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Bengals hang around but come up short, lose to the Chargers 26-21

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Despite trailing for most of the game, the Bengals hung around and made things interesting. Unfortunately, they couldn’t close the gap.

Cincinnati Bengals v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Bengals escaped the cold weather of an Ohio December and took a trip out to sunny Southern California to face off against the Chargers. For the second week in a row, the Bengals would be playing a team fresh off of a win against the Steelers.

But the sun would not shine on the Bengals, as they lost a close one to Los Angeles, 26-21.

Jeff Driskel’s best friend was Joe Mixon. The running back touched the ball over 30 times and ran for over 100 yards for the first time since Week 8. His 138 total yards were tied for the most he has had all season.

The Chargers received the opening kickoff and marched right down the field. Austin Ekeler ran the ball three times for 37 yards, but the drive was highlighted by a 14-yard fade to Keenan Allen in the end zone. Philip Rivers was a perfect two-for-two on the seven-play, 75-yard drive and it only took the Chargers’ offense 3:21 to score. The Chargers made it look easy and after the extra point, they took an early 7-0 lead.

The Bengals came out and responded with their rushing attack. Joe Mixon had three carries for 24 yards and Jeff Driskel had a scramble for nine in the first four plays. But the drive fizzled and Randy Bullock had to come out for a 47-yard field goal to put the Bengals on the board with 6:23 to go in the first quarter.

Up 7-3, the Chargers’ offense still moved the ball, but actually had to work for it on the next drive. Los Angeles actually faced third down, though both were short and easily converted.

Ekeler kept gashing the Bengals defense and finally made his way into the end zone on a 5-yard run to extend the lead. After a 13-play, six-minute drive, Michael Badgley came in and converted the extra point with 14:56 left in the second quarter to put the Chargers up 14-3.

When the Bengals finally got the ball back inside the 50-yard line, they stuck with the rushing game. Giovani Bernard and Alex Erickson got involved and combined for 21 yards on three carries. Jeff Driskel even carried the ball on a read option, but recorded his most important rush of the game on a scramble.

On third and goal, Driskel faked the handoff to Mixon, but when his options were covered up he tucked the ball and dove into the end zone. However, the replay official deemed that Driskel was giving himself up, so because Driskel’s knee was down before the ball broke the plane, he was ruled down at the half-yard line.

After the controversial ruling, a false start on Alex Redmond backed the Bengals up and forced them to go for a field goal. Bullock’s kick was good, so the Bengals were clawing their way back, now down 14-6 with 5:05 left in the half.

The Bengals would get the ball back a minute and a half before halftime, and they started their next drive with excellent field position. On the Chargers’ 35-yard line, the Bengals fed Mixon three straight times to start the drive.

Mixon went for 22 yards on nine carries and gave the Bengals the ball for a goal-to-go situation. From the six-yard line, John Ross worked across the formation to give Driskel a wide open touchdown pass with only 19 seconds left in the half. They failed to get the two-point conversion, so the score would be 14-12.

But of course, Rivers made things interesting. In 19 seconds with one timeout, the Chargers moved the ball into Badgley’s range, and he nailed the 59-yard attempt. The kick that extended the lead was also the longest field goal in Charger’s history. As time expired, the teams would go to the locker rooms with the Chargers leading 17-12.

The Bengals looked like they solved their problems on defense until the last 19 seconds of the half. The Chargers had 155 yards of offense in the first quarter, but only 24 yards in the the second (with only two yards in the first 14:41).

Newcomer Christian Ringo had himself a half by splitting his first career sack and getting a crucial tackle for loss in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, the Bengals offense looked better than they had in weeks. Driskel should have had two touchdowns on the day, but in the first half the Bengals did score on three of their five possessions. Driskel completed seven of his 11 attempts on the day.

The Bengals clearly wanted to get Mixon more involved in the game, and it worked out very well. Mixon had 12 carries for 63 yards and two receptions on three targets for 12 yards. In the first half, the ball went to Mixon on exactly half of the Bengals’ plays, while his 75 total yards accounted for slightly more than half of the offense’s total production.

The Bengals got the ball to start the half, but a questionable play call on fourth down gave the Chargers the ball in plus territory. Ekeler helped convert a couple first downs, but the Bengals’ defensive line stepped up and made Rivers uncomfortable in the pocket, so the drive stalled. Badgley kicked a 31-yard field goal to convert the fourth down stop into points, but the Bengals were still only trailing by a score, down 20-12 with 7:38 to go in the third quarter.

Mixon, who had been getting the ball all day long, kept it going in the fourth quarter. But he couldn’t get much going and Bullock, who had also been busy all day, came in to make the 46-yard field goal to help the Bengals crawl back to 20-15 with 12:22 left in the game.

The Chargers got the ball back and returned to their first quarter form. Rivers had two long passes, a 37-yarder to Allen and a 17-yarder to Mike Williams, going back to the passing game for the first time since the first quarter. But the offense sizzled out, so Badgley came out for a 32-yard line with 7:54 left in the game. The kick was good and the Bengals would get the ball back down 23-15.

Even though the Bengals continued their M.O. of feeding Mixon, Driskel threw a few lasers around to keep the chains moving on their next drive. On his first four passes, he was three for four with 33 yards. After a pass interference call on the defense, Mixon broke out a 19-yard run to get the ball inside the red zone. He kept carrying the ball all the way to the two-yard line right before the two-minute warning.

Defensive holding gave the Bengals a fresh set of downs with the ball at the one-yard line. From there, Mixon squirted through the line for an easy one-yard touchdown with 1:50 left in the game. But needing a two-point conversion to tie the game, Driskel took a sack from Darius Philon to limit the damage to six points. The Bengals would go for an onside kick with only two timeouts left and down 23-21.

The onside attempt failed to travel the ten yards necessary, so the ball went right back to the Chargers. The Chargers were able to score three points on Badgley’s 45-yard field goal with 49 seconds remaining. This was enough to keep the Bengals from scoring again, as the Chargers would wind up winning 26-21.

Los Angeles improved to 10-3 and climbed up the AFC West, though they still trail the 11-2 Chiefs.

The Bengals dropped to 5-8 on the season and lost their fifth in a row. They dropped to fourth place in the AFC North six weeks after leading the division.