The San Diego Chargers weren’t supposed to make the postseason, but they did. Winning on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals wasn’t the most likely of scenarios as well, but a patient and smart gameplan that focused on running the ball and kept Philip Rivers from taking unnecessary risks led them to their first playoff win in over five years.
The Bengals went into the lockers room at half time with a 10-7 lead, but something felt wrong. They weren’t handling the Chargers’ running game too well, and the impending Andy Dalton mistake was always in the air. Those with a bad feeling in their gut weren’t wrong. Dalton threw two interceptions in the second half while the Chargers went on to score 20 unanswered points, winning 20-7 and moving on to play the Denver Broncos in the divisional playoffs.
Philip Rivers is the leader of the Chargers, but it doesn’t mean that everything has to be on him all the time. He threw only 16 passes the entire game, completing 12 for 128 yards and one touchdown pass to Ladarius Green, making something of an acrobatic catch in the third quarter to put the Bengals in the lead for good.
Mike McCoy wasn’t overwhelmed by coaching in his first playoff game against a veteran (with plenty of losses) like Marvin Lewis. He kept attacking the defensive line and stopped the Bengals front seven from corralling Philip Rivers. He was sacked only once, while doing a great job in running the plays and chewing up the clock, as the Chargers gained 196 yards on the ground. Ryan Matthews? Expected, and so was Danny Woodhead. However, Ronnie Brown, 32-year old Ronnie Brown, came almost out of nowhere with 77 yards on 8 carries and a touchdown.
We’re loose, we’re confident, we’re peaking at the right time. We are a team to be dealt with. We’re a confident bunch, especially in the second half, in the fourth quarter. We feel we’re ready for those situations. The pressure is not going to get to us. We kept Andy on his heels and got him off his spot. We hit him a bunch and forced big turnovers.
The Chargers forced four turnovers in the game, including three from Dalton. He was sacked three times and hit six more, which eventually paved the way for his interceptions. Dalton made decisions to throw in a certain direction before actually surveying the field, a big no-no, especially in the playoffs. He did get to throw his first touchdown pass in the postseason, but the ghosts of previous years were roaming through the chilly Paul Brown Stadium, reminding everyone that this is a third consecutive wild card playoff loss for the Bengals.
The Chargers head into Denver, where they’ve already won this season. What began this season as Philip Rivers and who else has turned into a very solid, well rounded football team, with great protection, a solid running game and an opportunistic defense. They’re going to be underdogs no matter who they meet, but getting hot at the right time has always been the key to win in the postseason. It’s hard to argue that anyone fills that role better right now in the AFC than the Chargers.