Maybe the Chargers weren’t supposed to be here.
But unlike the Bengals, they played like they wanted to be.
Playing conservatively but smartly and taking advantage of Cincinnati mistakes, the Chargers advanced with an 27-10 win over the Bengals. They’ll play the Broncos again next week, after splitting the regular season series with the top seed.
The Chargers continued to play the kind of clean, workmanlike football they played as they closed the regular season with four straight wins. And even if they snuck into someone else’s playoff spot, they checked off all the boxes they needed to keep playing.
But mostly, the Chargers let the Bengals do what they do in the postseason. Cincinnati gave the ball away four times, spoiling yet another solid regular season with sloppy play.
The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since Jan. 6, 1991, leaving another offseason for folks to wonder whether coach Marvin Lewis (0-5 in the postseason) and quarterback Andy Dalton (0-3) will be able to get over the hump.
Dalton continued a trend of bad performances in the postseason, with a pair of ugly second-half interceptions to go with a fumble.
He has one touchdown and six interceptions in three postseason starts, but it wasn’t just him. Giovani Bernard fumbled early, A.J. Green had a big drop late in the game, and the Bengals couldn’t sufficiently pressure a team that has had makeshift lines all year, and lost center Nick Hardwick in the first half.