1. Turnovers proved costly
L.A. got off to a fast start with a nice opening drive, but turnovers helped dig a big hole for the Bengals to climb out of.
Uchenna Nwosu recovered a fumble on his strip sack of Joe Burrow on the Bengals’ first possession to put the Chargers at the Cincinnati 29-yard line and set up a field goal for a 9-0 lead.
Then, Ja’Marr Chase dropped a deep ball with a clear path to the end zone ahead of him, and Chargers cornerback Michael Davis came up with it to set up a 73-yard scoring drive to put L.A. up 16-0 with 1:34 left in the first quarter. L.A. added to the lead on its next drive before the Bengals got going.
With the Bengals driving toward their first lead of the game in the third quarter, Mixon dropped the ball and cornerback Tevaughn Campbell recovered and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown. L.A. added to the lead the next drive and thwarted another Cincinnati comeback when Chris Harris picked off a pass Burrow tried to force into C.J. Uzomah in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter.
“It was everything, and when it’s everything, it’s 100 percent me,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said of the reasons for the sloppiness. “… When you turn the ball over four times, you’re probably not going to win the football game. It’s as simple as that.”
2. Resilient effort
The game seemed to be spiraling out of control when L.A. took the 24-0 lead, but the Bengals bounced back from the slow start and a big touchdown pass from Burrow to Tee Higgins sparked the momentum swing for a 22-0 run.
After Burrow connected with Higgins on a 29-yard pass to get Cincinnati on the board in the second quarter, Burrow ran in the next one from six yards out to make it a 24-13 deficit going into halftime.
The Bengals got the ball to start the second half and kept chipping away at the deficit with an Evan McPherson field goal, followed by a Mixon 7-yard touchdown run the next drive to make it a two-point game.
“Regardless of the outcome, I’m just happy that them boys played for four quarters,” Mixon said. “Defense gave us a chance. Didn’t nobody quit, and that’s the best thing that I can really take from this game. We just gotta clean up the little things and let everything else handle itself. Gotta keep on executing.”
3. Mixon’s down day
Mixon has been one of the best at ball security, so his fumble was uncharacteristic for him. He had 327 carries without a fumble before that.
The Bengals’ fifth-year running back didn’t know if he lost it trying to turn or if someone knocked it out, but was disappointed especially in the timing of the play. Cincinnati was trailing 24-22 at the time and the game slipped away from there.
“It was a turnover that kind of shifted the momentum and I take full responsibility for that because no matter what the play was, I’ve got to be better on that,” Mixon said. “I’ve gotta be better on ball security.”
On a day many expected Mixon to have a big game, he finished with just 54 yards against the league’s worst run defense.
4. Burrow fights through pain
Burrow could be seen on the sideline getting his finger taped late in the second quarter after his touchdown run, but he said after the game he actually dislocated his right pinky on the strip sack the first series.
Despite that, he was still diving for yards and trying to help the Bengals claw their way back. He said adrenaline took over and he never considered sitting. Burrow said he will play next week.
“It was something I had to play through,” Burrow said. “That’s what football is, you have to play through injuries sometimes. … I didn’t notice what happened at the beginning. My adrenaline was pumping too much. As it went along, it got progressively worse. I was able to play through it.”
Burrow, who was missing two starters from his offensive line, was sacked six times. Right tackle Riley Reiff and center Trey Hopkins were both out with ankle injuries and were replaced by Isaiah Prince and rookie Trey Hill, respectively.
5. Defensive adjustments
The Bengals’ defense had a lot to do with the team’s 22-0 run, as they recorded three takeaways – two that resulted in touchdowns.
Germaine Pratt stripped the ball from Austin Ekeler, and the ball popped into Jessie Bates’ hands with clear space ahead of him before Herbert tackled him at the 19-yard line. That set up Burrow’s touchdown run, and as the Chargers were moving the ball toward the redzone, Chidobe Awuzie intercepted Herbert’s deep ball intended for Joshua Palmer with 1:10 left. It wasn’t enough time for the Bengals to put together another scoring drive but it did prevent L.A. from scoring.
In the third quarter, Mike Hilton forced Ekeler to fumble again and Pratt recovered to set up Mixon’s touchdown drive.
“We had great halftime adjustments and I felt like we were doing the right things towards the end of the second quarter as well,” said Trey Hendrickson, who recorded a sack for the eighth straight game. “We just have to stop taking those shots that are hurting us and moving forward I feel confident our defense is going to respond properly after we dissect film.”
Hendrickson said the Bengals made some adjustments to set the edges better up front and got better pressure on the quarterback in the middle of the game.
The Bengals also had to fight through injuries on defense. Linebackers Markus Bailey and Logan Wilson left with shoulder injuries in the second quarter, and Awuzie hurt his foot at the end of his interception return, which was called back as down by contact before the return.
Taylor didn’t have any injury updates after the game
49ers at Bengals, 4:25 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7