The Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers will continue what is becoming a cross-country rivalry today when the two teams square off for the fourth time in five years.
The four games are the most the Bengals have played against any non-divisional opponent during that time span, and through another quirk in the schedule, all four games have been played in December.
“And they’ve all been really good games,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers recalled. “The one in 2010 at (Cincinnati) kind of got away from us, but all of the other ones were tight. I know they’re all important, but those were games that had a lot of significance as far as the home stretch.”
And that will be the case again today as Cincinnati (7-4) tries to maintain a two-game lead on defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore while San Diego (5-6) is fighting to stay in a crowded mix for the final wild card spot.
The Bengals still have a chance to work their way into the No. 2 playoff seed that comes with a first-round bye. That also was the case in 2009 when Cincinnati went to San Diego for a key Week 15 game but dropped 27-24 decision to a 10-3 Chargers team that went on to secure the No. 2 seed.
“I remember everything about that game,” Bengals safety Chris Crocker said. “At the end of the game they caught a deep out route. It was second and long and kind of sealed the game. They had some guys dinged up and actually came out and fought to the last drop.”
The Bengals also were battling their emotions that afternoon as it was their first game following the death of wide receiver Chris Henry.
In 2010 only the Chargers had something to play for in a Week 16 game at Paul Brown Stadium the day after Christmas. San Diego was 9-6 while Cincinnati was 3-11. But the Bengals pulled a 34-20 upset and knocked the Chargers out of the playoff race.
Last year a 4-7 San Diego team nearly returned the favor at Qualcomm in Week 13. The Chargers led for most of the game before Cincinnati rallied for a 20-13 victory that kick-started a 4-1 December, sending the Bengals into the playoffs.
Last year’s matchup was created by the fact that entire AFC North played the entire AFC West. Today’s meeting is the result of the Bengals and Chargers each finishing third in their division last year. The only way they will meet in 2014 is if both finish in the same spot in their divisions this year, which seems unlikely with the Bengals in first and the Chargers four games back of Kansas City and Denver with five to go.
Cincinnati has lost four of its last five games in San Diego before prevailing last year. The West Coast in general has been tough on the Bengals through the years, but they catch a bit of a break this year by playing a Chargers team they are familiar with, and doing so following a bye week.
“The good thing this time is we are coming off the time off,” Lewis said. “We have been able to point to this throughout. It’s a real big test for us. We’ve got to go play physical football and get after it.”
Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) at San Diego Chargers (5-6), 4:25 p.m., Ch. 7, 12, 700-AM, 1530-AM, 102.7-FM, 104.7-FM