Chargers vs Bengals: Wild Card Recap
The San Diego Chargers should be grateful they are in the AFC and they do not have to travel to Green Bay. Instead they went into Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati for a wild card clash with the Bengals. The game was cold but it was nothing compared to the night game.
The Bengals defense sent a statement on the very first drive of the game. On a 3rd & 5 safety Chris Crocker came off the edge untouched to sack Phillip Rivers. The “Who Dey” yelling crowd was into it early and the pass protection error forced the Chargers to punt.
The Bengals opening drive had promise but they had to punt after a couple of first downs. That is when the San Diego offense came alive. The biggest component of their 86 yard touchdown drive was the production from the running backs. At this point in the game the Chargers were averaging 4.8 yards a carry. When Danny Woodhead gave the shaken up Ryan Matthews some plays of relief he was equally productive as the starter. Ronnie Brown even had an 11 yard rush.
Other than the one error in pass protection the Chargers offensive line was superb. They pushed the Bengals off the line and they were able to get to the second level of the defense for some big runs. They also were protecting Rivers well. On their initial scoring drive Rivers had the time to bounce step into the pocket and fire a bullet into the hands of the well covered tight end Ladarius Green for a 22 yard completion.
Andy Dalton struggled with accuracy in the beginning of the game. He had a few passes sail over his receivers’ heads. The Bengals second drive stalled when Dalton failed to connect on a 3rd & 1 pass into the flats. Former Raven Jarrett Johnson was there but there was no chance of him defending an accurate pass. Johnson’s presence in the flat was enough to scare Dalton into a poor throw. The positive that did come from this Bengals possession was flipping the field position. The Chargers were pinned inside their 10 yard line and were held to a three and out.
The Bengals were given great field position and they took advantage of it by marching to the red zone and scoring a Jermaine Gresham touchdown pass from Dalton. The Chargers were not the only team running the ball well. Giovanni Bernard rushed for 4.2 yards per carry while Benjarvis Green Ellis and Andy Dalton both averaged 4.5. Giovanni Bernard, the rookie running back from UNC, touched the ball on 5 of the last 7 plays on the scoring drive. This included a check down reception that Bernard took for 20 yards.
The Chargers next drive resulted in a three and out. On third down some controversy arose over the spot as Rivers, who was in an empty backfield was forced to run for the first down. He dove inches short and bounced past the marker but he was down by contact where he landed. It was the correct spot by the officials. Then on the Bengals next drive, Chargers head coach Mike McCoy challenged a Bengals reception by the sideline. It was a bad challenge and therefore it cost San Diego a time out. Then Marvin Jones caught a 49 yard reception that put the Cincinnati in the red zone. This was a wasted trip however as Giovanni Bernard caught a pass and fumbled on the 5 yard line. The play was highly controversial and the review was lengthy. It looked like Bernard did gain possession before fumbling and took two strides before fumbling. The play stood and the Chargers got the ball at the 11 yard line.
The Chargers went three and out giving Cincinnati just over a minute to try to score. An interesting decision by Mike McCoy was to run the ball on 3rd & long instead of going for the first down. Andy Dalton fired several inaccurate passes that his receivers jumped up to get. He made Jermaine Gresham leap high to grab a ball at the 26 yard line. The play had a lengthy review and it was ruled a catch. This is the long story short version of this sequence that ended up putting the Bengals ahead 10-7.
The first half was as completive and as physical as they come. Both teams were playing well and they knew exactly what they wanted to do. The most compelling thing about the first half was that both teams had very similar strategies. Both teams used their running games to set up manageable third downs and big passes down the field. Neither quarterback was playing phenomenal football but both were playing well enough.
The Bengals got the ball first to start the second half but it was the San Diego Chargers were the first team to score. The Chargers struck gold on a play action pass to Eddie Royal that went for 33 yards. A couple of plays later Rivers hit Ladarius Green for a 4 yard touchdown pass. The Chargers would quickly get the ball back into scoring range when Andy Dalton fumbled as diving for a first down. The Chargers however could only manage to get a Nick Novak field goal. With 2 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter the Chargers had a 7 point lead.
It is hard to imagine a worse 13 minute stretch for the Cincinnati Bengals. They gave up a long scoring drive; they gave it right back allowing the Chargers to take a 7 point lead. The Bengals needed to go down the field and score. San Diego had scored 10 consecutive points and had all the momentum. That is when Andy Dalton made the mistake that broke the Bengals back. The Chargers overloaded the right side with a blitz, Dalton forced a throw, Chargers corner Shareece Wright picked off the poorly thrown ball. The Chargers got the ball at the 4 yard line. That was easily the worst quarter in the Bengals season. The Chargers played well but the Bengals made mistake after mistake including a personal foul for unnecessary roughness on James Harrison.
Going into the fourth quarter the Chargers had firm control of the game and a chance to put the Bengals in a 14 point hole. The best case scenario entering the final quarter would be holding the Chargers to a field goal. A great play by Ray Maualuga stopped the Chargers third down play in the backfield; and the Bengals made the best out of a bad situation. Still they trailed by 10 and San Diego had scored on their last three possessions.
Things would only get worse for the Cincinnati Bengals. Andy Dalton threw another interception. It was his second costly interception and his 6th interception in three career playoff games. The moment seemed too big for Dalton as it often does. The Chargers would not take advantage of the turnover with points but they did take valuable time away from the trailing Bengals.
With 8 minutes to go in the game Dalton had to go back out on the field for some redemption. His home crowd could not have been sitting with much confidence in the rainy slop the sky had provided. The clock was becoming the enemy of the Bengals and the biggest weapon for the Chargers.
In a game of wasted opportunities the Bengals dropped their biggest chance. Dalton threw a beautiful dime to AJ Green that would have put the ball inside the 5 yard line. Green saw the ball slip right through his hands. Dalton was bailed out of a bad throw on a 3rd and 7 with a defensive holding penalty. The drive continued but it was taking way too much time. The Chargers were playing conservative defense understanding that the Bengals needed big chunks of yards quickly.
The Bengals last breath of playoff life was taken when they failed to convert on third and long. Andy Dalton threw a deep bomb that was dramatically over thrown. On a day where Dalton showed spotty decision making and even shakier accuracy the game essentially ended on a horrible throw by Dalton.
The Bengals made too many mistakes to win a playoff game and the Chargers took advantage of just about every Bengals mistake. The Chargers were able to contain AJ Green, they gave Dalton fits and were able to turn turnovers into points. Credit the Chargers but know they got help from their opponent.
Stay Classy San Diego.