CARSON, Calif. - Head coach Marvin Lewis rolled the dice throughout Sunday’s wrenching 26-21 loss to the heavily-favored Chargers and the players had his back after the failed fourth-and-one from their own 35 on the first series of the second half.
“I liked it. I liked it,” said veteran left end Carlos Dunlap, who also liked the two-point try at the end of the first half. “He showed his urgency. The players received it the same way and we backed it up.”
It was the 5-8 Bengals’ fifth straight loss, their longest since Dunlap’s rookie year of 2010.
“We’re trying to get out of a hole,” Dunlap said. “We don’t have time to be conservative.”
_Lewis said when the Chargers broke a 21-yard screen pass on the way to scoring their second touchdown on their second drive, the Bengals changed their style and the defense responded by giving up basically two field goals the rest of the way to the NFL’s third best passer in Philip Rivers.
The defenders said they played more man-to-man than usual and like cornerback William Jackson said, “I’m loving that.”
Rivers came in completing 69 percent of his passes, but the Bengals got their hands on six of them with Jackson coming up with some huge third downs in coverage. Giving up 54 percent of their third downs coming in, the Bengals were better in giving up just five of 13. Rivers’ 99 passer rating was torrid, but 16 points below his season average.
“I don’t know what it is, “ Lewis said. “But it takes us so long to respond after we get busted in the mouth. But we did respond.”
_Lewis said they had trouble with both offensive and defensive headsets early in the game and at one point switched to walkie-talkies early in the second half. But quarterback Jeff Driskel and linebacker Nick Vigil said they didn’t call anything on their own.
"There were a couple of times I didn't get anything," Driskel said."We were prepared for that. We really didn't let it affect us. I looked over to the sideline and got some had signal type stuff. That doesn't happen too often but we were ready for it."
_For the first time this season the Bengals hit the 30-rush mark with a season-high 144 yards on 32 carries with Joe Mixon leading the way on 26 carries for 111 yards. it's the first time a Bengals back had at least 25 carries in two years when Jeremy Hill did it in a Dec. 11, 2016 win in Cleveland and a few weeks later Rex Burkhead took it for 27 in the finale. Also for the first time this season they kept the ball more than 32 minutes and ran it more than they passed it.
_Driskel ran through the bid to tie on that two-point play after Mixon's one-yard bull cut it to 23-21 with 1:50 left: He got sacked by a lineman as he held the ball in the pocket.
"We have two of our best guys over to the left," Driskel of wide receiver Tyler Boyd and tight end C.J. Uzomah. "I'ved got to find a way to get them the ball. Right now,. or make somebody miss or find somebody late and we just didn't get it done."
Boyd: "I really didn't see it. I was into my route, trying to win for him. And when I looked back the quarterback was getting sacked. It's hard seeing that when you rather just have him throw it up in the end zone.,Just somebody make a play for you, but the pressure was coming ... Jeff is (giving) his best. He was banged up and he went out there and showed us he'll continue to play for us and have our backs and we'll do the same for him."
_Driskel was robbed of a touchdown on a huge play with five minutes left in the first half. On third-and-one he appeared to run a bootleg from one yard out that would cut it to 14-10. It was called a TD on the field with the ball at the goal line on his head-first dive before his knee hit the ground. But the replay, the refs ruled since he was a quarterback running, he had given himself up. But Driskel said he hadn't given himself up because he was trying to score.
_Boyd had three more catches for 52 yards and was their leading receiver, leaving him 10 yards shy of 1,000.
"Tough loss, but everybody came out here and played their tails off," Boyd said..
But no one was taking a moral victory The penalties drove everyone from Lewis on down crazy. Maybe the biggest was end Jordan Willis' offsides penalty on what should have been the last play of the half and the Bengals down just 14-12. but it allowed the killing 59-yard field goal.
"We got young guys," said Lewis shaking his head.
Willis, in his second season, was in his 28th game. Right guard Alex Redmond, who false started on fourth-and-one from the 1, was making his 12th start. Rookie center Billy Price, who false started on fourth-and-seven, was making his seventh start.
Cincinnati Bengals at Los Angeles Chargers: Week 14
Photos from the Bengals at Chargers matchup in week 14.
_It appeared that Trey Hopkins, who started, was rotating in at left guard with Christian Westerman.... Rookie cornerback Darius Phillips got his first NFL start in the slot.. Wide receiver Cody Core started in the three receiver set. It was his fifth start and first since his rookie year.
_ Driskel said he didn’t give himself up on the phantom touchdown. But according to this year’s point-of-emphasis protecting quarterbacks, he did. So explained referee John Hussey after the game.
“It used to be when he slid, we gave him protection. We give him that protection now when he dives forward, which he did. He dove forward to the goal line and as soon as his knee hit the ground, he was ruled to have given himself up,” Hussey said. “The ball was short of the goal line. If he would have fumbled the football at that point, we would have given him the ball at the spot where he gave himself up. So, the whole philosophy behind it is to continue to give him protection as he slides forward just like he used to do when he slid feet first and that’s why he was ruled down short of the goal line.”