Chargers’ four-year playoff streak ends
By Christopher Smith, Chargers.com
San Diego fell 34-20 at Cincinnati on Sunday, ending their quest for a fifth consecutive AFC West division title.
CINCINNATI – The Chargers will not celebrate a fifth consecutive AFC West championship this season.
Carson Palmer threw four touchdown passes as the Bengals converted on good field position, winning 34-20 Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Cincinnati took advantage of short fields, scoring touchdowns on drives of 32, 59, 21 and 26 yards. Three of those drives started in San Diego territory after turnovers.
The Bengals added a 59-yard pass to Jerome Simpson with 6:25 left that put the game out of reach at 27-13.
San Diego (8-7) now is two games behind Kansas City (10-5) with one to play.
“This game ultimately was the final straw,” Philip Rivers said. “This wasn’t the game that necessarily put us out. We lost six other games along the way and put ourselves at 2-5.
“That’s a tough hill to climb. We thought we could do it but we didn’t get it done.”
The wall Sunday seemed less daunting after a 23-yard Ryan Mathews touchdown run in the third quarter. A subsequent punt by the Bengals gave the Chargers the ball down 13-10.
Rivers, who completed his first five pass attempts in the second half, drove San Diego near midfield before the final play of the third quarter, which Rey Maualuga intercepted and returned 47 yards to set up a three-yard touchdown to Jordan Shipley.
“When we got to 13-10 and stopped them, I thought we were in a position to overcome (our) problems,” Turner said. “They took advantage of (that interception) and scored. That made it real difficult.”
The Chargers offense avoided their lowest scoring output of the season with a 5-yard Kelley Washington touchdown inside the two-minute warning but twice had to settle for field goals deep in Bengals territory.
Cincinnati’s defense denied the Bolts after a first-and-goal at the 1 and San Diego again failed to score six after obtaining a second-and-3 at the Bengals 10-yard line. Still, Kaeding converted a 28-yard field goal with 7:22 left in the fourth to keep the game alive at 20-13.
Palmer hit a streaking Simpson three plays later on third-and-7 and the Bengals (4-11) celebrated back-to-back wins.
“Obviously we turned the ball over. I thought Cincinnati did a good job on third down,” Head Coach Norv Turner said. “Carson Palmer was extremely efficient.”
The Chargers couldn’t capitalize on the chances they had to catch the Bengals.
Mike Tolbert left the field on a stretcher after a neck injury in the first quarter. Tolbert leads the Chargers with 11 rushing touchdowns this season but was not available at the conclusion of San Diego’s most promising first-half drive.
A 12-play, 73-yard series stalled near the goal line after the Chargers could not convert on three consecutive handoffs from the 1. Kaeding kicked a 20-yard field goal to get within 13-3.
Vincent Jackson fumbled a reverse on the game’s first offensive play, resulting in a 19-yard loss. A 24-yard Mike Scifres punt gave Cincinnati the ball at the San Diego 32, and Jermaine Gresham caught a three-yard touchdown five plays later.
Simpson, starting in place of Chad Ochocinco (ankle), also caught a 10-yard touchdown with 12:54 left in the second quarter. He finished the game with six catches for 124 yards and two scores.
Palmer nearly attained a perfect passer rating, completing 16-of-21 passes for 269 yards and four touchdowns.
“They just out-executed us,” Eric Weddle said. “As a secondary, it’s disheartening and hurtful because of how the starters have not given up big plays and played sound and played consistent and we gave up a couple big plays today, which is uncharacteristic.”
San Diego will finish the season at Denver next week.
“This is as good a group of guys as I’ve been around and we have a game to play,” Turner said.
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