The San Diego Chargers went on the road and delivered a 27-10 thumping of the Cincinnati Bengals, obliterating stereotypes about SoCal teams in cold weather and West Coast teams on early afternoon East Coast kicks. Here’s our nine key points to reflect on about the San Diego-Cincinnati game, the Notebook Nine…
- *San Diego’s first-year head coach Mike McCoy coached a fantastic game. They played it close to the vest, let the pressure build on Cincinnati and then took over. I didn’t understand the criticisms McCoy got from the CBS halftime crew—Bill Cowher, Dan Marino, Shannon Sharpe and Boomer Esiason for only having quarterback Philip Rivers throw six passes. Clearly it wasn’t going to stay that way, but McCoy got his team settled.
- *McCoy’s well-crafted plan might not have worked if Cincinnati running back Giovani Bernard doesn’t fumble inside the San Diego 10 with the score tied 7-7 in the first half. The Bengals ended up with a 10-7 lead anyway, but at 17-7, who knows how much differently the second half might have played out. Bernard wasn’t the only Bengal skill position player to have a rough day—A.J. Green caught only three passes and had a big drop on a deep pass in the second half when a comeback was still doable.
- *Andy Dalton is catching a lot of heat already, even in the first hours of the game’s aftermath. Marino went so far as to say Cincinnati needs a quality veteran backup to put some pressure on Dalton. I can’t defend the quarterback. He was an interception machine all year, threw two more today and fumbled away another one. The final two turnovers came when his team was driving and only down 20-10. Dalton, who threw 51 passes, stood in sharp contrast to Rivers and his mistake-free 12/16 day.
- *The Charger defense was able to get consistent pressure, something that hasn’t been said this year. The Bolts got three sacks and six more QB hits, something that happens when an offense is as one-dimensional as Cincy’s was.
- *Cincinnati’s defensive front was simply pushed around the San Diego offensive line. The Chargers used a balanced running game, spreading it around from Ryan Mathews to Ronnie Brown to Danny Woodhead, and ran for 196 yards. Does a healthy Geno Atkins make a difference? The injured Bengal defensive tackle surely would have made some, although suggesting he swings a 17-point margin of victory is surely pushing it.
- *CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz noted that this is the first time since 2010 that both of the #6 seeds have won their first round game, with San Diego joining New Orleans. What Nantz might have added is that when the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets did it in ’10, they each followed it up with a win in the second round, and the Packers won the Super Bowl.
- *Is Marvin Lewis finished in Cincinnati? The Bengal head coach has been there for 11 years and never advanced out of the first round. This is his third playoff loss at home. Lewis stabilized an organization that was once an abject joke, and for that he deserves the gratitude of Cincinnati fans. But how far does gratitude extend?
- *This loss is part of a rough stretch in general for the sports fans in Cincinnati. The Reds faded at the end in baseball and lost the wild-card game. Ohio State football blew the national title and Big Ten, then lost the Orange Bowl. Even the University of Cincinnati program got in the act, losing an overtime heartbreaker to Louisville and then dropping a bowl game. There’s success being enjoyed, but the local teams are losing steam at the end.
- *Let’s conclude where we began and sing McCoy’s praises. His coaching job goes well beyond today and even making the playoffs in his first year. He inherited a team that had a well-deserved reputation for a lack of discipline and underachievement, and a quarterback who looked like his arm might be shot. In one year McCoy transformed their entire personality and restored Rivers’ confidence. San Diego fans once watched “MartyBall” do this under Marty Schottenheimer. Dare we now say that MacBall has arrived in SoCal?