As Mike McCoy would say, “It is us against the world”. As Philip Rivers so aptly put it, this game was simply “Round five” as the team has been in playoff mode since Week 14. These San Diego Chargers were able to ride into Cincinnati and blow out the Bengals in the Jungle en route to a berth in the divisional round next Sunday in Denver, 27-10. I’ve gotta tell you, this team is scary. They are beginning to fill the slot of “that team you don’t want to play” and are looking like they could be those guys who can get hot and win it all at the end of the year, much like the Packers, Giants, and Ravens have before them. This was a statement win on the road for the Bolts, and one that they will keep in mind when they head to Denver for the second time this season.
Andy Dalton did not play at an all-pro level in this game. We have seen him perform well during stretches this season, and I kind of figured he was going to do so in this game. However, he was baited into a couple of bad throws and outside of a stellar second quarter, Dalton played very poorly. The Bengals had their chances to make this a game. It was only 20-10 in the fourth quarter when the “red rifle” threw an interception (with 10:33 left). The team also failed to cash in on a drive later in the game when they failed on a fourth and three at the San Diego 41 yard line (with 4:50 left), and again on a fourth and 13 at the San Diego 40 (with 3:13 left). After passing up on two golden opportunities to cut the score to a one possession deficit, the Chargers stuck a dagger in them when Ronnie Brown ripped off a 52-yard touchdown and put the Bolts up by three scores. The bottom line is that Cincy had their chances to make this game close again and they failed to do so on three different occasions.
San Diego’s game plan (as it has been lately) was to run the ball and control the clock. They were able to do so in the first and third quarter as the team began to create some separation on the score board. I thought that Ken Whisenhunt and Mike McCoy devised an excellent game plan, allowing all three backs (Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, and Ronnie Brown) to get involved in the game. While the Chargers ran the ball well, Philip Rivers quietly picked the soft secondary of the Bengals apart; completing 12 of his 16 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. He was very accurate all day long and made a lot of smart decisions on the afternoon. The Bolts elected to keep the ball on the ground for a majority of the game, but when Rivers was asked to air it out, he made some nice, accurate throws and was able to keep the chains moving. San Diego came into Cincinnati with a game plan in mind and they executed it, hence their 17-point victory.
After another sub-par post-season performance from Andy Dalton, the topic of conversation in Cincy will likely be focusing on how he is not a clutch performer. However, before we all jump on the third year quarterback, I would like to point out the fact that his go-to receiver did not offer him much help in any of the team’s three post-season games over the last three years. He has failed to make more than five catches and 80 yards in any of those games and has totaled just 13 grabs for 161 yards and no touchdowns in his three playoff appearances. So while people may be quick to criticize #14, I think that the finger of blame can be pointed elsewhere as well. Dalton is not a good enough quarterback to carry the team all on his own. He is going to need help from his key players and a strong running game to make hay in this league.
With this win, the Chargers proved to be a playoff worthy team. Their 9-7 regular season record may deceive you, but I think that this is a good team. Remember, they lost a couple of heart-breakers in the regular season and were a few plays away from being an 11 or 12 win team. These guys have beaten Denver on the road this year and I have reason to believe that they can do it again if they run the ball well and avoid the costly turnovers. We know who the Chargers are; they are an efficient offense that is capable of sucking the life out of your defense by sustaining drives and controlling the tempo. I’d be quaking in my boots if I were a Bronco fan.