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The Bolts defense toughed out a gritty fourth quarter and they're moving on to Denver because of it.
The Chargers earned their spot in the Divisional Round -- and a third matchup against the Broncos -- with a final quarter of strong defensive football. They kept the Bengals off the board in the second half and added a 58-yard run from Ronnie Brown to win 27-10.
And it wasn't always pretty, as Brown was stuffed on a goal line rush and the Bolts began the quarter with a Nick Novak field goal instead of a touchdown.
The defense wouldn’t relent though. With 10:33 left, Melvin Ingram broke on an Andy Dalton throw and came down with the second interception of the day. However, the Bolts faced another 3rd-and-short and couldn't convert. Le'Ron McClain couldn't pick up the yard to move the chains and the Bolts punted again.
Dalton drove his team with another possession. But he looked deep on third and fourth down to A.J. Green and Marvin Jones and couldn't come up with a completion.
The Bolts took over on downs with just under five minutes to play and forced the Bengals to burn timeouts. They couldn't stop the clock when Cam Thomas burst through the line for a Dalton sack on second down, Giovani Bernard dropped a pass on third down, and the Bengals turned the ball over on downs when Dalton threw high again for Green.
Then, with 2:37 left to play, Brown broke free. He outraced the Bengals defense for a 58-yard scamper that iced the game.
The Bolts will play on. Stay tuned to Chargers.com. Read
After a down second quarter, the big plays are back for the Bolts.
They were held without a first down in the previous period, but bounced back with an explosive opening drive that spanned 80 yards. The defense forced an Andy Dalton fumble and, later, a bigger interception.
After 45 minutes of play, the Bolts lead the Bengals 17-10 – and are threatening to pad their lead on the Bengals one-yard line.
Their first drive of the quarter was a thing of beauty. The Bolts dictated tempo by switching to the no-huddle, and Antonio Gates and Keenan Allen contributed their first catches of the game. Then, Philip Rivers found Eddie Royal down the sideline on a pinpoint 33-yard throw and Ladarius Green on an equally pretty goal-line fade to take the 14-10 lead.
Dalton tried to move the Bengals on the next drive, but when he scrambled, he lost control of the ball and the Chargers fell on it. After replay review, it was clear he was never touched down -- and the Bolts had their second fumble recovery of the day.
Danny Woodhead rushed the Bolts back into scoring range from there. He ran four times -- and just missed a touchdown tote with a great tackle from Rey Maualuga. Rivers couldn’t connect with him on a 3rd-and-3 deep in Bengals territory, and Nick Novak booted his first field goal of the game to make it 17-10.
Dalton succumbed to the Bolts pass rush on the next series. He came under fire on first and second down, and on third down, Shareece Wright stepped in front of his throw and took it 20 yards the other way.
The Bolts are in range for more points, too. They’ll start the fourth quarter one yard away from making this game a two-score contest.
Stay tuned to Chargers.com. Read
The Bengals added 10 more points to their impressive second-quarter record. But backed into their red zone again, the Bolts defense forced a clutch turnover to keep the game close.
Cincinnati owns a 72-0 advantage over its opponents in the second quarter -- a rate that increased when Andy Dalton found Jermaine Gresham early in the period and Mike Nugent field goal late. They could’ve added to that total, but Donald Butler pried the ball away from Giovani Bernard for a big defensive stop.
After 30 minutes of play, the Bolts trail the Bengals 10-7.
The quarter started off with a pair of off-target passes on third down. First, Dalton threw wide for Bernard and the Bengals punted. They got the ball right back when Phillip Rivers threw high and incomplete for Keenan Allen, causing a Mike Scifres punt.
Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis helped the Bengals string together a scoring drive on the ensuing possession. The running back tandem accounted for 52 yards on a 60-yard scoring march that was capped by a tough touchdown throw from Dalton to Gresham with pass rushers bearing down.
Rivers tried to pick up a first down with his legs when the Bolts got the ball back. His headfirst dive was just inches short, though, and the Bolts punted again.
The Bengals were back in scoring position again when Dalton hit Jones on a high arching pass that spanned nearly 50 yards. But after the two minute warning, Dalton checked down to Bernard -- who fumbled on a huge play by Butler.
The Bolts ran three times to burn the Bengals’ three timeout and Scrifres boomed a 51-yard punt that backed them deep. But Dalton rallied his team and got in Nugent’s range with a pass to Gresham, and after review confirmed the catch, Nugent boomed a 46-yarder that gave his team the lead as time expired.
The Bengals will receive the second half kickoff. Stay tuned to Chargers.com.
The Bolts seized an early lead by seizing control of the line of scrimmage.
Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, and Ronnie Brown all carried the ball on a 12-play drive that spanned just under seven minutes. Philip Rivers showed some escapability to pick up a clutch third down on the drive, and Woodhead capped it off with a five-yard run to put the Bolts up a touchdown over the Bengals.
The Bengals defense won in the trenches on the Bolts' first possession, though. Rivers connected with Woodhead to pick up an early first down, but three plays later, Chris Crocker blitzed off the edge and ended up with an easy sack.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis picked up two first downs on the ground when the Bengals took over. Then, around midfield, Kendall Reyes tipped a first-down bubble screen to A.J. Green. Donald Butler followed that up with a stellar second down play to drag Giovani Bernard down for a loss of three. On third down, Jahleel Addae tackled Marvin Jones short of the sticks and forced a punt.
It was back to the ground after that. Mathews ripped off runs of eight and six yards to open the march, and Brown and Woodhead contributed 11-yard scampers after that.
With 2:19 left in the quarter, the Bengals pass rush nearly got to Rivers. Somehow, the Pro Bowl passer broke free to the weak side and lofted a pass over a defender for a big first down to Woodhead.
Two plays later, Woodhead broke free for the game's first score. The Bengals have the ball to start the second quarter. Stay tuned to Chargers.com. Read
Welcome back to playoff football!
The San Diego Chargers are back in the dance for the first time since 2009 as they'll square off against the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals with a spot in the Divisional Round up for grabs. Kickoff is slated for 10:05AM PST at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bolts enter a cold city as the AFC's hottest team. They won their last four games -- including last weekend's wild overtime thriller against the Chiefs -- to earn their playoff spot. Along the way, Philip Rivers cemented one of the best quarterbacking seasons in club history -- only Dan Fouts tops Rivers in passing yards and touchdown passes now. The Pro Bowl passer has more dangerous receiving options than ever before at his disposal. Rookie Keenan Allen has emerged into one of the league's best wide outs and evolved into the perfect downfield compliment to security blankets like Danny Woodhead and Antonio Gates. When Rivers isn't throwing the ball downfield, Ryan Mathews is carrying defenders with him on scoring drives. Mathews helped power the Bolts' playoff push with a late season surge that rewrote team rushing records. He'll look to continue his standout season behind an offensive line that has gelled all season despite adversity and injuries.
The Bengals are no stranger to the playoffs under Marvin Lewis. They've reached the playoffs five times under their long-tenured head coach, including three straight second-season appearances since 2011. That span coincides with the arrival of Andy Dalton at quarterback. The TCU product has evolved since his rookie season tossing 33 scoring touchdowns in 2013. Eleven of those scores went to premier wideout A.J. Green-- including a 21-yard score against the Bolts in Week 13.
That score was the deciding one in a Bengals win, but the Bolts haven't lost since. To keep that streak alive and advance, Eric Weddle and the defense will have to limit Dalton, Green and Co. and win in Cincinnati -- a feat no NFL team could accomplish in the regular season.
Stay tuned to Chargers.com for all the latest news and analysis from Bolts-Bengals. ReadRead