The Cincinnati Bengals increased their lead in the AFC North to two games with a 17-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers.
Timely plays by the defense and a steady ground game powered Cincinnati (8-4) to victory against a San Diego team that was coming off an impressive victory over the Kansas City Chiefs one week before.
The Bengals played conservatively against the Chargers (5-7) after having lost their last two road games in overtime. By not asking quarterback Andy Dalton to win the game, his mistakes were limited. Though Dalton failed to reach 200 yards for the second straight game, he only turned the ball over once and did not take a sack. Instead, the Bengals decided to let their defense and running game do the talking.
With the game tied at seven in the third quarter, Cincinnati’s second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick changed the game’s momentum when he outmuscled 255-pound tight end Antonio Gates for an interception. That play set up a 21-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to wide receiver A.J. Green.
Leading 17-7 in the fourth quarter, Bengals safety George Iloka forced wide receiver Keenan Allen to fumble after a 14-yard reception. On its next drive, San Diego only managed to kick a field goal.
The Bengals’ ground game would then seal the deal. With just under five minutes to play, Cincinnati ran out the clock with an 11 play, 61 yard drive behind a power running game. In the win, the Bengals totaled 164 yards on the ground.
Sunday’s game offered a number of encouraging signs for Cincinnati fans. The secondary, which has not fared well on the road this season, was not daunted by the task of having to slow down the prolific Philip Rivers (23 touchdowns, nine interceptions and 3,633 yards passing). Dalton also seems to be learning that he gives his team a better chance of winning when he simply puts the ball into the hands of the team’s many playmakers. Running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis (20 carries, 92 yards, one touchdown) and Giovani Bernard (14 carries, 57 yards) showed that they can carry the team to victory in close games.
If last week’s bye accomplished anything, it allowed the Bengals to re-establish their identity, which is key for a young team heading into the stretch run before the playoffs begin.
The Bengals head back to Cincinnati next weekend to host the Indianapolis Colts. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.