By BERNIE WILSON
AP Sports Writer
SAN DIEGO (AP) _ The way the San Diego Chargers’ offense is
going, it’s a wonder they had a fourth-quarter lead to blow against
the Cincinnati Bengals.
Andy Dalton scrambled up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown with
4:11 left for the go-ahead score and the Bengals won their fourth
straight game, 20-13 over the staggering Chargers on Sunday.
On second-and-goal, Dalton pump-faked right and then ran up the
middle, dived for the end zone and got the ball across for a 17-13
The Bengals (7-5) remained tied with Pittsburgh in the race for
the AFC’s second wild-card berth.
The Steelers and Bengals are two games behind the AFC
North-leading Baltimore Ravens, who lost to Pittsburgh.
The Chargers were shut out in the second half after taking a
13-10 halftime lead. They didn’t score an offensive touchdown for
the third time this season.
The Chargers (4-8) lost their fourth straight game and for the
seventh time in eight games, and remain mathematically, but hardly
realistically, alive in the wild-card chase. Denver clinched the
AFC West title on Sunday with a victory against Tampa Bay.
San Diego is on the cusp of missing the playoffs for the third
straight season, which is all but certain to cost coach Norv Turner
his job, and it could get general manager A.J. Smith fired, as
“We were flat as hell in the second half,” fullback Le’Ron
Philip Rivers, once again scrambling behind a weak line, had two
turnovers in the final 3:54 and was sacked four times.
San Diego’s offensive line woes are also affecting the running
game. Ryan Mathews had only nine carries for 26 yards.
“We can’t run the ball right now,” Turner said. “We’re
struggling to run the ball against a front like that, so it
certainly puts a burden on the offensive line, the protection and
Mathews said he’d like more carries.
“I would. That’s just me. I’m trying to do anything I’m asked
for the team, whether that is two carries or 25 carries. I’m just a
player. It is not up to me to be the coach.”
On the first Chargers’ possession after Dalton’s TD, defensive
end Carlos Dunlap sacked Rivers, forced a fumble and recovered at
the 13 to set up Mike Nugent’s 24-yard field goal for a 20-13 lead.
Rivers was then intercepted in the end zone by Reggie Nelson on
fourth-and-10 from the Bengals 17 with 49 seconds left.
The Bengals overcame three turnovers, including two
interceptions by Dalton. One of them was returned 31 yards for a
touchdown by Demorrio Williams.
The Bengals took the game’s opening kickoff and moved 91 yards,
capped by Dalton’s 19-yard pass to tight end Jermaine Gresham for a
Dalton threw an incompletion on fourth-and-9 from the Chargers
35, but Chargers cornerback Shareece Wright was called for holding
and the drive continued at the San Diego 30.
The Chargers had a nice drive of their own and had a
first-and-goal from the Bengals 7.
But Rivers fumbled when he was hit going back to pass. Tight end
Antonio Gates recovered at the 16. The Chargers reached the 2-yard
line but had to take Nick Novak’s 20-yard field goal that pulled
them to 7-3.
Two plays into the next Bengals drive, Williams intercepted
Dalton and returned it 31 yards down the left sideline to give the
Chargers a 10-7 lead. It was Williams’ second interception returned
for a touchdown this season.
The Bengals drove deep on the Chargers again and had a
first-and-goal on the 5. A.J. Green was wide open in the end zone
but Dalton overthrew him. BenJarvus Green-Ellis gained 4 yards to
the 1, but an incomplete pass forced the Bengals to settle for
Nugent’s 19-yard field goal and a 10-10 tie.
San Diego made it to the Bengals 1 with a second before halftime
and had to settle for Novak’s 19-yard field goal for a 13-10 lead.
Notes: San Diego is 21-23 since its last playoff appearance, a
home loss to the New York Jets following the 2009 season. …
Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick sustained a concussion in the fourth
quarter. … Chargers RT Jeromey Clary had a knee injury in the
first quarter and didn’t return. … Gates hasn’t caught a TD pass
in three straight games and remains one shy of tying Lance
Alworth’s team career record of 81. … Williams also returned an
interception for a touchdown in the Chargers’ last win, 31-13
against Kansas City at home on Nov. 1. … Robert Meachem, who was
expected to help replace Vincent Jackson in the Chargers’ offense,
had zero passes thrown to him for the second straight week. It was
his fifth game without a catch. … The Chargers have been blacked
out in Southern California for the second straight week and third
time this season.
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(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)