After a disaster of a game, the Chargers won the first Herbert-Burrow bowl 41-22.
The Bengals did just about everything they could to dig themselves into a hole. Cincinnati had four turnovers and six penalties in the box score, which hampered the team on both sides of the ball.
Not only did the Bengals suffer a litany of self-inflicted wounds, but Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Logan Wilson, and Chidobe Awuzie either played through or left the game because of injuries. In addition to new injuries, the Bengals had to play only two of their opening day offensive line in front of Burrow.
It was one step forward, two steps back for the Bengals on the opening possession. They kept the Chargers to long distances to go, but Herbert converted on a ten-yard pass to Keenan Allen and a 41-yard pass to Mike Williams. The Bengals were able to force a fourth-and-goal, but Allen gathered the ball between three Bengals’ defenders in the end zone for a touchdown. After the first drive, the Chargers had a 6-0 lead with 11:31 to go in the opening quarter, with Dustin Hopkins missing the extra point.
Uchenna Nwosu forced and recovered a fumble to give the Chargers the ball in field goal range. Hopkins made the 43-yard attempt. Even though the Bengals’ defense didn’t give up a first down on the possession, their deficit increased to 9-0 with 6:28 remaining in the first quarter.
The Bengals turned it over again on an interception that was in and out of the hands of Ja’Marr Chase. Herbert connected with Williams again, this time for 47 yards. Allen was wide open in the middle of the end zone for his second touchdown of the game. Hopkins got the extra point, and the Chargers had a quick 16-0 lead with 1:28 left in the quarter.
Things only got worse after Tyler Boyd and Logan Wilson left the game with injuries. To add insult to injury, Herbert unloaded another deep bomb, a 44-yard pass to Guyton for a score to Jalen Guyton. The Chargers converted the two-point attempt with the “Philly Special,” and held a 24-0 lead with 10:12 remaining in the second quarter.
Boyd came back and provided the Bengals with their single best play of the game so far. On third-and-four, Boyd took a pass from Burrow and ran to create a 32-yard gain after the Bengals only had 35 yards of offense on the entire day. Burrow connected with Boyd for another long pass, an 18-yard reception. Burrow lofted one to the end zone, and much like the Charger had been doing all game, Tee Higgins went up against Chargers defenders and hauled in a 29-yard touchdown pass.
While the Bengals finally had points, they continued to get in their own way. Zac Taylor chose to go for two, then called a timeout. The offense drew a delay of game penalty after the timeout, so they elected to go for a PAT instead, which the automatic Evan McPherson missed. With any momentum from the touchdown wiped out, the Bengals finally had points, still trailing 24-6 with 7:39 to go in the half.
The Bengals had yet another stroke of good fortune in the form of a Germaine Pratt forced fumble. Jessie Bates scooped the ball, and returned to the 20-yard line where Herbert took him down. This led to a rushing touchdown for Burrow. Unlike his first career touchdown against the Charger last year, the play was a designed pass, but Burrow saw no one open, so he scrambled up the middle for the six yard score. With 2:45 left until halftime, McPherson made the extra point to help the Bengals slowly climb out of their 24-13 deficit.
The fumble wasn’t a fluke, as Chidobe Awuzie picked off Herbert right before halftime. With a minute and change left, the Bengals were able to move to the edge of field goal range. Burrow was set to spike it and attempt a Hail Mary, but there was confusion at the line, and he was unable to get the ball off before the clock expired.
That final sequence was the Bengals’ first half in a nutshell. Every time something went well for the Bengals, it was negated by a penalty, turnover, or some other mental lapse.
The big question was the pinky on Burrow’s throwing hand, which got banged up in the second quarter. Unfortunately, more injury questions emerged as Joe Mixon took too long to get up during the first drive of the second half.
Burrow looked like he was going to work through it, and passed for 41 yard on the first drive of the second half. He was able to get the ball to the Charger’s 30-yard line McPherson nailed the 48-yard kick. With 9:53 to go in the third quarter, the Bengals were only behind by one touchdown at 24-16.
The Bengals needed their defense to make some stops with two of their best players, Logan Wilson and Chidobe Awuzie, on the sidelines with injuries. The Bengals were on the positive end of some penalties for once, and got yet another turnover off of an Austin Ekeler fumble. Mike Hilton knocked it loose and Pratt recovered the ball at the Chargers’ 32-yard line.
The fumble set up a seven-yard touchdown for Mixon, who had scored in his ninth straight game. The Bengals went for two, aided by a penalty that moved the ball up a yard on the attempt. Mixon got stuffed, so the Bengals still trailed 24-22 with 7:10 remaining in the third quarter.
The Bengals still trailed going into the fourth quarter, and the Chargers extended their lead for the first time since early in the second quarter. Mixon bobbled the ball out of the backfield, and Tevaughn Campbell scooped and scored on a 61-yard return. With 13:43, the Bengals trailed 31-22, and the Chargers ended the Bengals’ run of 22 unanswered points since the second quarter.
The Bengals had shut the door on defense over the last quarter and a half, but the Chargers’ offense came back to life for the first time in the half. Herbert found a wide-open Guyton, who took the ball to the one and set up an Ekeler rushing touchdown. With two scores exactly three minutes apart, the Chargers were up 38-22 and seemingly had the comeback stamped out with only 10:53 remaining in the game.
The Chargers got the ball back and added a field goal to their lead. Hopkins scored on a 43-yard kick with 1:10 to extend their lead to 41-22. When the Bengals got the ball back, they ran until the clock expired to end the game.
The Bengals dropped to 7-5 on the year, but remain in the second spot in the AFC North. They stay at home to take on the 49ers at 4:05 pm ET on Sunday for Week 14.