"The biggest thing we adjusted was our intensity," said linebacker Shaun Phillips.
"We feel like we have to make those stops at the end," said safety Marlon McCree. "We wanted to make a statement."
It was a redeeming stand for the defense, which allowed 545 yards to a Bengals offense that came into the game ranked No. 18. True, that stand never would have happened without Chris Henry dropping a pass in the end zone, but sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. On Sunday, the defense was a little bit of both.
"We knew they were very accomplished at throwing the football, but we stayed the course," said head coach Marty Schottenheimer. "We had a couple of situations where we were able to force them to kick the ball. If you stay the course, you have a chance to do a lot of things."
For all the big plays allowed, the defense authored its share of game-altering moments as well. The Chargers registered two sacks and forced one turnover, which was followed immediately by LaDainian Tomlinson's fourth touchdown of the day.
The defense was playing shorthanded and it certainly showed. The team still blitzed regularly, but was far less effective in getting after the passer without the services of sack-masters Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo. That allowed Carson Palmer too much time to throw, allowing him to set a new career high with 440 yards passing.
"We're not playing to have 400 or 500 yards of total offense," Palmer said afterwards. "We're playing for a win, and we didn't do that today."
The lack of pressure also forced the secondary to cover – or attempt to cover – for inordinately long stretches of time. The corners were clearly overmatched against the high-powered duo of Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, as those two combined for 348 yards and two scores.
Had the Chargers lost, the defense would have no doubt played the role of goat. Instead, the team leaves Cincinnati in a state of glee. That, however, won't last long.
"We will enjoy this briefly because next week we have Denver," Schottenheimer said.
It is important not to understate the significance of beating the Bengals. Not only does it put the Chargers in an enviable position as they continue their push towards the playoffs, but it all but eliminates Cincinnati.
Also, the Chargers survived yet another game without Merriman's otherworldly talents. If nothing else, this game exemplified just how sorely he is missed. Apparently, until Lights Out comes back, the Chargers will need to keep lighting teams up.