Desperately needing a win, the Chargers coughed up three turnovers and watched as an equally turnover-prone Andy Dalton orchestrated a victory down the stretch against the same team that upset the Kansas City Chiefs one week ago.
Antonio Gates and Keenan Allen had a fumble apiece, while Philip Rivers was credited with an interception that wasn't entirely his fault.
On San Diego's first drive of the game, Gates had the ball jarred loose by Reggie Nelson after the veteran tight end made a 13-yard catch near the red zone. The Chargers missed out on potential points and momentum shifted in favor of the Bengals.
Gates was victimized again in the third quarter when he had a reception ripped from his hands by Dre Kirkpatrick. Cincinnati capitalized off the turnover with a touchdown from A.J. Green and took the lead.
Trailing 17-7, following a Mike Nugent field goal, San Diego could ill-afford another turnover, but that's exactly what happened when Allen lost his grip on the ball in the fourth quarter. The Chargers would get the ball back on the ensuing drive after BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a fumble of his own, but precious time was wasted.
Allen's fumble was probably the least surprising given his limited experience at this level, but rare mistakes by a veteran like Gates are a rare sight.
With the loss, the Chargers drop to 5-7 on the season and are now lost among the rest of the AFC teams in search of a wild-card berth. Miami, Pittsburgh and Tennessee currently sit atop the list of teams still in contention for a playoff berth, while Kansas City and Baltimore rest in the fifth and sixth seeds.
Technically, it's not over for the Bolts in regards to a postseason run, but it won't be easy. The Chargers will play three of their final four games at home against the New York Giants, the Oakland Raiders and the Chiefs.
Winning out and hoping for the best seems like the most logical path, but it will be a week-to-week process for a Chargers team that has struggled with consistency all season.
Whether it is falling behind early or giving up leads in the second half, the Chargers continue to leave fans on the edge of their seats.
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