7 lead.
The Chargers' last road playoff win came against the Colts in the Divisional Round of the 2007 playoffs ... Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis fell to 0-5 all-time in playoff games ... Dalton finished with 334 yards on 29-of-51 passing ... Bengals star receiver A.J. Green was limited to three catches for 34 yards, while Jones led the way with 130 yards on eight receptions ... The Chargers had 196 rushing yards to Cincinnati's 113 ... The Bengals last postseason win came against the old Houston Oilers in a wild-card game on Jan. 6, 1991 ... Cincinnati won in San Diego, 20-13, on Dec. 2.
01/05 18:01:07 ET