Bengals allow biggest comeback

David Kohl (Associated Press)

If you’ve been to the grocery store this week, you probably saw a picture of the Cincinnati Bengals defense on the side of a milk carton. It’s been missing since the first half of the 49-41 loss to the San Diego Chargers Nov. 12. The Cincinnati offense was red hot, and sure, it wasn’t the Freezer Bowl, but the Bengal defense was ice cold allowing the San Diego offense 42 of their 49 points in the second half.

The Bengals came out strong and played a nearly flawless first half. San Diego couldn’t get anything going in the first 15 minutes of the game. After another three and out, their fourth of the quarter, Cincinnati got the ball again with 17 seconds left in the opening quarter. The Bengals up 21-0 at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter, the Chargers took over on their own 41-yard line. Quarterback Philip Rivers threw for 40 yards and star running back LaDanian Tomlinson capped off the drive by rushing for a 9-yard touchdown. San Diego was finally on the board but still trailing the Bengals 21-7.

Cincinnati had great numbers at the half. Carson Palmer was 20 of 23 for 282 yards and two touchdowns, Chad Johnson had seven catches for 117 yards, and they were moving the ball very well, going five for six on third down conversions and scored three times in the redzone while holding one of the NFL’s best offenses to only seven first-half points. Tomlinson only had 26 yards on the ground and Philip Rivers only had 98 through the air.

But this game was a tale of two halves. As the second half began, the tide quickly started to change. It was here we got our first glance of the true Charger offense. Rivers threw for 60 yards and let Tomlinson do the dirty work as “LT” took the ball off left tackle for 4-yards and put the Chargers one score closer at 28-14. Tomlinson now had two rushing touchdowns on the day. Once again, the Chargers were closer, 28-21.

However, trading scores in this game was the rule rather than the exception. Rivers and Tomlinson continued to pick apart the Bengals defense and ran out the remaining 2:50 of the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, it was the same, 38-35.

The NFL record for points in a game is 113, set back in 1966. At the rate things were going in this game, that record wasn’t entirely out of the question. A big problem the Bengals had this season is making the little mistakes. That trend continued on the next Cincinnati drive as Palmer fumbled at his own 9-yard line. The setting was first and goal at the Cincinnati nine. From this point on, it was a cakewalk for the Chargers offense. Tomlinson rushed for a touchdown, and it gave San Diego a 42-38 lead.

The next Cincinnati score came on a 44 yard Shayne Graham field goal that put the Bengals within one point, 42-41. It was on this drive that T. J. Houshmandzadeh would see his last action of the game as was on the receiving end of a bush league hit by free safety Marlon McCree. The hit was of the helmet-to-helmet variety, so McCree can expect a fine this week. Houshmandzadeh was alert but dazed after the game and is expected to play at New Orleans this week.

San Diego sealed the game when the Bengals defense once again lost track of the tight end and allowed Rivers to connect to Antonio Gates for a 27-yard gain. There appeared to be some light at the end of the tunnel when Palmer nearly found Chris Henry in the end zone for a touchdown, however, the pass fell incomplete and with it, Cincinnati also fell 49-41.

Rivers finished the day 24 of 36 for 337 yards and three touchdowns. His counterpart Tomlinson’s numbers were astronomical as well: 104 yards rushing and four touchdowns. For Cincinnati, Palmer finished 31 of 42 for 440 yards and three touchdowns, two of which that went to Chad Johnson who set a Bengals franchise record with 11 receptions for 260 yards. It was a breakout day for Chad Johnson, and San Diego has been one of the first defenses to not fully contain him this season. Simple math will tell two halves make a whole, and the Bengals, defensively, simply didn’t play two halves. Cincinnati was outscored 42-13 in the second half as San Diego fell a touchdown shy of the NFL record for points scored in a half. Remember how the Bengals went 5 of 6 on third down in the first half? In the second half, Cincinnati was a grim 0 for 6 on third down and that’s been a major hurdle all year.

Cincinnati (4-5) has now lost five of its last six games, but still remains in second place in the American Football Conference North.

It doesn’t get any easier for the ailing Bengals defense. This week, they face the nearly unstoppable Reggie Bush as they travel to 6-3 New Orleans Nov. 19 to face a tough Saints team that currently sits atop the Northern Football Conference South. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.