With a bye week, the Cincinnati Bengals offense was presented with an opportunity: Find some momentum in the running game and clean up the mistakes plaguing the passing offense. While one worked beautifully on the ground, the other struggled to find the keys that made it work in October during the first half.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden applied a renewed focus on the ground while using the passing game to support the run. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard combined for 149 yards on 34 carries and 11 first downs.
Cincinnati opened the scoring with a four-yard touchdown run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, capping a ten-play drive that began from their own 33-yard line. San Diego responded with an 83-yard touchdown drive, scored by tight end Ladarius Green on a 30-yard score.
The defense was a significant contributor (again), frustrating San Diego's offense by forcing three turnovers. Reggie Nelson jarred the football lose from Antonio Gates midway through the first, recovered by George Iloka and wiping out a ten-play drive that reached Cincinnati's 31-yard line. The passing defense pressured Philip Rivers into bad throws, a season-low 80.0 passer rating and a completion rate of 62.2 percent, his worst since week one.
Dre Kirkpatrick yanked a third quarter reception from Gates, generating an interception which lead to A.J. Green's 21-yard touchdown to take a 14-7 lead with 1:47 remaining in the third. Cincinnati added three points on a 46-yard field goal with over nine minutes remaining in the game to take a 17-7 lead.
The Bengals nearly sealed the victory after George Iloka stripped the ball away from Keenan Allen, recovered by linebacker Vincent Rey, with 8:24 remaining in the fourth. Instead Cincinnati blew a scoring opportunity when BenJarvus Green-Ellis coughed up the football at San Diego's 25-yard line on third and one. San Diego strung together a 27-yard drive and reduced Cincinnati's lead to seven points following a Nick Novak 48-yard field goal with 4:43 remaining in the game.
Despite struggling in the first half with a couple of questionable throws (namely the interception in deep right field), Dalton rebounded nicely in the second half, completing 69 percent of his passes for 149 yards and a passer rating of 133.2. A pair of beautiful throws in the second half helped give Cincinnati a two-possession led when Dalton led Andrew Hawkins from the slot on a slant that gained 50 yards that eventually setup Mike Nugent's 46-yard field goal with 9:16 remaining in the game. Then with over four minutes, Dalton gave a beautiful touch pass to A.J. Green down the right sidelines that gained 28 yards when the entire defense was looking for a run to milk the clock.
In the end, it was BenJarvus Green-Ellis with the greatest impact, picking up 49 yards on 11 carries. More importantly, the Bengals have first down from the Chargers 38-yard line with 4:30 remaining in the game. After a pair of Giovani Bernard runs for eight yards, Green-Ellis converted a third and two, then added another 25 yards, including a five-yard gain on third and four which sealed the win for Cincinnati.
The Bengals have a two-game lead over the Baltimore Ravens with four games remaining and the Indianapolis Colts next week.