Despite a heroic fourth quarter effort, the Bengals fell to the Chargers in San Diego on Sunday, 27-24. Nate Kaeding’s 52-yard field goal with 8 seconds left lifted the Chargers in a battle of AFC heavyweights. The Bengals came in with heavy hearts, still mourning the loss of WR Chris Henry on Thursday, but put in a valiant effort against the high-octane Chargers attack. Their ‘win one for Slim’ bid fell just short as Chargers QB Philip Rivers engineered a 36-yard drive in about 48 seconds to set up the field goal that split the uprights with plenty of leg to spare.
“It sucks. It sucks to lose. It sucks to lose a teammate,” Bengals QB Carson Palmer said. “We wanted to get it done today.”
The Chargers opened the scoring and were the first the team all year to achieve an opening drive TD score on the Bengals defense. Antonio Gates scored on a three-yard pass from Rivers to complete an eleven-play, 55-yard drive. The drive was set up by excellent field position, as RB/KR Darren Sproles took the opening kickoff to midfield. The Bengals responded with a 12-play, 53-yard drive of their own, but were forced to settle for a Shayne Graham 26-yard field goal as the Chargers defense stiffened in the red zone. The Bengals problems in the red zone continue. After leading the league in red zone efficiency earlier this year, they are now in the bottom half of the standings.
The Bengals opened the second quarter scoring when Carson Palmer hit Chad Ochocinco on a 49 yard bomb. Ochocinco honored Henry with a prayerful TD celebration. The Chargers then responded with a 21-yard TD pass from Rivers to WR Vincent Jackson, who had beaten CB Leon Hall to the corner of the end zone. The Bengals then closed out the first half scoring with another Graham field goal, this one from 25 yards out (another red zone failure) making the halftime score San Diego 14, Cincinnati 13.
The Bengals got the ball first to begin the second half but were unable to score. In addition to their red zone difficulties, the Bengals continued their pattern of shooting themselves in the foot with brainless penalties. False starts, delay of game penalties, and illegal formation calls on offense repeatedly put the team in “and long” situations. San Diego added to their lead with a 34 yard pass from Rivers to Jackson, who beat Hall again. It appeared as though S Tom Nelson, filling in for the injured Chris Crocker, did not come over fast enough to provide help.
After another failed Cincinnati drive, the Chargers added another three points on a 25 yard field goal from Kaeding to open up a two score lead at 24-13, closing out the third quarter.
The Bengals continued to have difficulty on offense and were forced to punt again. They caught a break on the next Chargers possession however, when LB Keith Rivers alertly intercepted a pass that was mishandled by TE Antonio Gates on the Charger 33 yard line. Two plays later, Carson Palmer connected with Laverneaus Coles on a 2-yard TD strike. The Bengals went for the two-point conversion, and Palmer ran in it on a QB draw to cut the lead to three, 24-21.
The Bengals defense forced a San Deigo punt, but the Chargers were able to down the ball at the Cincinnati three yard line. It began to look like the Cardiac Cats were about to pull out another late game victory as the offense moved quickly down the field and into San Diego territory. It appeared as though the Bengals would be able to milk the clock and score a TD or field goal at the end of regulation, but disaster struck. A Palmer WR screen to Andre Caldwell was going no where when Caldwell was hit hard and fumbled the ball. The fumble shot backwards more than 20 yards, with Palmer beating a host of Chargers to the ball, recovering it back near midfield. Faced with second and 36, and out of the field goal range, the Bengals had to change strategy and rather than attempt to win the game, they could only do their best to get back into field goal range. Palmer completed a 9-yard pass to TE J.P. Foschi and a 22-yard pass to WR Quan Cosby to get the team back into Graham’s range, but had to settle for that.
The field goal sailed through the uprights with 57 seconds left. The Chargers had alertly called time out after Cosby’s reception, preserving precious time for a final push. After Graham’s attempt was true to tie the score at 24, the Chargers got the ball back inside their own 20 with no time outs remaining.
Rivers was able to complete side-line patterns to get the Chargers just inside Kaeding’s range, and the kicker showed again why he’s one of the best in the game in securing the win with three seconds left on the clock.
The Bengals were unable to re-enact the Cal-Stanford miracle on the ensuing kickoff and the game ended.
The dejected Bengals head back home still needing one win or a Baltimore loss to secure the AFC North championship. They lost any hope of a first round playoff bye, and moved into the #4 seed in the AFC playoff picture, slipping below the Patriots. Most of the players will travel to New Orleans Tuesday for Chris Henry’s funeral, before returning to work Wednesday in preparation for a home game with the Chiefs, who fell to the Browns 41-34.
Sports Gab Network
Show Your Team Spirit
Bengals Gab Newsletter
Sign up to receive our Bengals Gab newsletter, and keep up to date with all the latest Cincinnati Bengals news.