Chargers Rally Shocks the 'Cardiac Cats'

The Cincinnati Bengals earned the nickname "Cardiac Cats" for their amazing comebacks. On Sunday, the San Diego Chargers flipped the script and nabbed a fourth consecutive AFC West title with a 27-24 win.

Philip Rivers continues to cement his status as one of the premier late-game QBs in the NFL. He has already guided two game-winning two-minute drills this season -- in Week 1 against the Oakland Raiders and Week 12 against the New York Giants -- yet his work against the Bengals may be his finest to date.

The Chargers' last possession began at their own 20-yard line with 54 seconds left and no timeouts. Rivers promptly connected on 3-of-4 passes (not counting a spike) to drive the Chargers 46 yards in 46 seconds to set up a game-winning 52-yard field goal by Nate Kaeding.

"That's a great kick and a great job by our offensive football team, using every second of the clock and giving Nate a chance," Norv Turner said.

K Nate Kaeding
Lenny Ignelzi/AP
The late rally capped an up-and-down day for Rivers, who topped the 300-yard mark (308) and threw three scores but was intercepted twice and sacked twice. His second pick, which bounced off the fingertips of Antonio Gates, helped ignite a Bengals rally in which Cincy came back from 11 points down to tie the game with 54 seconds remaining.

"It was physical. It was back and forth," Turner said. "When we had miscues to let [the Bengals] back in the game, no one blinked."

Rivers spread the ball around to nine different receivers, with four of them catching at least four passes: Gates, Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd and LaDainian Tomlinson. Gates scored the opening touchdown for the Chargers while Jackson pocketed the next two.

Jackson went over 100 yards (108) for the second straight week and the sixth time this season. In the process, he topped the 1,000-yard barrier for the second consecutive season and set a new career-high for touchdowns (nine).

Tomlinson's four catches were his most in a game in more than a year. The last time he caught that many balls was Dec. 14, 2008 against the Kansas City Chiefs, when he hauled in six receptions.

"It was fun to get a couple balls in the open field and show I can still run a little bit," said Tomlinson, who picked up 58 yards receiving to go with his 59 yards rushing. "We knew [the Bengals] were going to get out there and cover our deep stuff, so it could create opportunities for the backs on check-downs and things."

On defense, the Chargers were gashed through the air, allowing Carson Palmer to top 300 passing yards for the first time since 2007. But Ron Rivera's crew found a way to make enough big plays to win the game.

Some of the highlights included: rookie Kevin Ellison picked up his first career sack; Alfonso Boone netted his third sack, forcing a fumble recovered by the Bengals; Quentin Jammer redeemed himself for dropping an easy interception by corralling his third pick of the season just three drives later; and Tim Dobbins forced a fumble that resulted in a 20-yard loss for the Bengals on their final drive.

And entire front-seven deserves credit for holding Cedric Benson to just 53 yards on 15 carries (3.5 ypc).

"It was two outstanding football teams really going out and getting after each other," Turner said.

Up next, the Chargers travel to Tennessee for a Christmas Day game against the Titans, who have won seven of their last eight games. San Diego can clinch the No. 2 seed in the AFC with a win or a New England loss -- the Pats host the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 16.

To view more game notes from Sunday's 27-24 victory over the Bengals, click here.

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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