Bengals End Bolts' Postseason Bid

There is no longer any debate about which team is best in the AFC West. The San Diego Chargers fell to a losing team for the fifth time, falling in Cincinnati, 34-20, to hand the division crown over to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The bumbling plays were all too familiar. The Chargers turned the ball over ball over twice; turned back the clock for Carson Palmer; and shanked on special teams en route to an embarrassing defeat. The loss clinched the AFC West title for the Chiefs, ending San Diego's four-year run atop the division.

Palmer shredded San Diego's defense, completing 16-of-21 passes for 269 yards and four scores. As is often the case against the Chargers, the opposing tight end had a big day. Jermaine Gresham caught four balls for 56 yards, including a 3-year touchdown to open the scoring.

The leading receiver was Jerome Simpson, who was supposed to be just the second best player on the field from Coastal Carolina. He finished with six catches for 124 yards and two TDs, the second coming from 59 yards out when he caught Antoine Cason flat-footed. Tolbert, on the other hand, finished with four carries for minus-2 yards and a fumble before leaving on a stretcher with a neck injury.

San Diego's offense didn't do its defense any favors. The Chargers started slowly, a year-long trend on the road, and did not pick up their initial first down until the second quarter. As has been the case more often than not in 2010, the hole quickly grew too deep to dig out of.

The No. 2 third-down defense entering the game, the Chargers allowed the Bengals to convert 8-of-14 third-down tries (57 percent). Cincinnati was not only efficient but explosive, beating the Chargers in yards-per-play by more than a full yard (6.3 to 5.0).

The Chargers will wrap up their season next week in Denver against Tim Tebow and the Broncos.

Lightning Quicks

--Philip Rivers finished 27-of-40 for 256 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The score went to former Bengal Kelley Washington, whose exuberant celebration was down-right embarrassing with the game already decided. The interception was taken by Rey Maualuga, who took advantage when Randy McMichael stumbled out of his break.

--The Chargers had three players with at least 50 yards receiving: Legedu Naanee (four catches, 59 yards), Vincent Jackson (four catches, 54 yards) and Darren Sproles (eight catches, 55 yards). Jackson had the worst day of the three, dropping a third-down catch and mishandling a reverse to get the Chargers in an early hole.

--San Diego entered the game leading the league in sacks, yet was unable to bring down Carson Palmer, who dropped back to pass 21 times.

--The secondary was burnt early in often. Paul Oliver had an awful game and was routinely caught a step behind his man. Quentin Jammer was also beaten deep a couple of times, although he was bailed out on one of those plays when Palmer overthrew Andre Caldwell (four catches, 87 yards).

--The silver-lining was San Diego's run defense, which limited Cedric Benson to 24 carries and 52 yards (2.2 ypc) and forced a fumble midway through the second quarter. Antwan Applewhite poked the ball free and Ogemdi Nwagbuo came up with the recovery.

--Mike Scifres, who entered the game leading the league in punting average, averaged just 31.8 yards on four punts. His first two efforts were brutal shanks, giving the Bengals outstanding field position.

Just how talented are the Chargers? Talk about it in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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