Surging Chargers beat Cincinnati, will face Broncos
CINCINNATI — San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers didn’t have the greatest passing day of his career Sunday. He didn’t need it.
The Chargers rushed for 196 yards against the NFL’s fifth-ranked rushing defense and cruised to a 27-10 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals in an AFC wild-card playoff game Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
“We asked a lot of our defense today and they came up with three big turnovers,” said Rivers, who was 12 of 16 for 128 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. “We didn’t turn it over, which is always big in the playoffs.”
San Diego averaged 4.9 yards per rush against a Cincinnati team that allowed just 96.5 yards on the ground during the regular season. Running back Ronnie Brown had 77 yards on eight carries, including a 58-yard touchdown run with 2:17 left to seal the victory, while Danny Woodhead had 54 yards and one touchdown, and Ryan Mathews added 52 yards on the ground.
“I think the way we’ve run the football the last month was something coming into the game,” Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. “We know playing the Cincinnati Bengals what kind of team they are. We knew it was going to be a slugfest from the very first snap all the way through the game.”
San Diego (10-7) won for the fifth consecutive week and advances to play at top-seeded Denver (13-3) next Sunday. The Chargers and Broncos split their two meetings this season, each winning on the road.
“We talked all week about this being the fifth round,” Rivers said, referring to their five-game winning streak. “So the sixth round will be in Denver next week.”
The Chargers lost at home to the Broncos 28-20 on Nov. 10, then went to Denver and won 27-20 victory on Dec. 12 that gave them momentum.
“We will be confident,” Rivers said. “We’ve got to be careful we’re not overconfident, which we won’t be. Cincinnati came to our place and won five weeks ago.”
Rivers was sacked only one time. His 4-yard touchdown toss to tight end Ladarius Green with 6:46 left in the third quarter gave San Diego the lead for good, 14-10.
The Chargers forced four Cincinnati (11-6) turnovers, including two interceptions and a fumble by quarterback Andy Dalton in the second half, and shut out the AFC North champions in the second half.
Cincinnati outgained the Chargers, 439-318, but San Diego did not turn the ball over.
The Bengals were hoping to end a 23-year playoff drought but instead went one-and-done in the postseason for the fifth time under head coach Marvin Lewis. The Bengals went undefeated at home in the regular season but lost its third consecutive home playoff game under Lewis.
“The finality of things hurt when you lose in the playoffs,” Lewis said. “The biggest difference was turnovers. We turned the ball over, gave them points and field position, and we failed to get any on our side. It’s the difference in the football game. I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed by us.”
Dalton lost in the playoffs for the third consecutive year. He’s the only quarterback in franchise history to lead the team to three straight postseason appearances but he has had miserable performances each time. He completed 29 of 51 passes for 334 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions Sunday. The Chargers sacked Dalton three times. Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green was a non-factor in the game, catching just three passes for 34 yards.
“Unfortunately, the last three years, we haven’t been able to win one of these playoff games,” Dalton said. “Obviously there is going to be a lot of criticism and talk, but until you win and prove people wrong, people can say whatever they want.”
Cincinnati had won its last three games against San Diego, including 17-10 on Dec. 1 in San Diego. That is the last game the Chargers have lost.
Both teams punted on their opening possessions. San Diego, which led the NFL in drives of 10-plus plays and time of possession this season, took the lead on its second drive with a 5-yard touchdown run by Woodhead. The Chargers drove 86 yards on 12 plays and used up 6:56 of the clock on that drive.
“When you have a great offensive line, tight ends that will block, willing receivers to block, it makes it a whole lot easier (to run),” Woodhead said. “Those guys have worked their tails off all year. They’ve done it all year. Maybe it’s just being seen a little more now.”
The Bengals tied the score on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to tight end Jermaine Gresham with 5:59 left in the first half, capping a 10-play, 60-yard drive. The Bengals ran the ball seven times on the drive, while running back Giovani Bernard had six touches for 39 yards.
Bernard had 118 combined yards on 12 runs and seven receptions but he cost the Bengals a shot at a touchdown late in the first half when he lost a fumble inside the San Diego 5. Chargers linebacker Donald Butler, who was beaten in coverage on the play, came from behind and stripped Bernard of the ball.
San Diego went three-and-out on its possession and the Bengals eventually scored on a 46-yard field goal by Mike Nugent on the final play of the half but keeping Cincinnati out of the end zone kept the Bengals from seizing momentum.
“Donald made a great play and that gave us a little momentum and we just tried to ride that wave,” said linebacker Melvin Ingram. “Anytime a team gets down there and you can hold them to three, it’s always big.”
Nick Novak had field goals of 25 and 23 yards for the Chargers in the second half as they built a 20-10 lead.
Notes: San Diego had just 122 yards of offense in the first half but had 124 in the third quarter. ... RB Danny Woodhead had just 35 yards on nine touches for San Diego in Cincinnati’s 17-10 win on Dec. 1. He had 17 touches for 59 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. ... Cincinnati scored at least 34 points in its last five home games of the regular season, including four games with at least 41 points. ... Cincinnati has not scored more than 17 points in its last six playoff games. ... WR Marvin Jones set a Cincinnati record with 130 receiving yards on eight catches. ... Attendance was 62,277. The Bengals had to get an extension from the NFL to sell out the game and have it shown on local TV.