By the 12-minute mark in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati had been waging a battle of field position that began in the third quarter. Matt Scifres punted the football 55 yards to the Bengals 16-yard line with 13:24 remaining in the third. Cincinnati moved the football, gaining two first downs when a pass bounced off Marvin Jones' shoulder and intercepted by Corey Lynch, returned to San Diego's 32-yard line. Scifres punted the football 39 yards to the Bengals 21-yard line, where Brandon Tate returned it 16 yards.
Back and forth. Back and fourth.
Again the Bengals turned it over, this time a Jermaine Gresham fumble on San Diego's 39-yard line with 7:42 remaining in the third.
THE DEFENSE RISES AGAIN
San Diego moves the football until 4:26 remained in the third quarter when the Chargers reached Cincinnati's 25-yard line. Holding San Diego to a field goal took shape as the reasonable hope, largely because they were gaining chunks of yardage and based on the possession's moment, a touchdown wasn't entirely unexpected. Philip Rivers handed off to Ryan Mathews on first and ten, met in the hole by a foaming dog named Domata Peko. Two yard gain.
Second and eight.
Peko and Geathers, the team's starting defensive tackles, use swiftness and agility when Rivers took the shotgun snap from the Bengals 23-yard line. One could argue that it was a "play of the game" result, proposing the alterative scoreless possession during a drive that San Diego was easily covering ground.
Peko yanked a forward-leaning Nick Hardwick while Geno Atkins uppercut his right arm, both freeing themselves from blockers and dropping Rivers for an eight-yard loss. San Diego was called for a delay of game, pushing the Chargers back another five yards to the Bengals 36-yard line. That's 13 yards lost by the Chargers, significantly reducing a field goal opportunity if Cincinnati holds San Diego on third down.
On third and 21, Rivers felt inside pressure on a Michael Johnson stunt and rolled out right with Atkins and Carlos Dunlap pursuing. A few steps from the sidelines, Rivers throws the football at the feet of his receiver, taking the incomplete and setting up a 54-yard Nick Novak field goal. He missed it.
Thanks to the quarterback sack and a self-imposed five-yard Chargers penalty, the Bengals went from "hoping to limit the damage to a field goal", to a missed attempt, keeping a manageable three-point deficit from being extended.