In a grinding game of giveaway at Sunday's Paul Brown Stadium opener, the Bengals defense answered the bell early in the fourth quarter when they sacked Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers on his own goal line and it turned into a back-breaking 38-yard touchdown drive finished off by quarterback Andy Dalton's third touchdown pass of the game. It gave them a two-score lead with 8:49 left, led to the 24-19 victory, and left the Bengaldom gathering of 57,579 savoring a 2-0 start.
And fittingly it was the defense that finished it off when linebacker Vincent Rey dropped in front of wide receiver Malcom Floyd for the interception at midfield with 49 seconds left, San Diego's third turnover on a day the Bengals had two of their own. On the key drive early in the fourth quarter, cornerback Adam Jones, like he was all day in helping hold him to two catches for 16 yards, was draped all over wide receiver Keenan Allen to force a second-down incompletion to set up a third-and-six from the Bengals 9. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins and left end Carlos Dunlap then met at Rivers, a frequent occurrence as Atkins abused all day Chris Hairston making his first NFL start at guard.
With punter Mike Scifres in his own end zone, Bengals wide receiver Brandon Tate, with a block from cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, put the ball on the San Diego 38 on a 17-yard return.
The Bengals overcame two penalties in the drive and got great running from running back Giovani Bernard in claiming the second 100-yard day of his career even though he had his 12-yard touchdown run called back on a hold on rookie tight end Tyler Kroft. With Jeremy Hill on the bench after his second fumble of the day, Bernard reached 106 yards in the drive with the help of a 26-yard run and finished with 123 on 20 carries. Still, a procedure penalty on wide receiver Marvin Jones put the ball back at the Chargers 9 on third down.
But Dalton split tight end Tyler Eifert wide to the right and he made an inside move on cornerback Brandon Flowers, beat him straight down the field, and Dalton dropped it to Eifert in time for him to get both feet inbounds.
That gave the Bengals a 24-13 lead with 8:49 left.
But Rivers, who is never out of anything, cut it to 24-19 with 4:20 left when he threw his longest pass of the day for a 40-yard touchdown to Floyd that was aided by what looked to be a miscommunication between cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Reggie Nelson. Kirkpatrick appeared to think he had help over the top.
Then cornerback Leon Hall was all over the two-point play when the Chargers tried to cross Allen with wide receiver Stevie Johnson on a screen and Hall dumped Allen behind the line of scrimmage.
The Bengals tried to take one when a 31-yard pass to rookie offensive lineman Jake Fisher set up Mike Nugent's 21-yard field goal with 2:44 left in the third quarter to give them a 17-13 lead.
But it should have been more. After the play to the tackle-eligible Fisher leaking out of the left side, a six-yard scramble by quarterback Andy Dalton and a five-yard run by Bernard put the ball at the Chargers 2 on a first down. The Bengals went to the Jumbo package, but Bernard got tackled for a loss and on second down a bootleg opened up only a Dalton throwaway. The Bengals then went with multi wide receivers on third down, but Dalton didn't give wide receiver Mohamed Sanu enough air in the back right corner to bring on Nugent.
Cincinnati Bengals host the San Diego Chargers in week 2 of the regular season.
It was quite a drive, though. Not only did it feature the Fisher play, but the Bengals quick snapped on third down early in the drive and wide receiver A.J Green was wide open streaking down the right sideline but Dalton overthrew him. But an illegal contact penalty gave the Bengals a first down.
Yet the Bengals had their problems with the flags, too, as they tried to put the game away in the second half. Making his NFL debut, rookie cornerback Josh Shaw was called for holding to wipe out Adam Jones' 23-yard punt return and Green was called for pass interference on third down to wipe away wide receiver Marvin Jones' first-down catch and it resulted in a punt.
Still, Dalton had a terrific day, throwing three touchdowns with no picks while hitting 16 of 26 passes for 214 yards outpitching Rivers with a passer rating of 126.1-113.1 Rivers ended up 21 of 27 for 241 yards and two TDs.
Hill's second fumble of the day didn't hurt them when kicker Josh Lambo's 47-yard field-goal sailed left to match Nugent's miss earlier in the day as Cincinnati kept its lead at 14-13 early in the third quarter.
The Bengals knew Rivers was always going to keep his team in the game and so it was that his 10-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson on the first drive of the second half cut the Bengals lead to 14-13. The TD, the 255th of his career that puts him past Chargers Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Dan Fouts, was vintage Rivers in htis tenure under head coach Mike McCoy.
It was basically a screen pass on the perimeter and Johnson rode dicey blocking (the last one on Kirkpartrick) for their only touchdown in the first three quarters after leading the NFL in offense last week during a win in Detroit.
Overcoming fumbles and penalties, the Bengals broke to a 14-6 half-time lead when Dalton floated a 45-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones running past Flowers in the middle of the field for their longest play of the season.
Bouncing back from a holding call on left tackle Andrew Whitworth, Dalton, hitting 11 of his first 14 passes for 132 yards, found Jones, the man that baked the Chargers for a franchise post-season record 130 yards the last time they met.
The Bengals dodged a huge bullet with 1:16 left in the half when they failed to pick up blitzing inside linebacker Manti Te'o coming through the left interior. Te'o ripped the ball loose from Dalton as he threw it and linebacker Jerry Attaochu picked it for a 36-yard fumble return touchdown. But it was taken off the board when the call was reversed to an incomplete pass.
With two timeouts left the Bengals were content to run out the clock. And why not? They had 216 yards to San Diego's 154 and had held them to two field goals even though they were having trouble containing Chargers rookie running back Melvin Gordon (57 yards on 10 carries) with two runs accounting for 27 and 26 yards.
But the Bengals' sure tackling kept Rivers' short game from hurting them with yards after catch. He completed nine of 11 passes, but only for 84 yards in the half and for the second straight game cornerback Adam Jones led them in tackles with nine for the game. Kirkpatrick, the other starting corner, had seven. The Bengals blew up the Chargers' last series of the half when Atkins, virtually unblockable on this day, penetrated to dump Gordon for a short gain and then Adam Jones was all over Allen on a short pass over the middle and Jones knocked it down. Allen, who had an NFL-high 15 catches for 166 yards last week, finished the half with just one catch.
Atkins left briefly when he had the wind knocked out of him, but he returned quickly.
The Bengals forced their second turnover in the game's first 10 minutes when defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry hit Rivers to force a fumble recovered by linebacker Chris Carter at the Bengals 42 as the Bengals hogged the ball for more than minutes of the first quarter.
But the Bengals couldn't capitalize when Nugent pushed a 36-yard field goal try right and they clung to a 7-6 leader over the Chargers early in the second quarter.
With the Bengals faking their patented double A gap blitz by dropping two linebackers into coverage, they rushed four and Gilberry got free for the hit on Rivers.
The Bengals then converted a third-and-one when Hill lined up behind six offensive linemen and nose tackle Domata Peko as a fullback. Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green erased a first-and-17 on a slant for 22 yards and when Bernard sliced through his left side for 12 yards, the Bengals were in business.
But Dalton couldn't get Eifert his first catch of the day on a streak down the left sideline and on third down he threw it away to avoid a sack to bring on Nugent. He found Eifert enough so he was their leading receiver for the second straight week, this time with 49 yards on four catches.
Before the Gilberry hit, the Chargers got a turnover of their own when linebacker Donald Butler simply ripped the ball out of Hill's hands at the Bengals 48 as Hill's knee buckled at the end of a run. Hill writhed in pain, but he ended up running off the field and getting back in the game on the next series.
Of course The Butler did it. It was Butler who forced Bernard's red-zone fumble late in the first half of the 2013 Wild Card Game at PBS. Bernard had the last laugh.
The Bengals did make hay in the running game with Hill finishing the half with 34 yards on seven carries and Bernard getting 32 on five carries. Hill finished with 39 on 10 carries.
Green timed his first touchdown catch of the season with the home opener when his leaping 16-yard touchdown catch staked the Bengals to a 7-0 lead over the Chargers just 2:09 into the game.
The play came two snaps after Bengals linebacker Emmanuel Lamur recovered Allen's fumbled punt at the San Diego 19. On second-and-seven the 6-4 Green lined up in the slot and found himself one-on-one with the 5-9 Flowers. Green ran straight to the back of the end zone and Dalton let Green climb the ladder.
The Chargers cut the lead to 7-3 with 8:38 left in the first on a 40-yard field-goal set up by Gordon's 26-yard run aided by the missed tackles of Rey and Nelson on a zone cut-back play.
Rivers' bid to set the NFL record for consecutive completions in two games fell two yards shy on third-and-five when Rivers threw it high to Steve Johnson on the left sideline and Hall timed his jump to make sure it wasn't caught.
Safety George Iloka, limited to 19 snaps in last week's Opening Day victory over the Raiders when he injured his ankle, was expected to make his 34th straight start in Sunday's Paul Brown Stadium opener against the Chargers.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis made only one change to his list of inactives from last week when he replaced veteran backup cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris with rookie backup cornerback Josh Shaw. Shaw, a fourth-rounder, missed last week because of a groin injury so Sunday marks his NFL debut and he'll be a busy man on special teams.
Other than that, the Bengals stayed put with four wide receivers when they again de-activated veteran Greg Little and rookie Mario Alford, as well as seven defensive linemen when they again put down veteran backup tackle Brandon Thompson, veteran backup end Margus Hunt, and rookie backup tackle Marcus Hardison. Also out again was rookie tight end C.J. Uzomah.
As expected the Chargers de-activated right guard D.J. Fluker and replaced him with tackle Chris Hairston making his first NFL start at guard. Also, backup Jimmy Wilson started in place of injured strong safety Jahleel Addae after he played 18 snaps in the win over Detroit last week. Also inactive was kick returner Jacoby Jones.
The Bengals lost the toss and got the ball when the Chargers deferred. Adam Jones, the NFL's runnerup in kick returns last year, dropped back to take his first one of the season and ran out a line drive to the Bengals 24.