CULVER, Calif. - The Bengals were in the game until the end, but an overturned TD and two failed two-point conversions doomed them to their fifth straight loss, 26-21 to the Chargers on Sunday.
The Bengals’ best chance to win for the first time since October ended when Jeff Driskel was sacked on a late two-point try that would have tied the game 23-23 following a Joe Mixon 1-yard TD run with 1:54 to go. The 10-3 Chargers added a last-minute field goal.
It was a game of “finally” for the 5-8 Bengals, even though they lost for thew seventh time in eight games.
A johnny-come-lately Bengals defense finally showed the fight that had been missing in four straight losses, and the Bengals coaches finally turned Mixon loose. But a cruel twist in the form of a new NFL rule, two more mindless penalties and the missed conversions thwarted their comeback.
The Bengals must be thinking a win was theirs for the taking if the defense hadn’t meekly given up touchdowns on the Chargers’ first two drives, and if fate had smiled on them in the second quarter.
Instead, a Driskel touchdown run was overturned, and a false-start penalty by Alex Redmond pushed them back them from the 1-yard line to the 6 and forced them to settle for a field goal. Then, on the last play of the half, an offsides penalty by Jordan Willis put the Chargers in range for a club-record 59-yard field goal that gave them a 17-12 halftime lead.
To many fans, the fact that the Bengals didn’t score enough points to beat Philip Rivers & Co. will be secondary to the cries of “We Got Robbed” when Driskel’s 1-yard TD scramble was nullified. Running wide right, Driskel had adeptly shrugged off defensive end Joey Bosa in the backfield, turned the corner and dove head-first toward the end zone. His knee touched the ground just before he reached the ball over the goal line, but no Chargers defender touched him.
Touchdown, right? The game officials thought so.
But apparently they didn’t know about the rule change, either. Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk explained in this tweet:
The NFL's new rule that a head-first dive is the same as a feet-first slide just cost Bengals QB Jeff Driskel a touchdown. For those who aren't aware, that rule was quietly changed this offseason: https://t.co/9PBUtZUb4H
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) December 9, 2018
Smith wrote this in Pro Football Talk:
"In 2018, the NFL is considering a player to have given himself up if he dives head first, the same way a player has given himself up when he slides feet first. That means a player can’t be hit after he goes into a head-first dive, and it also means the ball will be spotted at the point where the player began to dive, rather than at the point where the player finished moving forward."
Once LA had taken a 14-3 lead, the Bengals defense gave the favored Chargers all they could handle. The offense, missing Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, moved the ball down the field behind Mixon (111 yards on 26 carries, 27 yards on five catches) and Driskel (18 of 27 for 170 yards) but couldn’t put it in the end zone until late in the fourth quarter.
Up to then, the Bengals got the only touchdown that counted when Driskel hit John Ross for 6 yards in the first quarter. But a two-point conversion failed when cornerback Derwin James stuffed Gio Bernard after a pass in the flat.
Randy Bullock finished three drives with field goals.
The Bengals defense held the Chargers to 288 yards - and that included two 75-yard TD drives on their first two possessions.
Carlos Dunlap had one of the Bengals' two sacks and two of the team's six pass deflections.
Rivers was 19 of 29 for 220 yards and one TD.
The Bengals offense had seven more yards that the Chargers, thanks to 144 on the ground. Alex Erickson had 14 on a surprising end around to the 3-yard line before Driskel's non-touchdown run.
WCPO will update this story.