The Chargers' normally reliable offense had three turnovers, while San Diego’s normally sketchy secondary held the Bengals to 190 yards passing.
While Cincinnati (8-4) continued to make their playoff dreams a reality with the win, San Diego (5-7) may have ended all postseason chances with the loss.
The stats for Philip Rivers are not impressive (23 completions on 37 attempts for 252 yards, one touchdown and one interception), but the numbers do not tell the whole story.
The 10-year pro quarterback was the steady force for the offense, placing the ball in catchable spots for receivers, but also throwing the ball away when needed.
No one watching the game can blame Rivers for the turnovers. He did almost everything he could (including scrambling for yards) to help his team win.
This loss is on his teammates' shoulders, not Rivers'.
Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead only had 21 rushing attempts Sunday for 83 combined yards. It was the fourth time in the past five games the two combined for 21 or fewer rushing attempts and less than 90 yards rushing.
All four of those games were losses.
The lone game where the two had more than 21 carries and more than 90 rushing yards was in the win against Kansas City.
Mathews ran hard when given the chance. He also had five receptions for 31 yards, tying him with Antonio Gates for the second-most catches in the game.
Woodhead has seen his involvement in the offense decrease since the bye week. In the first seven games, Woodhead averaged more than 12 total touches per game and 68 total yards. In the five games since then, his touches have gone down to 10.4 per game and 58.8 yards.
Woodhead did well in pass protection picking up blitzes, too.
Ronnie Brown and Le'Ron McClain each had one carry, with Brown gaining three yards and the fullback picking up one yard.
Rookie Keenan Allen had a game-high eight catches for 106 yards. He has a season total of 58 catches for 843 yards.
LaDainian Tomlinson set a San Diego rookie record with 59 receptions in 2001.
It also marked the fifth game Allen eclipsed 100 yards receiving this season and puts him 157 yards away from 1,000 for the year. The only Chargers rookie to have more than 1,000 receiving yards in a season was John Jefferson in 1978 with 1,001 yards on 58 receptions.
However, Allen also had a fumble in the fourth quarter, even if his knee was close to being down.
The only other receiver to show up on the stat sheet was Vincent Brown, who caught one pass for 16 yards.
Too often Rivers held onto the ball waiting for someone to get open, only to have to throw the ball into tight coverage.
Antonio Gates has been the savior for the Chargers throughout most of his 11-year career, so a hall pass is almost warranted for the two fumbles (even though one is “officially” an interception, Gates had the ball ripped out of his arms).
There is the notion that the future Hall of Fame tight end was trying to gain the extra yard, and that may be true, but ball security is always job No. 1 for anyone with the football.
He finished with five receptions for 41 yards.
Ladarius Green continued to impress. He was not a liability in the run game and was a threat in the pass game.
A week after catching his first touchdown, Green had another when he was wide open over the middle on a 30-yard pitch-and-catch. He finished with two catches for 45 yards and has nine catches for 206 yards and two touchdowns over the past three games.
John Phillips improved from his horrible performance against the Chiefs to actually provide good run blocking.
The tight ends ended up with seven catches for 86 yards, the only San Diego touchdown and two turnovers.
Should the line be graded on a curve considering the Bengals have one of the better defenses?
You play who is in front of you.
And the O-line tried but came up short.
One of the reasons why more running plays were not called has to be because the Cincinnati defense was winning the battle at the line of scrimmage.
Left guard Johnnie Troutman had arguably the worst game of his young career. On successive plays, linebacker Vontaze Burfict ran over him, and then Troutman basically blocked the defender into the ball-carrier.
The line did not open holes in the run game. Rivers was sacked twice, but at least one of those was because the receivers did not get open. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) is reporting Rivers was pressured 14 times, or 38 percent of the time, when he went back to pass.
That is not good.
No matter what happened in the rest of the game, the final drive for Cincinnati was the telltale sign of the Chargers’ defense and defensive line.
The Bengals called the same play eight straight times. It did not matter if that power-run play was to the right or the left, Cincinnati was gaining six, seven or eight yards per snap, and the defensive line was not able to do anything about it.
There were times in the game when Kendall Reyes, Cam Thomas, Corey Liuget, Sean Lissemore and Lawrence Guy made positive plays for the defense, but more often than not the Bengals had huge running lanes.
Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton was not sacked and, according to the official stats, was never hit. Pro Football Focus has Cam Thomas with a QB hit, and it looked like Thomas hit Dalton on Eric Weddle’s interception.
But the good plays were outweighed by the bad or nonexistent plays by the defensive line.
Donald Butler led the team with 10 total tackles, but he was hardly a major force or factor in the game.
Rookie Manti Te’o had five total tackles. Te’o was visible, but that may be due to celebration more than impact. Still, it seemed like he had a decent game and even had a tackle for loss and a pass deflection.
Reggie Walker had six total tackles, Tourek Williams had two and Thomas Keiser had one.
The Bengals picked up 13 first downs on runs, and, as mentioned in the defensive linemen section, ran the same play eight straight times to close out the game.
Another game and another big passing game against the Chargers.
Andy Dalton may have been held to 190 passing yards, but the secondary was unable to make stops at crucial times and lost receivers multiple times.
Richard Marshall and Eric Weddle each had pass deflections, and Marcus Gilchrist had a big hit that resulted in a forced fumble. Jahleel Addae had a big hit on A.J. Green on Cincinnati’s first series.
That is about it for good plays by the secondary.
It is hard to praise Weddle too much for the interception because Dalton threw such an amazingly horrible pass.
Andrew Hawkins caught all three passes thrown his direction, including a 50-yard slant.
No one was even close to A.J. Green on his 21-yard touchdown in the middle of the field.
It was another bad game in a season full of bad games for the secondary.
Mike Scifres had three of his four punts land inside the 20-yard line.
Nick Novak failed to get a touchback on any of his three kickoffs, but the coverage unit limited the Bengals to 22.3 yards per return.
Novak also connected on his 48-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
The return game—both punt and kickoff—is not a threat.
Keenan Allen fielded one punt but failed to gain a yard on the return.
Danny Woodhead and Lavelle Hawkins had two kickoff returns for 36 combined yards.
A week after having the team up and ready to play in Kansas City, head coach Mike McCoy was not able to get the Chargers inspired for a must-win home game.
The offense had momentum on the first drive until Gates fumbled the ball.
It looked like the defense was up for the challenge, holding Cincinnati to a 3-and-out on the first drive. The defense actually held the Bengals to 3-and-out on four different drives, but defensive coordinator John Pagano still has not figured out how to scheme around arguably the worst secondary in team history.