The surging Cincinnati Bengals have climbed back into playoff contention behind impressive efforts on both sides of the ball.
Very little, in contrast, has gone right for the injury-plagued San Diego Chargers, who appear to be falling apart.
The visiting Bengals try for a fourth consecutive win Sunday against a Chargers team hoping to avoid a seventh loss in eight games.
Cincinnati (6-5) closed September with three straight wins only to lose its next four but has since gotten back on track. The Bengals, who've outscored opponents by an average of 21.3 points during their current run, sit in seventh place in the AFC - just outside the playoff picture.
"The anticipation comes down to these last five (games) now and what they mean and how important they are," coach Marvin Lewis said. "We're in OK position. We're not in great position, but we're in OK position. And we've got to improve upon it each and every week."
While Andy Dalton has thrown nine touchdowns and no interceptions over the last three weeks, the Bengals' running game is also finally coming around. After rushing for 189 yards in a 28-6 win at Kansas City on Nov. 18, Cincinnati compiled 221 during last Sunday's 34-10 victory over Oakland.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for a season-high 129 yards and a score while Cedric Peerman added 61 on eight carries for the Bengals, who had been limited to an average of 93.7 rushing yards over their first nine games. Cincinnati is 7-0 when rushing for at least 130 yards since the start of last season.
"We've got to keep this going," Dalton said. "The running game has done a great job the last two weeks. We've got to keep the balance."
Cincinnati's defense also continues to come up big. The Bengals limited the Chiefs and Raiders to a combined 502 yards and have forced seven turnovers during their winning streak.
"What's really cool is that our offense is clicking now, and our defense is clicking and special teams have been playing great," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "So when you get us rolling on all cylinders, we're going to be a tough team to beat."
Cincinnati now looks to keep things going against San Diego (4-7), which doesn't carry much momentum into Sunday's showdown. The Chargers opened 3-1 but have since dropped six of seven - with their only victory coming over the one-win Chiefs on Nov. 1.
San Diego appeared to be in good shape to get back in the win column Sunday, leading Baltimore 13-10 and forcing the Ravens into a fourth-and-29 with 1:59 left. The Chargers, however, couldn't bring Ray Rice down until he gained 30 yards on a short pass, and they eventually lost 16-13 in overtime.
"I guess for you guys, you can say that, and it's easy to say," coach Norv Turner replied when asked if that play summed up the team's season. "It's a play we had guys in position to make the play and we didn't handle it very well."
Philip Rivers threw for 228 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens but San Diego was outgained 443-280 in total offense.
Things aren't about to get any easier for the Chargers, who lost strong safety Atari Bigby to a season-ending groin injury last Sunday. Leading tackler Donald Butler (groin) is also expected to miss time while safety Darrell Stuckey (hamstring) is uncertain to play.
Pro Bowler safety Eric Weddle, meanwhile, suffered a concussion last Sunday but is expected to be ready for this game.
"We've lost a lot of guys throughout on offense and on defense, and we have guys that just keep coming in," Turner, who placed left tackle Jared Gaither on injured reserve last Friday, told the team's official website. "Obviously, it affects you in certain situations."
San Diego's banged-up secondary could have its hands full with A.J. Green, who's tied for the league lead with 10 receiving TDs and ranks fourth with 1,022 yards. The star wideout hauled in three receptions for 111 yards against the Raiders but saw his nine-game TD streak come to an end.
Cincinnati pulled out a 34-20 home win in the last matchup in this series in 2010, but has dropped five of six in San Diego since 1992.
The Associated Press News Service
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