Despite the nearly 3,000 miles between Cincinnati and San Diego, there's a rich history between these organizations. Cincinnati's first regular season game during their inaugural season in 1968 was against the Chargers in San Diego, losing 29-13, no thanks to two John Hadl bombs to Willie Frazier in the fourth quarter.
Hall of Fame wide receiver Charlie Joiner, who had already set a Bengals record with 200 yards receiving in a single-game, was traded to the Chargers, where he'd mount an epic career with quarterback Dan Fouts. Cincinnati received defensive end Coy Bacon in the deal, who would go on to set the (unofficial) league and franchise record with 21.5 quarterback sacks.
And the legendary Freezer Bowl on Jan. 10, 1982, was a decisive 27-7 Bengals win over the Chargers, sending Cincinnati to the Super Bowl for the first time.
The Chargers and Bengals have met 31 times in the regular season with San Diego holding a 19-12 all-time advantage. And though the history between the Bengals and Chargers doesn't hold much meaning today, the meetings between these old AFL opponents are no less exciting.
When the Bengals swung through the west coast with a week 13 stop in San Diego last year, Cincinnati conquered with two fourth-quarter turnovers and ten points, wiping out a Chargers three-point lead in the final period. Andy Dalton completed 25 passes for 211 yards passing, including a touchdown to Jermaine Gresham. BenJarvus Green-Ellis posted 118 yards rushing and A.J. Green led the team with nine receptions for 85 yards receiving.
During the Marvin Lewis era, Cincinnati has played San Diego five times, winning three and opening with a 34-27 win in San Diego between quarterbacks Doug Flutie and Jon Kitna. How's that for nostalgic? Both quarterbacks combined for six touchdowns and no interceptions, with Kitna passing for four. Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson combined for 163 yards rushing (108 by Dillon) and Chad Johnson added 10 receptions for 107 yards receiving, hauling in three of Kitna's four scores thus helping Cincinnati establish a 31-13 lead by the fourth-quarter.
The series went quiet for two years ('04 and '05) but when they met in 2006, it's probably the meeting that you remember the most... and that's not a good thing.
Cincinnati pulled out a 28-7 second quarter lead behind Carson Palmer, who completed 20 of 23 passes for 282 yards passing and two touchdowns... in the first half. Chad Johnson (seven receptions, 117 yards, touchdown) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (six catches, 83 yards) headed into half time with a combined 200 yards receiving. When it was over, Palmer threw for 440 yards and three touchdowns and Johnson caught 260 of those yards.
Unfortunately the Bengals fell asleep at the wheel and San Diego scored touchdowns on their first five possessions in the second half and six of their first seven to win 49-41. While the defense shouldered most of the blame, the offense went dormant with two turnovers, three punts, and 10 points.
San Diego shut down Cedric Benson in 2009, which usually meant a loss in Cincinnati's revised offensive philosophy that year. Both teams were tied at 24 when Nate Kaeding crushed a 52-yard field goal, leaving three seconds on the clock. Quan Cosby returned the ensuing kickoff, lateraled to Leon Hall, who gained 22 yards. But an illegal block from John Paul Foschi ended the game. This would be the last time that San Diego secured a win over the Bengals.
The Chargers were still in the postseason picture in 2010 while the Bengals were more interested in entering the offseason as quickly as possible. Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson were out with injuries, giving rise to Jerome Simpson and a born again Andre Caldwell.
Cincinnati pounded San Diego with 21 fourth-quarter points and a re-energized offense that we had hoped, at the time, would bleed over into 2011. After two-plus years of nothing, Jerome Simpson went off with 124 yards receiving and two touchdowns. His 2008 draft mate, Andre Caldwell, added 87 yards. Carson Palmer had a passer rating of 157.2 with four touchdowns and a whole lot of optimism that this offense can rebuild in 2011 -- which it would, but far differently than we had expected at the time.
Yet what's interesting is the periodic influence that Cincinnati's defense has had on the series. During the first three meetings since Lewis took over in 2003, the Chargers were averaging 34.3 points and 374 yards per game. In the last two, both wins for Cincinnati, the Chargers have scored 32 combined points, turned the ball over five times, while averaging 305 yards per.
History won't mean much when these two teams resume a series that dates back to the AFL days between Sid Gillman and Paul Brown, two coaches who revolutionized the sport into the product that we see today. But the importance of Sunday's game will carry significant weight for the playoff picture Monday morning.