Justin Herbert Outduels Joe Burrow, Throws 3 TDs as Chargers Beat Bengals

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVDecember 5, 2021

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert throws before an NFL football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
AP Photo/Michael Conroy

The Los Angeles Chargers notched a key win in the AFC playoff race by beating the Cincinnati Bengals 41-22 in Sunday's showdown at Paul Brown Stadium.

Justin Herbert led the way for the victors, who improved to 7-5 and earned a potential tiebreaker over the Bengals in the wild-card race. They didn't always make it easy and nearly lost a 24-0 lead over the course of the game, but a strong finish wrapped up the win.

Los Angeles Chargers @chargers

who dey say gonna beat dem bengals? <a href="https://t.co/n5opeKPgqM">pic.twitter.com/n5opeKPgqM</a>

Joe Burrow threw for 300 yards in defeat for Cincinnati, which fell to 7-5 and saw its two-game winning streak end.

Notable Player Stats

  • Justin Herbert, QB, LAC: 26-of-35 passing for 317 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT
  • Austin Ekeler, RB, LAC: 14 carries for 59 yards, 1 TD; 5 catches for 45 yards
  • Keenan Allen, WR, LAC: 5 catches for 34 yards, 2 TDs
  • Mike Williams, WR, LAC: 5 catches for 110 yards
  • Joe Burrow, QB, CIN: 24-of-40 passing for 300 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs
  • Tee Higgins, WR, CIN: 9 catches for 138 yards, 1 TD

Strong Start and Finish Help Chargers Avoid Collapse

The biggest storyline coming into this game was the matchup between Herbert and Burrow as two of the brightest young stars in the league.

Herbert wasted no time setting the tone in the individual battle with a brilliant first half that featured three touchdown passes, two of which went to Keenan Allen. The two playmakers even switched roles when Allen found Herbert with a pass on a two-point conversion to extend the lead to a commanding 24-0 in the second quarter.

It wasn't just the touchdown passes that stood out. Herbert recognized the height advantage his receivers had on Cincinnati's defensive backs and unleashed multiple deep balls to Mike Williams and one to Jalen Guyton for another score.

Los Angeles Chargers @chargers

HERBO x SLAY. (๐Ÿ“บ cbs) <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ProBowlVote?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ProBowlVote</a> + <a href="https://twitter.com/Keenan13Allen?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Keenan13Allen</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ProBowlVote?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ProBowlVote</a> + <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/JustinHerbert?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#JustinHerbert</a> <a href="https://t.co/FDVrrPnPxb">pic.twitter.com/FDVrrPnPxb</a>

Los Angeles Chargers @chargers

herbo and slay strike again ๐Ÿ’›<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ProBowlVote?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ProBowlVote</a> + <a href="https://twitter.com/Keenan13Allen?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Keenan13Allen</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ProBowlVote?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ProBowlVote</a> + <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/JustinHerbert?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#JustinHerbert</a> <br><br>(๏ฟผ๐Ÿ“บ: cbs) <a href="https://t.co/0Sxpk8C8ar">pic.twitter.com/0Sxpk8C8ar</a>

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

WHAT. A. CATCH.<br><br>Herbert airs it out to Jalen Guyton for 6 โœˆ๏ธ<br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/NFL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NFL</a>) <br> <a href="https://t.co/webE2r0oKI">pic.twitter.com/webE2r0oKI</a>

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

QB Keenan Allen throws to WR Justin Herbert<br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/NFL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NFL</a>)<a href="https://t.co/pGzzqGmexs">pic.twitter.com/pGzzqGmexs</a>

Yet the visitors were up just 11 at the half because Austin Ekeler lost a fumble that eventually turned into points for Cincinnati, and Herbert threw an interception to Chidobe Awuzie when taking a shot deep in Bengals' territory. Throw in Joey Bosa being ruled out for a head injury, and the early momentum disappeared.

Things continued to slip away for the Chargers with another Ekeler fumble on their first possession of the second half, which turned into a Bengals touchdown. Los Angeles' offensive line was also a mess for stretches as Trey Hendrickson, Sam Hubbard and Co. consistently got into the backfield.

It seemed as if a stunning loss was all but inevitable when the offense stalled for two straight punts from there, but Tevaughn Campbell's fumble return for a touchdown saved the day for the Chargers.

It also reinvigorated the offense, which responded with a touchdown drive that Ekeler finished after multiple strikes from Herbert to once again create some much-needed breathing room. It wasn't always pretty, but the end result was a crucial road win in the playoff chase.

Bengals' Comeback Efforts Unravel in Fourth Quarter

At least Cincinnati fans can take solace in the Bearcats being in the College Football Playoff because the NFL was unkind to those in attendance at Paul Brown Stadium.

Sunday's game quickly went off the rails for the Bengals when Burrow turned it over on each of their first two possessions. The first was a strip-sack from Uchenna Nwosu, although the second one wasn't the quarterback's fault as his deep ball bounced off Ja'Marr Chase's hands and right to Michael Davis for an interception.

It got worse when linebacker Logan Wilson was carted off with a shoulder injury, and even the positive development of Burrow's touchdown pass to Tee Higgins was followed by confusion on a potential two-point conversion and a missed extra point after the ensuing delay of game.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Higgins got up to snag this one for the TD ๐Ÿ”ฅ<br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/NFL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NFL</a>)<a href="https://t.co/32BcOyhHQg">pic.twitter.com/32BcOyhHQg</a>

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Michael Davis stays focused to make the interception ๐Ÿ˜ค<br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/NFL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NFL</a>)<a href="https://t.co/CvjZACVz0d">pic.twitter.com/CvjZACVz0d</a>

Los Angeles Chargers @chargers

huge, <a href="https://twitter.com/TevaughnsC?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TevaughnsC</a>! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BoltUp?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BoltUp</a> | ๐Ÿ“บ: CBS <a href="https://t.co/VyLJAFutBj">pic.twitter.com/VyLJAFutBj</a>


.<a href="https://twitter.com/ChrisHarrisJr?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ChrisHarrisJr</a> with the end zone INT! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BoltUp?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BoltUp</a><br><br>๐Ÿ“บ: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LACvsCIN?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#LACvsCIN</a> on CBS<br>๐Ÿ“ฑ: NFL app <a href="https://t.co/YDvJsCApTm">pic.twitter.com/YDvJsCApTm</a>

Despite all that and Burrow grimacing on the sidelines with an apparent injury to the pinky finger on his throwing hand, the home team was still within striking distance at halftime thanks to the quarterback's touchdown run after Jessie Bates III's long return on an Ekeler fumble.

That seemed to be key because it took all of two Cincinnati possessions in the second half to pull within two thanks to a field goal, another Chargers turnover, and Joe Mixon's impressive cutbacks and touchdown run. While Mixon was stopped on the ensuing two-point conversion, the Bengals looked to be in control during the comeback.

Yet Mixon's fumble deflated any comeback hopes, as Cincinnati followed that with dropped passes by Chase and C.J. Uzomah, an offensive line that couldn't protect Burrow on the way to six sacks, and Burrow's second interception, which went to Chris Harris Jr. in the end zone.

There were plenty of opportunities for the AFC North club to parlay all the momentum it created in the middle of the game into a victory, but an abysmal fourth quarter when combined with the initial hole proved too much to overcome.                

What's Next?

Both teams will be home in Week 14 when the Chargers face the New York Giants and the Bengals play the San Francisco 49ers.