That saved the fans who weren't at Qualcomm Stadium from having to watch the Chargers lose 17-10. The Chargers got worked over on both sides of the ball and committed three turnovers.
"You can't score 10 points and win in this league very often," quarterback Philip Rivers said after the Chargers coughed up the momentum they'd seemingly gained with an exciting comeback victory at Kansas City.
Andy Dalton threw a go-ahead, 21-yard touchdown pass to wide-open A.J. Green late in the third quarter for the Bengals (8-4), who kept a two-game lead over Baltimore in the AFC North.
San Diego (5-7) saw its playoff hopes dwindle after its fourth loss in five games.
"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," Te'o said. "We had opportunities to make plays and they executed. We are going to fix those things."
With the score tied at 7, the Bengals got the ball after Dre Kirkpatrick ripped the ball 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 catch, with safety Eric Weddle and cornerback Marcus Gilchrist only able to watch.
On the Bengals' next drive, Andrew Hawkins caught a short pass from Dalton on third-and-2 from the Bengals 18 and raced 50 yards to the San Diego 32, where he was pushed out of bounds. The Bengals settled for Mike Nugent's 46-yard field goal for a 17-7 lead.
The Bengals appeared to be driving for a score that would have put away the game, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis fumbled when he was hit by Gilchrist.
Weddle recovered and returned it 27 yards to the San Diego 43. The drive stalled and Nick Novak kicked a 48-yard field goal to pull to 17-10 with 4:43 left.
A personal foul against Johnnie Troutman after the field goal forced the Chargers to kick off from their 20 and Brandon Tate returned it 24 yards to the Bengals 34 and Cincinnati ran out the clock.
"There were too many penalties, critical holding penalties there in the end," rookie coach Mike McCoy said. "It was a hard-fought game, but you can't win against a good football team playing the way we did today."
Green-Ellis gained 92 yards on 20 carries.
The Bengals held Philip Rivers to 252 yards passing and have allowed only one 300-yard passing day by an opponent this season.
Dalton was 14 of 23 for 190 yards.
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 Chargers responded with a long drive capped when second-year tight end Ladarius Green split linebackers Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict and was wide open for a 30-yard touchdown reception to tie the game at 7.
"Obviously the turnovers hurt us but we still had some opportunities," Rivers said. "We just didn't capitalize on anything when the defense got us the ball back.
"This is a good team," Rivers said. "Let an opportunity pass us by? Yes. It wasn't like we had it in our grasp and they came in here and stole it from us. We knew we were going to have to play well."
Talk all about Sunday's Chargers-Bengals game inside the message boards.
Bolts Make Too Many Mistakes
BoltsReport Top Stories
Dynasty RB RankingsHeath Cummings looks at the crowded backfields created by the NFL Draft and reveals his updated Dynasty running back rankings.
State of the Broncos: Tight EndsMile High Huddle brings you State of the 2017 Broncos — a position by position evaluation of the roster. Today's edition focuses on the tight ends. Carl Dumler examines.
Mile High HuddleWednesday at 1:46 PM
Robertson named to Biletnikoff Watch ListCal freshman wide receiver Demetris Robertson joins elite company on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List.
BearTerritory.netTuesday at 10:06 AM
QB Checklist: Trevor Siemian's Path To StartWhat does Denver's underdog quarterback have to do to win the starting job?
Mile High HuddleMonday at 1:06 PM
Fantasy Football News: July 17Senior Fantasy Football Expert Adam Ronis looks at the most interesting news across the NFL today from a Fantasy perspective!
Scout FantasyMonday at 11:49 AM