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NFL Playoffs Slideshow: San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals Highlights

Full recap and photo highlights of the battle between the San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round of the NFL playoffs.

Andy Dalton 2
Andy Dalton 2

Jan 5, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) throws while being pressured by San Diego Chargers inside linebacker Donald Butler (56) during fourth quarter of the AFC wild card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the game, the NFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals were favored by a touchdown over San Diego Chargers who sneaked into the NFL playoffs in the final week of the season.

That’s no surprise as the Bengals won five of their last six games to clinch the division and finished fifth in the league in both passing and rushing defense. They also ranked eighth in passing offense, averaging nearly 260 passing yards a game from third-year quarterback Andy Dalton.

Having beat the Eagles, Cowboys, Colts, Broncos, and Kansas City twice, the Chargers were being taken too lightly by the odds-makers. The Chargers ranked 29th in passing defense but improved late in the season as they got healthy and won four straight to win the final Wild Card spot. They also own the league’s fourth best passing offense, led by resurgent quarterback Philip Rivers.

The Bengals flashed their defensive prowess on the Chargers’ first drive of the game as three different defenders broke through the line to sack Rivers and force a quick punt. The Chargers’ improving defense held their own too and were able to force a punt on the Bengals’ first possession as well.

Rather than focus on their elite passing game, Mike McCoy leaned on all three of his running backs on the next drive. The Chargers put up 44 yards on the ground and 42 yards through the air as Danny Woodhead ran in a five yard score to cap off a 12-play, 86-yard drive and put San Diego on the board.

The two teams exchanged punts once again on the game’s next two drives but the Bengals finally started to see some success. Starting on their own 40, Cincy marched 60 yards on 10 plays and Dalton tied the game at 7-7 with a four-yard pass to Jermaine Gresham. That completion was Dalton’s first postseason touchdown pass in three appearances.

The Chargers went three-and-out on their next drive and the surging Bengals offense took over at their own 32. Andy Dalton hurled a bomb to Marvin Jones for 49 yards on what looked like a sure scoring drive but Gio Bernard fumbled the ball at the three-yard line and the Chargers recovered the ball in the endzone. San Diego took over at the 11-yard line but quickly went three-and-out once again.

The Bengals started all the way on their own 31 with less than two minutes left but Andy Dalton completed quick strikes to A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, and Jermaine Gresham which set up a Mike Nugent 46-yard field goal to put Cincy up 10-7 going into halftime.

The Chargers were very conservative in the first half, passing just six times while running the ball 20 times. The Bengals were far more balanced, running 17 pass plays and 15 run plays to take a 226-122 yard advantage into the half.

San Diego was finally able to get a quick stop to open up the second half and took over at their own 20. The Chargers finally remembered they have a good quarterback and let Rivers fire off passes to Antonio Gates, Keenan Allen, Ladarius Green, and a 33-yard throw to Eddie Royal that set up another four-yard strike to Green to retake the lead.

On the very next drive, the Chargers front seven put all sorts of pressure on Dalton. On third-down, Dalton scrambled away from defenders for the third straight play. He dove forward to get away but fumbled the ball and it was quickly snatched up by safety Jahleel Addae at the Bengals’ 46.

The Chargers had no problem moving the ball to the Bengals’ 5 but the Cincy D put up a big red zone stop and kept San Diego to a 25-yard Nick Novak field goal to put the Bolts up 17-10.

Just one play later, Andy Dalton was back at it as the Chargers pass rush was all over him, forcing him to throw a pick to Shareece Wright for their third takeaway in five possessions. Wright brought the pick all the way back to Bengals’ three-yard line but Cincy’s front was able to get another huge red zone stop to hold Rivers and Co. to another field goal.

Dalton looked like he rebounded on the next drive as he marched the offense 54 yards on seven plays. Immediately after a big 17-yard pass to Gio Bernard, however, Dalton was picked off yet again by linebacker Melvin Ingram, giving Phil Rivers the ball at the San Diego 35.

The Chargers weren’t able to convert on Cincy’s fourth turnover of the game as they went three-and-out. Dalton marched the offense 47 yards on 10 plays but was stopped on a 4th-and-3 at the San Diego 41 to essentially put the game away with just 4:44 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Bengals used all three of their timeouts on the next drive but were able to keep the Chargers to another three-and-out with 4:29 left on the clock. Andy Dalton was no longer just battling the Chargers pass rush and, really, himself, he was battling time itself.

He was able to run seven plays for 40 yards on the next drive but turned the ball over on downs once again after being sacked and throwing three straight incompletions.

It didn’t take San Diego to officially buy the Bengals their plane tickets home as Ronnie Brown broke off a quick 58 yard touchdown run on the second play of the drive to give the Chargers an insurmountable 17-point lead with just over two minutes left.

The Chargers will face the Denver Broncos next week. The Broncos defeated the Chargers 28-20 back in Week 10 but San Diego put up one of their best defensive efforts of the year as they beat Peyton’s offense 27-20 in Week 15 in Denver.

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