CINCINNATI—It was not the prettiest of affairs, but in the end, the Cincinnati Bengals took care of business on Sunday, topping the San Diego Chargers by a 24-19 score.
The victory marked the Bengals’ fourth consecutive regular season victory over the Chargers and their fourth straight home-opening win.
Andy Dalton was magnificent for the second straight week. The Red Rifle topped his week one performance against Oakland (269 yards, two touchdowns) with 214 passing yards and three touchdown tosses—marking his 15th three-touchdown performance of his career.
The Bengals were granted an early gift by the Chargers in the first quarter that led to the first points of the game. After a three-and-out to start the contest, Keenan Allen muffed a punt and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur scooped the fumbled pigskin to put Cincinnati in the red zone.
Two plays later, Dalton found AJ Green, who made up for his dropped touchdown pass in week one, from 16 yards out to put Cincinnati up 7-0.
The Bengals would not surrender that lead for the entire game.
After a pair of Josh Lambo field goals put the Chargers within one point, Dalton dropped another dime—this time from 45 yards out to Marvin Jones to give Cincinnati a 14-6 lead that they would take into halftime.
In week one, it was running back Jeremy Hill that led the way on the ground with a pair of touchdowns. On Sunday, Hill recorded another pair, but unfortunately for the LSU product, it was a pair of fumbles that led to him spending most of the game on the sidelines.
Hill was stripped by linebacker Donald Butler in the first half, and lost another ball in the third quarter when he bobbled and eventually lost a toss attempt.
Fortunately for the Bengals, their defensive unit was relentless and was able to hold the San Diego offense after each of Hill’s fumbles.
The defense also delivered a much needed pass rush, which got after quarterback Phillip Rivers all game long. Cincinnati recorded four sacks of Rivers, netting negative 18 yards and a lost fumble in the second quarter.
Last week, Rivers tossed for 404 yards in a win over the Detroit Lions. In the Queen City on Sunday, Rivers tossed for just 241 yards, but couldn’t be held in check the entire game.
Rivers led two touchdown drives in the second half, one for 78 yards and the other for 80. Rivers found first-year Charger Stevie Johnson from 10 yards out in the third quarter to cut Cincinnati’s lead to one.
The touchdown was the 255th in Rivers’ career, passing Dan Fouts for the most in Chargers’ history.
Rivers went on to cap off the aforementioned 80-yard drive with a 40-yard strike to Malcolm Floyd that cut the San Diego deficit to 24-19.
Tyler Eifert may have failed to duplicate his 9-104-2 line in week one, but still was able to find the end zone for the second straight game.
After forcing a Charger punt deep in their own territory, Cincinnati started their next drive at the San Diego 38-yard-line.
After first-and-goal at the three turned into third-and-goal from the eight, Dalton went back to his third-year tight end and found him in the back of the end zone to put Cincinnati up by eleven.
Giovani Bernard seemed to take a backseat to Hill in the second half of last season and to start this year, but that did not stop Bernard from putting the team on his back after Hill lost two fumbles.
Gio ended the day with 20 carries for 123 yards, enough for an impressive 6.2 yards-per-carry. Bernard’s 20 carries was his highest total since week two of last season, 27 carries for 90 yards in a win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Bernard had rushes of 26 and 11 yards on Cincinnati’s final scoring drive.
After Malcolm Floyd’s touchdown brought San Diego one touchdown away from a victory, Cincinnati took over with just over four minutes remaining in the game.
Looking to put the game away, Cincinnati went back to Bernard for five consecutive carries—netting 16 yards and one first down and forcing San Diego to use their final timeout. When Cincinnati did punt the ball away, it left the Chargers with less than two minutes to drive for a game-winning score.
After a Danny Woodhead 11-yard reception, Rivers was intercepted on a pass over-the-middle by linebacker Vinny Rey which sealed a Bengals’ victory and a 2-0 start.
SD: Phillip Rivers- 21/27 241 yards 2 TD, INT
CIN: Andy Dalton- 16/26 214 yards 3 TD
SD: Melvin Gordon- 16 car 88 yards, rec 10 yards
SD: Danny Woodhead- 7 car 36 yards, 6 rec 68 yards
CIN: Jeremy Hill- 10 car 39 yards, two FUM lost, rec 2 yards
CIN: Giovani Bernard- 20 car 123 yards, 3 rec 16 yards
SD: Stevie Johnson- 5 rec 45 yards, TD
CIN: Tyler Eifert- 4 rec 49 yards TD
CIN: AJ Green- 3 rec 45 yards TD
Sunday’s victory was full of yellow laundry on the field. Cincinnati was penalized nine times for 75 yards, while San Diego was flagged eight times for 64 yards.
Dalton is balling
For the second consecutive week, Andy Dalton was very impressive quarterbacking the Bengals’ offense. Although it is just 1/8th of the entire regular season, Dalton has turned some heads by playing turnover free football.
In eight quarters of football thus far, Dalton is 41 of 60 for 483 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions.
These numbers are somewhat similar to this time last season. After two games in 2014, Dalton was 40-61 for 513 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Dalton was able to spread the wealth on Sunday to his multiple offensive threats. Three Bengals had 40 or more receiving yards (Eifert 49, Jones 48, Green 45), while no receiver had more than five total targets in the win.
In week one, Chargers’ wide out Keenan Allen led the entire NFL with 15 receptions and 166 yards. On Sunday, the Bengals’ secondary kept the third-year receiver in check.
Allen was targeted just four times (compared to 17 times in week one), snagging just two passes for 16 yards and losing a fumble on a first-quarter punt.
Deadly running backs all around
Not much offense success for the Chargers on Sunday. It marked the fourth time in their last six contests (dating back to last season) they were held under 20 points—with losses in all four of those games.
If there is a bright spot for San Diego, it was their committee running back system, starting with their first-round pick.
Melvin Gordon ran well against the Bengals’ defense, finishing the game with 16 carries for 88 yards. Fellow backfield mate Danny Woodhead was used more in the second half and was a threat in the Chargers’ passing attack.
Woodhead finished with 36 yards on the ground, but also racked up 68 yards through the air on six receptions.
San Diego’s running back combined for 202 total yards in a losing effort.
For the second straight game, the Bengals’ offensive line did not allow a sack. Dalton was kept clean in the pocket, besides a few times he was forced to throw the ball away.
It seems Cincinnati has once again recovered the idea that if they limit turnovers and sacks, they win football games.
Speaking of the offensive line, rookie tackle Jake Fisher got some recognition with a 31-yard reception on a tackle eligible play. Fisher became the first Bengals’ offensive lineman to catch a pass since fellow-tackle Andrew Whitworth caught a one-yard touchdown in December of 2010 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Around the division
Last week, the Bengals were granted a perfect week—with each of their three division rivals all losing in their respective season openers.
Cleveland took care of business at home against the Titans, 28-14, earning Johnny Manziel his first career win. And the Pittsburgh Steelers dominated a hyped San Francisco 49ers team, 43-18. Cincinnati’s week one opponent, the Oakland Raiders, helped out the rest of the AFC North by beating the Baltimore Ravens in Oakland, 37-33.
Speaking of the Ravens, they fell to 0-2 for the first time in head coach John Harbaugh’s tenure with the team and will welcome in the Bengals for a week three contest in Baltimore.
The Bengals have won their last three games against the Ravens, with both victories last year coming down to the game’s final minutes.