---Philip Rivers wedged his way into the MVP conversation with another sensational outing. Although his passer rating dipped under 100 for the first time in the last five games, he won the game by executing the clock-kill drill to perfection. The decisive drive came after the Chargers took over on offense with 9:13 remaining and a 17-10 lead. Rivers directed a 15-play drive that took move than seven minutes off the clock and resulted in a Nate Kaeding field goal that gave the Chargers a two-score lead. Rivers was 3-of-3 for 41 yards on the drive.
It was the second time this season Rivers has run the clock-kill drill to perfection. It also happened in Week 10 against the Philadelphia Eagles, when a 12-play scoring drive took 6:42 off the clock and gave the Chargers an eight-point lead with less than 30 seconds to play.
---Ron Rivera did a masterful job of scheming around his unit's mounting injuries. The Chargers were down to their fourth-string nose tackle; Alfonso Boone and Eric Weddle missed the game with knee injuries; and 2005 first-round picks Shawne Merriman (foot) and Luis Castillo (calf) were less than 100 percent. Nonetheless, the Chargers' defense was impressive.
Among the defensive highlights: the Chargers held the home team under 350 total yards; Dallas averaged just 4.0 yards per carry, a full yard under its season average coming in; and the Cowboys completed just one of eight third-down opportunities.
LB Kevin Burnett
What Didn't Work
---San Diego ran well on the decisive drive, with LaDainian Tomlinson carrying nine times for 27 yards and Darren Sproles running twice for 11 yards. But prior to that, the Chargers had just 36 yards rushing on 19 carries, an average of less than two yards per carry. Norv Turner deserves credit for sticking with the run and giving the offense some balance, but the Chargers must do better if they hope to keep winning into January.
San Diego ranks last in the conference with 87.5 rushing yards per game and last in the league with an average of 3.2 yards per carry. That's inexcusable for a team with two halfbacks making more than $6 million this season. It won't get any easier against a Cincinnati Bengals defense that ranks third against the run (86.4 yards per game).
---In each of the last four weeks, the Chargers have allowed at least one player to average more than 5 yards per carry: Knowshon Moreno (8.0), Jamaal Charles (6.6), Josh Cribbs (9.5) and Felix Jones (5.1).
The Bengals will try to extend that streak to a fifth week with Cedric Benson, who is one of nine players to top 1,000 yards rushing this season (1,065) despite missing two games with a hip injury. Benson comes in averaging 4.1 ypc and has averaged more than 5 ypc in just two games this season; one of those games came last week against the Minnesota Vikings, when he ran 16 times for 96 yards and a season-high 6 ypc.
It's that time of year again where fans bunker down and start memorizing clinching scenarios. Here's what's facing the Chargers this week: 1) San Diego clinches a playoff berth with a win; 2) it clinches the division with a Denver Broncos loss; and 3) it secures a first-round by with losses by the Broncos and the New England Patriots.
That can be a bit complicated, so here's the simplified version of things: If the Chargers beat the Bengals on Sunday, all they have to do is win one of their final two games (at Tennessee, home vs. Washington) and they'll be guaranteed a fourth straight division title, a first-round bye and a home game in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
What are Bolts fans saying about the win in Big D'? Find out in the message boards.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com 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.