Turnovers doom Bengals in home loss to Chargers

CINCINNATI -- Turnovers put the Cincinnati Bengals in a deep hole to begin the game and cost them a chance to complete a comeback.

After the Bengals climbed back from a 24-0 deficit to make it a two-point game, Joe Mixon’s uncharacteristic fumble -- one of four Cincinnati turnovers – swung the momentum back in the favor of the L.os Angeles Chargers.

Chargers cornerback Tevaughn Campbell recovered and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown, and the Bengals soon found themselves in another two-score hole. L.A. cornerback Chris Harris thwarted Cincinnati’s chance to cut the deficit in half when he picked off Joe Burrow’s pass intended for C.J. Uzomah in the end zone, and the visitors ran away with a 41-22 win Sunday in front of 51,414 fans at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Bengals (7-5) scored on four straight complete drives between the second and third quarters with the help of three takeaways by the defense, but Mixon dropped the ball before they could take their first lead, and the Chargers (7-5) scored on back-to-back drives to put the game away early in the fourth quarter. They added a late field goal for the final points.

It just wasn’t Cincinnati’s day. While the Chargers managed to overcome their miscues, the Bengals could not, as they finished with four turnovers. They were trying for their first three-game win streak of the season.

L.A. got off to a fast start with the help of a 48-yard kickoff return and 41-yard catch by Mike Williams to set up Keenan Allen’s first touchdown, a four-yard catch on fourth down after which Dustin Hopkins’ point-after attempt went wide right. Burrow was sacked on the Bengals’ fifth play from scrimmage while looking at an open Ja’Marr Chase down the field, and Uchenna Nwosu stripped the ball loose and recovered at the Cincinnati 29-yard line. The Chargers settled for a 43-yard field goal from Hopkins to make it a 9-0 lead, but they would make more of the next turnover.

The Bengals should have scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Ja’Marr Chase had open field ahead of him after Burrow threw a pass to him in stride on a deep ball down the right sideline, but the ball popped up as Chase tried to make the catch and Chargers cornerback Michael Davis came up with it for his team’s second takeaway of the day.

After Davis’ interception, the Chargers drove 73 yards on four plays to reach the end zone for the second time on a Justin Herbert pass to Allen to take a 16-0 lead with 1:34 left in the first quarter.

To make matters worse, the Bengals lost two linebackers to injury in the second quarter. As linebacker Markus Bailey was being announced in the press box as questionable to return because of a left shoulder injury, the cart was coming onto the field to take Logan Wilson off the field with a right shoulder injury. Neither returned to the game, and Cincinnati already has been shorthanded at that position with Jordan Evans and Akeem Davis-Gaither both on injured reserve.

The Bengals also were playing without right tackle Riley Reiff and center Trey Hopkins because of ankle injuries, and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie left the game in the third quarter after injuring his foot on an interception return.

The Chargers added to their lead after the Bengals’ second punt of the day. Herbert connected with Jalen Guyton on a 41-yard touchdown with Jessie Bates fighting for the ball while being flagged for pass interference. Guyton ripped it away from him anyway, and the Chargers made up for the missed PAT earlier on a trick play pass from Allen to Herbert for the two-point conversion and 24-0 lead with 10:20 left in the second quarter.

Cincinnati began its comeback bid when Higgins caught a 41-yard touchdown pass from Burrow with 7:39 remaining on the clock, and the defense stepped up to get the ball back in Burrow’s hands in the red zone. Germaine Pratt stripped the ball from Austin Ekeler, and the ball popped into Bates’ hands with clear space ahead of him before Herbert tackled him at the 19-yard line.

Burrow capped the short drive with a 6-yard touchdown run, injuring his pinky in the process but stayed in the game. The defense came through again, as the Chargers were trying to move the ball toward the red zone. Herbert’s deep ball intended for Joshua Palmer was picked off by Awuzie at the Cincinnati 12-yard line.

The Bengals got to their 46-yard line with 12 seconds left and couldn’t stop the clock to get one last shot at the end zone before the end of the half, but they picked up where they left off, getting a field goal from McPherson and a touchdown from Mixon after Mike Hilton forced Akeler to fumble and Pratt recovered.

Los Angeles punted the next drive but got the ball back on Mixon’s fumble and that was the difference.

Burrow finished with 300 yards, one passing touchdown and two interceptions to go along with his rushing touchdown. Higgins had 138 yards and one touchdown on nine catches for his second straight 100-yard game. Herbert passed for 317 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.

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