Thu, 20 Jan 2022

Bengals Host Chargers In Week 13 As The AFC Playoff Chase Heats Up

Cincinnati Bengals
01 Dec 2021, 20:58 GMT+10

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Eastern.

Television: The game will air nationally on CBS-TV. In the Bengals' home region, it will be carried by WKRC-TV (Ch. 12) in Cincinnati, WHIO-TV (Ch. 7) in Dayton and on WKYT-TV (Ch. 27) in Lexington. Broadcasters are Ian Eagle (play-by-play), Charles Davis (analyst) and Evan Washburn (sideline reporter).

Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WLW-AM (700), WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530; all sports) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).

Setting the scene: The Bengals face the L.A. Chargers on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, and will be looking to stay on the winning track after last week's 41-10 win over division-rival Pittsburgh. It was the Bengals' largest margin of victory over the Steelers in 32 years (also 41-10, on Sept. 17, 1989). The lopsided result surprised observers across the league. But when Bengals QB Joe Burrow was asked after the game about the significance of this season's convincing sweep of the archrival Steelers, he barely blinked.

"We're 2-0 against them," he deadpanned. "We have higher aspirations than beating the Steelers right now."

Cincinnati's dominance of Pittsburgh began almost immediately, with scores on each of the Bengals' first four offensive drives (three TDs and a FG). The fifth offensive possession ended with an INT, but on the Steelers' first play following the turnover, former Steeler Mike Hilton reciprocated and picked off a Ben Roethlisberger pass and returned it 24 yards for a TD.

Hilton was a key offseason addition for the Bengals and quickly has become one of the more popular and respected players in the locker room. After his TD, Cincinnati's bench erupted and mobbed him as he came to the sideline. Asked after the game about the reason for the noticeably animated reaction, Bengals QB Joe Burrow answered with a smile, "I think everybody knows why."

Hilton and the Bengals' defense turned in a dominating performance that held Pittsburgh to just three points through three quarters. By the time the Steelers finally reached the end zone late in the fourth quarter, many of the Bengals' defensive starters were resting on the bench.

On the other side of the ball, HB Joe Mixon, one of the NFL's hottest players in recent weeks, rushed for a career-high 165 yards and two TDs. Mixon has scored a TD in each of his last eight games, the second-longest active streak in the NFL and tied for the third-longest in Bengals history. He also has scored multiple TDs in each of the last four games, the longest such active streak in the NFL and the longest in Bengals history.

Mixon's success on the ground in turn opened the door for Burrow and the passing game. Burrow completed a career-high 83.3 percent of his passes, including six to WR Tee Higgins, who had 114 receiving yards and a TD. Higgins caught six passes of at least 15 yards on the day, the first time that has been done by a Bengal since 2010 (Terrell Owens, seven).

"We're right where we want to be," Burrow said, eyeing a stretch of four home games in the final six weeks. "We have high aspirations this year, so we can't let up now.

"We started the season out strong, but then we kind of skidded a little bit there in the middle. Now, coming down the stretch, we're really hitting our stride. We have guys that are excited about where we're at, but not satisfied."

This week, the Bengals face the Chargers in a game with significant playoff implications. The 7-4 Bengals currently stand as the fifth seed in the AFC, while the 6-5 Chargers are in the seventh and final playoff spot by virtue of tiebreaker with the 6-5 Raiders and Broncos.

"We have a lot of confidence right now," Taylor said. "We feel we can play a lot of different ways with whatever the game plan dictates over the course of the week, and then however we have to react over the course of the game.

"We need to keep winning at home. It's fun to win on the road and go shut up some other crowds, but for us, our fans need to be rewarded. They pay good money to watch us play, and they've supported us through some really difficult times. So we need to go put a winner out there that they can cheer on and be proud of."

The series: The Chargers lead 22-15, including 11-7 as the road team. The Bengals have won four of the last six regular-season meetings, including two of the last three in Cincinnati.

Since moving the franchise from San Diego to Los Angeles in 2017, the Chargers are 2-0 against the Bengals, with one win in L.A. in '18 and one win in Cincinnati in '20. The most recent meeting was the win in Cincinnati, a 16-13 victory in the 2020 season opener.

The series includes two postseason games. Most recently, the Chargers won a 2013 season Wild Card Playoff 27-10 at Paul Brown Stadium. After the 1981 season, the Bengals beat the Chargers 27-7 in the "Freezer Bowl," the AFC Championship game played in an NFL-record minus-59 degree wind chill at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium.

The Bengals played the franchise's inaugural regular-season game in San Diego, on Friday night, Sept. 6, 1968. The Chargers won, 29-13.

Bengals-Chargers connections: Chargers head coach Brandon Staley played quarterback at the University of Dayton from 2001-04 ... Chargers DL Christian Covington was with the Bengals in 2020 ... Chargers C Corey Linsley, OLB Joey Bosa and WR K.J. Hill (practice squad) all played at Ohio State University ... Chargers T Storm Norton is from Toledo, Ohio (Whitmer High School) and played at the University of Toledo ... Bengals DT Josh Tupou is from Long Beach, Calif. (Buena Park High School) ... Bengals WR Trenton Irwin is from Valencia, Calif. (Hart High School) ... Bengals CB Jalen Davis is from La Mesa, Calif. (Helix High School) ... Bengals G Xavier Su'a-Filo (Reserve/Injured) played at UCLA ... Chargers DL Andrew Brown (practice squad) originally was a fifth-round draft pick of the Bengals in 2018, and was with Cincinnati through the '20 season ... Chargers G Ryan Hunter (practice squad) played at Bowling Green State University ... Chargers WR Jason Moore Jr. (practice squad) played at the University of Findlay ... Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan played (2002-05) and coached ('06-07) at UCLA ... Chargers tight ends coach Kevin Koger is from Toledo, Ohio and coached at Eastern Kentucky University from 2016-18 ... Chargers run game coordinator/offensive line coach Frank Smith played offensive line at Miami (Ohio) University from 1999-2003 ... Chargers run game coordinator/outside linebackers coach Jay Rodgers coached at Ohio State University in 2000 ... Chargers secondary coach Derrick Ansley coached at the University of Kentucky from 2013-15 ... Bengals strength and conditioning coach Joey Boese coached at Fresno State University from 2012-15 ... Bengals assistant strength and conditioning coach Todd Hunt played (2012-15) and coached ('16-17) at Fresno State University ... Bengals assistant strength and conditioning coach Garrett Swanson is from Riverside, Calif., and played at Fresno State University from 2012-15 ... Chargers offensive quality control coach Chandler Whitmer coached at Ohio State University in 2019 ... Chargers defensive quality control coach Isaac Shewmaker is from Lexington, Ky.

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Remembering "The Freezer Bowl": The early weather forecast for this week's Bengals-Chargers game in Cincinnati calls for a moderate cool temperate of about 45 degrees. But 38 years ago, the Chargers and Bengals met in Cincinnati for the 1981 season AFC Championship game, a 27-7 Bengals win that stands as one of the coldest game days in NFL history.

The mercury reading for the "Freezer Bowl" was minus-nine degrees, second-coldest in NFL history behind minus-13 for the 1967 NFL Championship game of Dallas at Green Bay (that game became known as "The Ice Bowl"). But the Freezer Bowl was played in winds gusting from 20-35 miles per hour, and the wind chill of minus-59 was the coldest in NFL history, topping (or was it bottoming?) minus-48 for the Ice Bowl.

Better acclimated than their California visitors to the brutal conditions, the Bengals struck an early psychological blow when every Cincinnati offensive and defensive lineman, along with FB Pete Johnson, elected to openly defy the elements by playing in short sleeves. The teams wound up close to even in net yards gained - 318 to 301 in favor of Cincinnati - but the Bengals posted a massive plus-four edge in turnover differential, with four takeaways (two INT, two FR) and no giveaways. Bengals QB Ken Anderson outdueled future Hall of Famer Dan Fouts of the Chargers, posting a 115.9 passer rating on 14-of-22 for 161 yards, two TDs and no INTs. Anderson's TD passes went to TE M.L. Harris and WR Don Bass, and FB Johnson scored a rushing TD.

Only one player was reported to have suffered a weather-related injury - Bengals DE Eddie Edwards, with a frostbitten right ear. Official attendance at Riverfront Stadium was 46,302, with more than 13,000 ticket holders staying home.

Mixon the TD machine: Bengals HB Joe Mixon enters Sunday's game vs. the L.A. Chargers with at least one TD in eight consecutive games, tied with WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh for the third-longest streak in Bengals history.

WR Carl Pickens (10 straight games) has the longest such streak, followed by WR A.J. Green (nine). Mixon has scored 12 total TDs (10 rushing, two receiving) in his eight-game streak. Mixon has the second-longest active streak in the NFL, behind Colts RB Jonathan Taylor (nine).

Mixon also is riding a streak of five straight games with a rushing TD. The last Bengal to do that was HB Rudi Johnson, who scored a rushing TD in six straight games in 2005.

Mixon also has multiple TDs in four straight games, the longest such streak in team history. The longest previous streak was three games, accomplished by Pete Johnson in 1981 and Rudi Johnson in 2005. The last NFL player with multiple TDs in at least four games was Saints RB Alvin Kamara, who had five straight between the 2019 and '20 seasons. Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin in 2015 was the last player with multiple TDs in four straight games within one season, and Chargers RB LaDanian Tomlinson in '06 (eight straight) was the last to do it as many as five times in one season.

Mixon has 13 TDs so far this season, just four shy of WR Carl Pickens' team-record 17 in 1995.

Mixon tops 4K: Bengals HB Joe Mixon now stands as one of only six Bengals ever to rush for 4000 yards in a career. He achieved the feat this season on Nov. 21 at Las Vegas, in what was his 60th career game.

Mixon has 4283 career rushing yards, fifth-most in Bengals history. He passed Harold Green (3727) and Cedric Benson (4176) this year, but he's unlikely to catch Pete Johnson (5421) for fourth place until at least next season.

Corey Dillon (8061) is the Bengals' all-time leading rusher, followed by James Brooks (6447), Rudi Johnson (5472) and Pete Johnson (5421).

Burrow surpasses 5K: Bengals QB Joe Burrow surpassed 5000 career passing yards in Game 9 vs. Cleveland this season, in what was just his 19th career game. That made him only the sixth player ever to reach that mark in as few games. Only Patrick Mahomes (16 games) and Justin Herbert (17) reached it quicker. Andrew Luck, Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger also took 19 games to hit the mark.

In Bengals history, Jeff Blake, Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer were previously the quickest to 5000 yards, but it took them 22 games each. Earlier this season, Burrow surpassed 4000 passing yards in just his 16th game. That was two games quicker than Blake and Palmer (18) for fastest by a Bengal.

Burrow's college connections: Bengals QB Joe Burrow may only be in his second NFL season, but he has plenty familiar faces around him in Cincinnati. There are six current Bengals who played with Burrow in college at either Ohio State or LSU, meaning 11.5 percent of Burrow's 52 Bengals teammates suited up with him for at least one season in college.

The Bengals also have two practice squad players who played with Burrow, along with one assistant coach - assistant WRs coach Brad Kragthorpe - who was on LSU's staff in 2018, Burrow's first season with the Tigers.

Tee continues rookie momentum: Bengals WR Tee Higgins this season has continued the momentum he built during his rookie campaign in 2020. Higgins, a second-round pick of the Bengals in 2020, missed two games earlier this season due to a shoulder injury but still has 43 catches for 560 yards and three TDs.

Last year, Higgins' 67 catches tied with former WR Cris Collinsworth for the most by a rookie in team history, while his team-high 908 receiving yards were good for the fourth-most ever by a Bengals rookie. He also hauled in six TD catches, tied for fifth-most ever by a Bengals rookie. He finished the season ranked third leaguewide in catches, yards and TDs by a rookie.

Higgins this season has drawn praise from numerous Bengals coaches and teammates for transforming his body over the offseason. "My biggest thing was to get stronger," Higgins said over the summer. "I didn't do any routes, I didn't run. I was just really in the weight room for the most part. Then, once I was able to actually get on the field and do like a workout or something, I just went out there and it felt good. I just felt like I had to get stronger, so I focused a little bit more on the weight room. Now I'm weighing like 220 (pounds), and it feels good. Last year I came in at like 220, but it was too heavy for me, so I had to lose a few pounds. Now it feels really good and I feel even faster."

'Fire department' tough after turnovers: The Bengals' offense this season has committed 15 turnovers, including two pick-sixes, which means opposing offenses have taken over possession 13 times after Bengals turnovers. In those 13 instances, the Bengals' defense has allowed just one TD and six FGs (26 points). That means opponents failed to produce points on six of those possessions - one punt, one missed FG, a turnover on downs and three INTs (one pick-six).

Opposing offenses have taken over in plus territory after Bengals turnovers on nine occasions this year. Those have resulted in one TD, five FGs, a punt, a missed FG and an INT (23 points). When opposing offenses take over inside the Bengals' 20-yard line, they have one TD, three FGs and missed a FG (17 points).

Bengals defenders and coaches say that they have embraced these kinds of back-to-the-wall situations. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has even coined a name for them. "I tell our guys all the time that we're like the fire department," he said. "We're here to put the fire out. We don't ask how or why. We just go out there and we put it out."

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Hendrickson on torrid sack pace: DE Trey Hendrickson is in his first season with the Bengals, but he's already making an impact in the sack column.

Hendrickson, one of the headliners of Cincinnati's free agency haul in March, has a team-high 10.5 sacks (tied for sixth in NFL) through just 11 games. That total already is nearly double the team lead for all of last season (former DE Carl Lawson, 5.5), and he also is the first Bengal with double-digit sacks since former DT Geno Atkins' 10 in 2018. Hendrickson is on pace for 16 sacks for a full 17-game season, which would be second-most in team history between DE Coy Bacon's team-record 22 in 1976, and DE Carlos Dunlap's 13.5 in 2015.

Last season with New Orleans, Hendrickson had 13.5 sacks, tied for the NFC lead and tied for second-most leaguewide. And since the beginning of the 2020 season, Hendrickson's 24 sacks are third-most in the NFL, behind only Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt (27.5) and Cleveland's Myles Garrett (26.0). Carolina's Haason Reddick (23) is fourth, and the Rams' Aaron Donald (19.5) is fifth.

Hubbard a Day 2 draft steal: DE Sam Hubbard, a third-round pick (77th overall) of the Bengals in 2018, ranks second in sacks (23.5) among all players from the '18 rookie class (draft picks and college free agents).

Players' listed positions vary by media outlet (e.g. whether a player is classified as a LB or DE), but according to NFL.com's draft record, Hubbard was the 13th defensive lineman selected in 2018 - five DEs and seven DTs came off the board before him. According to NFL.com, there were a total of 40 defensive linemen (20 DEs, 20 DTs) selected in the 2018 draft, along with 32 linebackers and one player classified as "EDGE." There were also, of course, numerous undrafted rookies in 2018.

Hubbard has been the Bengals' starting RDE since 2019, and signed a contract extension with the Bengals in July that keeps him in Cincinnati through the end of the 2025 season.

McPherson from deep: Bengals rookie K Evan McPherson, who turned 22 just seven days before the start of training camp, already has made a league-high seven FGs of 50 or more yards this season. No other player in NFL history has as many 50-plus yard FGs in their first 11 career games. It's also the most 50-plus yarders in a full season in Bengals history, topping the previous mark of four by K Horst Muhlmann in 1970.

In a sign of things to come, McPherson's first-ever NFL FG was a 53-yarder in Cincinnati's season-opener vs. Minnesota. Then, on Nov. 21 at Las Vegas, he tied a single-game NFL record with three FGs of at least 50 yards (54, 53 and 51 yards). For perspective, there were only four instances (including Muhlmann in 1970) prior to this year where a Bengals kicker had as many as three 50-plus yarders in a full season.

McPherson is the 13th player in NFL history to hit three 50-plus yard FGs in a game, and the third rookie (the two others were Vikings K Blair Walsh on Dec. 16, 2012 at the St. Louis Rams, and Bills K Tyler Bass on Nov. 15, 2020 at Arizona).

Bengals Weekly Release | Regular Season Week 13, 2021 vs. Los Angeles Chargers [PDF]

Regular Season 2021 Game 12: Los Angeles Chargers Weekly Release [PDF]

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