SAN DIEGO — The Cincinnati Bengals came out to sunny San Diego and punched the Chargers in the nose.
They did it on offense, dominating the line of scrimmage while rushing for 164 yards.
They did it on defense, forcing three turnovers while holding Philip Rivers to 252 yards passing and the Chargers to a season-low in points.
"Down and dirty," surmised cornerback Adam Jones after the Bengals beat the Chargers 17-10 Sunday.
More importantly, the Bengals (8-4) kept their two-game lead in the AFC North over Baltimore.
"That's the main thing. We're not playing just to make the playoffs," Jones said. "We're playing for the bye. We played hard and physical on defense. If we keep playing hard and smart and we're going to be a real, real good team."
San Diego (5-7) lost the momentum it gained with a thrilling 41-38 comeback win at Kansas City a week earlier. The Chargers' slim playoff hopes dwindled after their fourth loss in five games.
"You score 10 points, you are going to lose most of the time," said Rivers, who completed 23 of 37 passes for 252 yards. "That's a good defense. We just weren't consistent enough."
Rookie coach Mike McCoy wasn't happy with all the mistakes the Chargers made. Plus, he said the defense "fell apart."
Here are five takeaways from the game:
ANDY'S DANDY: Dalton joined Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to start their careers with three straight 3,000-yard seasons. Dalton was 14 of 23 for 190 yards, giving him 3,144 for the season. "It's an honor to be mentioned with a guy like Peyton," Dalton said. "Peyton is one of the best in the league and has been one of the best in the league for a long time. To do something only he has done is big. I take pride in that."
GOING GREEN: With the score tied at 7, the Bengals got the ball after Dre Kirkpatrick ripped it away from tight end Antonio Gates after a reception at the Cincinnati 25, the Chargers' third turnover. Ten plays later, Green split the defense for an easy touchdown, with safety Eric Weddle and cornerback Marcus Gilchrist only able to watch. "It was just a seam right up the middle, man," said Green, who wasn't slowed by a hip pointer sustained during the Bengals' first drive. "I guess the two linebackers and the safety went with Jermaine (Gresham) and I just came wide open."
BRUISING BENGALS: Cincinnati's offensive line manhandled the Chargers on the Bengals' second drive, which ended with BenJarvus Green-Ellis scoring on a 4-yard run. The Bengals also dominated on their final drive, which ended with Dalton twice taking a knee. Green-Ellis gained 92 yards on 20 carries. Giovani Bernard had 57 yards on 14 carries. The Bengals lost left guard Clint Boling to what coach Marvin Lewis called a significant knee injury, but adjusted with a reshuffled line. Tackle Andrew Whitworth played some guard. "Whit was obviously having fun pulling," center Kyle Cook said. "He hasn't had the opportunity to be a guard, where you can be a lot more physical attacker than you can be at tackle. Everyone was doing a great job out there."
FIELD POSITION: "We crossed the 50 I don't know how many times but we didn't finish drives," Rivers said. "It is just not the turnovers; those we know. But there are other drives where we just didn't finish and ended up punting there right around midfield and that is critical. There was a pretty good reason why. Said Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict: "Just when they'd get to the 40-yard line, we had to stop them. That's what we're good at. They cross the 50 and everybody stepped up to make plays."
BOLTS' BLUNDERS: Maybe it was a good thing the game blacked out in Southern California — a first in the NFL this season. That saved the fans who weren't at Qualcomm Stadium from having to watch the Chargers commit critical penalties and get run over by the Bengals in the second half. "We've got to work on our consistency," said rookie linebacker Manti Te'o, who had five tackles. "Our good plays are great and our bad plays are real bad. We wore ourselves down. We had opportunities to make plays and they executed. We are going to fix those things."