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Chargers defeat Bengals, 41-22, to stay within AFC playoff picture

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Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen celebrates his touchdown.
Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) celebrates his touchdown in the first half of a 41-22 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.
(Emilee Chinn / Associated Press)

After losing to the Denver Broncos last week, Justin Herbert and the Chargers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 41-22 on Sunday.

Chargers start fast, unravel, and then get it together on defense to beat Bengals

CINCINNATI — Kyzir White entered the postgame interview room with athletic tape dragging a few feet behind his left leg.

The image of the linebacker looking like a disheveled mummy couldn’t have been more fitting on an afternoon when the Chargers nearly unraveled.

But White and his defensive cohorts rallied in the fourth quarter, producing two turnovers and scoring a momentum-clinching touchdown as the Chargers kept it together for a 41-22 victory over Cincinnati.

Two weeks ago at home, they blew a 27-10 fourth-quarter lead against Pittsburgh before scrambling back to win in the final minutes. This collapse was similar — but different.

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Chargers put Bengals away with Dustin Hopkins’ 43-yard field goal

Dustin Hopkins kicked a 43-yard field goal to make it 41-22 as the Chargers put away Cincinnati.

The Chargers improved to 7-5 and the Bengals fell to 7-5 in a result that could have a significant impact on the postseason.

Justin Herbert finished 26 of 35 for 317 yards and three touchdowns, two of which went to Keenan Allen.

The Chargers sacked Joe Burrow six times and limited Joe Mixon to 54 yards on 19 carries.

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Austin Ekeler increases Chargers lead, 38-22

Chargers' Austin Ekeler runs against Cincinnati Bengals' Vonn Bell.
Chargers’ Austin Ekeler runs against Cincinnati Bengals’ Vonn Bell (24) during the first half Sunday in Cincinnati.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

Austin Ekeler scored from a yard out to put the Chargers up 38-22 with 10:49 remaining in regulation.

The Chargers went 53 yards in four plays after the defense forced a three-and-out.

Justin Herbert hit Jalen Guyton for 33 yards and Mike Williams for 18 to set up Ekeler.

Herbert is 25 for 34 for 315 yards. The Chargers have scored 14 points in just short of three minutes after Cincinnati closed with 24-22.

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Chargers recover Joe Mixon fumble to increase lead, 31-22

The Chargers received a break when Joe Mixon fumbled, with Tevaughn Campbell picking up the ball and returning it for a 61-yard touchdown.

The play put the Chargers up 31-22 with 13:43 remaining in regulation.

Cincinnati had scored 22 unanswered points before Campbell reached the end zone.

Since going up 24-0 early in the second quarter, the Chargers offense has gained 69 yards on five possessions.

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Bengals take advantage of another Chargers turnover to only trail 24-22

Cincinnati made it 24-22 on a seven-yard touchdown run by Joe Mixon at the 7:10 mark of the third quarter.

The Bengals went for two but Mixon came up short on a run.

The Chargers set up Cincinnati by turning the ball over for their third consecutive possession.

Austin Ekeler lost his second fumble of the game after he caught a pass from Justin Herbert but was hit almost immediately by cornerback Mike Hilton. The Bengals took over at the Chargers’ 32-yard line and scored five plays later.

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Bengals kick field goal, only trail Chargers 24-16

Cincinnati closed to within one score when Evan McPherson kicked a 48-yard field goal on the opening series of the second half to make it 24-16.

The Bengals have scored 16 unanswered points after the Chargers opened a 24-0 lead five minutes into the second quarter.

Since then, the Chargers have had the ball twice and turned it over both times, on an Austin Ekeler fumble and a Justin Herbert interception.

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Joe Burrow scores on scramble to cut Bengals’ deficit

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow throws during the first half against the Chargers.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow throws during the first half against the Chargers Sunday in Cincinnati.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

Joe Burrow scored on a six-yard scramble up the middle to pull Cincinnati to within 24-13 with 2:40 remaining in the first half.

The touchdown finished a three-play, 19-yard series as the Bengals took advantage of an Austin Ekeler fumble.

Ekeler lost the ball on a third-and-eight reception that picked up seven yards. Instead of having fourth-and-one at the Cincinnati 36, the Chargers were forced to go on defense deep in their own territory.

Bengals safety Jessie Bates III took the fumble back 46 yards before being tackled by quarterback Justin Herbert, who laid his left shoulder into Bates to knock him sideways.

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Bengals score to cut Chargers’ lead 24-6

Cincinnati pulled within 24-6 when Joe Burrow connected with Tee Higgins for a 29-yard touchdown at the 7:39 mark of the second quarter.

Higgins beat cornerback Michael Davis and went high to secure the catch over Davis and safety Nasir Adderley.

The Chargers had a chance to get the Bengals off the field earlier in the possession, but Burrow hit Tyler Boyd for a 32-yard gain on third-and-four. Boyd beat Derwin James off the line of scrimmage.

After the Higgins’ touchdown, Evan McPherson missed the extra point.

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Chargers up 24-0 after Justin Herbert touchdown and two-point conversion

The Chargers opened their lead over Cincinnati to a stunning 24-0 not even five minutes into the second quarter.

Given more than plenty of time, Justin Herbert threw 44 yards to Jalen Guyton for a touchdown. The connection was the third of at least 40 yards for Herbert on the day.

Then Herbert caught the two-point conversion from wide receiver Keenan Allen as the Chargers turned to a trick play to make up for Dustin Hopkins’ earlier missed extra point.

Herbert is 11 for 15 for 172 yards and three touchdowns, the first two of which went to Keenan Allen.

Defensively, the Chargers have limited Joe Mixon to two yards on six carries, produced two turnovers and sacked Joe Burrow twice.

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Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa being evaluated for head injury

Chargers' Joey Bosa stretches before a game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Chargers’ Joey Bosa stretches before a game against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday in Cincinnati.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa is being evaluated for a head injury suffered in the first quarter against Cincinnati.

He left the field and returned to the locker room.

The three-time Pro Bowler suffered a pair of concussions late last season and often has spoken about the mental struggles be had to deal with in the aftermath.

Chargers’ cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. is already in the NFL’s concussion protocol. He suffered two concussions in a three-week span.

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Justin Herbert connects with Keenan Allen again to put Chargers up 16-0

Justin Herbert and Keenan Allen connected for their second touchdown of the opening quarter to put the Chargers’ up 16-0 with 1:34 remaining.

Allen was uncovered as Cincinnati’s defense completely broke down on the seven-yard hook up.

The big play of the drive was a 47-yard completion from Herbert to Mike Williams. The two also paired up for a 41-yard gain on the Chargers’ opening touchdown series.

The Chargers took possession when cornerback Michael Davis lucked into an interception. Ja’Marr Chase beat Davis for what appeared to be a touchdown reception.

But Chase failed to secure the pass from Joe Burrow. Instead, the ball popped into the air and fell into the cradled right arm of Davis.

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Chargers’ forced fumble sets up field goal, up 9-0 over Bengals

Uchenna Nowsu sacked Joe Burrow, caused a fumble and recovered it to end Cincinnati’s first possession and set up the Chargers’ offense at the Bengals’ 29-yard line.

The offense failed to produced a first down, however, after left guard Matt Feiler was called for holding.

The Chargers settled for a Dustin Hopkins 43-yard field goal to move ahead 9-0 with 6:28 remaining in the first quarter.

The strip-sack by Nwosu was the Chargers’ eighth of the season.

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Chargers score on opening drive with Justin Herbert connecting with Keenan Allen

The Chargers scored on the game’s opening drive when Justin Herbert hit Keenan Allen for a four-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal.

Herbert threaded the ball between a pair of Cincinnati defenders - linebacker Logan Wilson and cornerback Mike Hilton.

The drive lasted nine plays and covered 55 yards, the offense set up near midfield by Andre Roberts’ 45-yard kickoff return.

Herbert extended the possession by moving in the pocket to buy time on third-and-nine before finding Allen for a 10-yard pick up.

Dustin Hopkins missed the extra point to keep the score at 6-0.

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Playoff-hungry Chargers, in an offensive slump, need to hit the ground running

Denver Broncos inside linebacker Kenny Young tackles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler during the second half on Nov. 28.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

It is now December, and the Chargers’ second-leading rusher remains Justin Herbert.

Even though Herbert has notable mobility, this doesn’t reflect well on a running game that — as with the 2021 Chargers in general — has struggled to maintain consistent production.

This offense ranks 22nd in yards rushing, averaging 103 per game. Individually, Austin Ekeler also is 22nd, at 54.9.

After Ekeler, the team’s next three running backs — Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree III — have combined to rush for only 231 yards, which is 12 fewer than Herbert has managed.

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Chargers have all four running backs active against Bengals

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler knifes into the end zone on a catch and run.
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler knifes into the end zone on a catch and run in the second half against Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Taco Charlton (98) and Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Tre Norwood (21) at SoFi Stadium on Nov. 21.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers have all four of their running backs active for the first time this season for their game Sunday at Cincinnati.

The team has been searching for someone to emerge behind starter Austin Ekeler. Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree III have each produced moments in 2021 but have lacked consistency.

The Chargers’ inactives for Sunday are cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. (concussion), safety Alohi Gilman (quadriceps), quarterback Easton Stick, fullback Gabe Nabers and offensive lineman Senio Kelemete.

The Bengals will be without two of their starting offensive linemen: center Trey Hopkins and right tackle Riley Reiff.

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Matt Feiler’s return will give Chargers’ O-line a boost vs. Bengals

Chargers guard Matt Feiler looks on from the sideline during a loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 17.
(Terrance Williams / Associated Press)

The Chargers will receive a boost Sunday with the return of starting left guard Matt Feiler.

The veteran practiced in full Friday and was removed from the team’s injury report. He missed the Chargers’ game last weekend in Denver.

“He’s one of our best players,” Coach Brandon Staley said. “It’ll mean a lot. You saw last week what he means to us. Sometimes you see the value of people when they’re not there. He certainly fits that description.”

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Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Betting lines, odds, start time and how to watch

Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals (-3, Over/Under 50 1/2), 10 a.m. PST, CBS

This is one of the top games of the week with Justin Herbert versus Joe Burrow and both teams in the playoff hunt. The Chargers (6-5) are one game behind the Chiefs in the AFC West while the Bengals (7-4) are one game behind the Ravens in the AFC North. If neither are able to win their division, this game could end up as a key tiebreaker for a wild-card spot.

After a 4-1 start, the Chargers have lost four of their last six games and two of their last three (and are 1-5 against the spread during that run). Meanwhile, the Bengals have rebounded from their midseason slump by blowing out the Raiders 32-13 and the Steelers 41-10 to get back on the winning track, so momentum is certainly on the Bengals’ side.

It’s understandable that the Bengals are favored at home and that bettors are siding with them based on the current form of the two teams. However, it’s tempting to take the Chargers if the line does get to +3 1/2 as these teams are pretty evenly matched if taking their full-season resumes into account.

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With Bengals ahead, the Chargers are a fringe playoff team but remain optimistic

Chargers coach Brandon Staley stands on the sideline against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 14.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

CINCINNATI — They won four of their first five games, the Chargers suddenly becoming a popular Super Bowl pick led by a fresh MVP candidate at quarterback and a rookie coach making bold, trend-setting decisions.

Along the way, that coach, Brandon Staley, offered repeated public warnings about how — at first glance — the results on a football field can mask the truth of what’s really happening.

“We had to fight to get to 4-1,” Staley said this week. “You’ve heard me talk about illusions and stuff like that. It was a fight when we were 4-1. It’s been a fight when we lost a couple. … It’s been a fight, and it’s still a fight.”

So the Chargers probably weren’t as good as they looked at times during the season’s first five weeks. And they probably aren’t as bad as they’ve looked at times in going 2-4 over the seven weeks since.

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Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals matchups, start time and how to watch

Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa follows a play against the Denver Broncos on Nov. 28.
(Jack Dempsey / Associated Press)

Breaking down how the Chargers (6-5) and the Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) match up heading into their game at 10 a.m. PST on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. The game will be shown on CBS.

When Chargers have the ball: Justin Herbert tries to bounce back after a fourth quarter during which he had passes intercepted twice by Denver cornerback Patrick Surtain II in Week 12. The second of those interceptions tipped off the hands of Austin Ekeler, but the pass was slightly behind the running back.

Cincinnati is tied for 12th in the NFL with 10 interceptions, two of which came last weekend against Pittsburgh. Only five teams have given up fewer points per game than the Bengals, who have limited four of their last six opponents to 17 or fewer. But in those other two games, Cincinnati lost to quarterback Mike White and the New York Jets 34-31 and surrendered 41 points in a defeat to Cleveland.

So, who can be certain what version of Bengals will show up Sunday? The Chargers’ offense has sputtered at times throughout the season, often struggling to sustain a running game. Cincinnati ranks fifth in the NFL against the run, meaning Ekeler could be fighting for his rushing yards again.

The Chargers beat the Bengals on the road to start last season, 16-13, but both teams have much improved offenses now. It’s unlikely that 16 points will win this game this time around.

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