CINCINNATI (AP) — Philip Rivers’ gloved hands found the right touch in the January cold.
The Bengals? Still can’t do anything right when it’s playoff time.
San Diego took advantage of Andy Dalton’s three turnovers in the second half on Sunday, pulling away to a 27-10 victory that extended the Bengals’ stretch of playoff misery to 23 years and counting.
With Rivers making accurate throws in the chilling rain, the Chargers (10-7) won their fifth in a row, beating the last team that had knocked them off. They’ll play next Sunday in Denver, which has the AFC’s top seed.
It was a shocking finish for the Bengals (11-6), who won the AFC North, went unbeaten at home and had their top-ranked defense for the playoffs. With everything in their favor, they fell apart, getting outscored 20-0 in the second half.
“We asked a lot of our defense today and they came up with three big turnovers,” said Rivers, who was 12 of 16 for 128 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. “We didn’t turn it over, which is always big in the playoffs.”
The Bengals now have the sixth-longest streak of playoff futility in NFL history, stretching all the way back to the 1990 season. They’ve lost their playoff opener three straight years, matching a league record as well, according to STATS LLC.
Coach Marvin Lewis fell to 0-5 in the playoffs during his 11 seasons as head coach, but is expected to stick around and get another chance to try again.
A lot of it fell on Dalton, who has a trilogy of bad playoff games. He fumbled and threw two interceptions in the second half that set up San Diego’s win. Dalton finished 29 of 51 for 334 yards with a below-average passer rating of 67.
Combined with the Saints’ victory over the Eagles on Saturday night, the two No. 6 playoff seeds won for the first time since 2010, when the Packers won the Super Bowl.
And the Chargers are thinking: Why not us?
“We talked all week about this being the fifth round,” Rivers said, referring to their five-game winning streak. “So the sixth round will be in Denver next week.”
This one was a reversal from the last time they met. The Bengals forced three turnovers for a 17-10 win in San Diego on Dec. 1, which became the Chargers’ turning point.
The Bengals got the rematch at home, where they had scored 49, 41, 41, 42 and 34 points in their last five regular season games. They were blanked in the second half on Sunday, when Dalton went 17 of 34 for 170 yards with two interceptions, a fumble and three sacks.
In first-round playoff losses each of the past three seasons, Dalton has thrown one touchdown pass and six interceptions.
Rivers completed a team-record and NFL-best 69.5 percent of his passes this season for 4,478 yards. He was only 5 of 6 in the first half for 48 yards with San Diego frequently backed inside its 20-yard line to start drives.
He completed all of his six passes during a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter that put the Chargers ahead to stay, with his 4-yard pass to Ladarius Green giving San Diego a 14-10 lead.
Dalton then made the mistakes that turned the game, allowing the Chargers to pull ahead. Ronnie Brown finished it off with a 58-yard touchdown run, the longest TD run against the Bengals in their playoff history.
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