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(Sunday, December 26th)
Final Score: Cincinnati 34, San Diego 20
Cincinnati, OH (Sports Network) - Carson Palmer threw for four touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter, on 16-of-21 passing and 269 yards to help Cincinnati squash San Diego's playoff hopes with a 34-20 decision at Paul Brown Stadium.
Palmer excelled without the dynamic wide receiver duo of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens -- Ochocinco was inactive with an ankle injury while Owens underwent knee surgery earlier this week and was placed on injured reserve.
Instead, the eight-year veteran did it with young receivers like third-year pro Jerome Simpson, who caught six balls for 124 yards and two touchdowns -- the first and second of his career. Rookie Jermaine Gresham registered four catches for 56 yards and a TD for the Bengals (4-11), who have won two straight on the heels of a 10-game slide.
"It was a great game both offensively and defensively," Palmer said. "We just executed. We had some issues all year long where we were off here and a little bit there, but tonight we were right on."
Philip Rivers threw for 256 yards on 27-of-40 passing for the Chargers (8-7), who needed a win to stay alive in the postseason race. With the loss, Kansas City clinched the AFC West and San Diego will watch the playoffs from home for the first time since 2005.
"This is as good as a group of guys I've been around," said Chargers head coach Norv Turner. "We have a game to play and we're going to get ready to go play next week. We want to finish the season with some perspective into next year."
Ryan Mathews carried the ball 12 times for 55 yards and a touchdown in defeat.
Rivers ended the third quarter poorly after throwing an interception to Rey Maualuga, who returned the ball 47 yards to the Chargers' 21-yard line to set up the next Cincinnati score.
Only four plays into the fourth quarter, Palmer connected on a laser pass to Jordan Shipley, who caught it just over the goal line for a 3-yard touchdown and a 20-10 edge.
After Darren Sproles brought the ensuing kickoff back to his own 45, Rivers then marched the team 47 yards, but the drive stalled at the Bengals' 10. Nate Kaeding finished with a 28-yard field goal, making it a 20-13 game with 7:18 to go.
During the next possession, Palmer missed a deep throw to Caldwell on first down. However, he would not miss a wide open Simpson two plays later for a 59- yard touchdown bomb with 6:25 left to play to push the lead to 14.
After San Diego turned the ball over on downs, Bernard Scott carried on the next three plays for 26 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown jaunt up the middle, to put the game away with just under four minutes remaining.
San Diego added a late touchdown when Rivers found Kelley Washington from five yards out to account for the final score.
Cincinnati held San Diego to a three-and-out during the opening drive of the game and then moved only 32 yards in five plays to take the lead as Palmer's three-yard TD pass to Gresham made it 7-0 just 4:41 into the contest.
Three series later, Mike Tolbert took the ball around the left side and lowered his head and collided into Bengals safety Reggie Nelson's chest. He lost the ball and Cincinnati recovered it on the San Diego 33 as Tolbert laid motionless after the play and had to be carted off the field.
Cincinnati could not capitalize on the turnover as Cedric Benson was stopped for no gain on 4th-and-1 from the 24.
After the two teams traded punts, Cincinnati produced a scoring drive that extended into the second quarter. Palmer found Gresham for a 22-yard strike up the middle before he lofted a 10-yard touchdown pass to Simpson in the left corner of the end zone two plays later.
The play was challenged by Turner. However, the ruling on the field that Simpson had both feet inbounds was confirmed. The game remained 13-0, though, after Clint Stitser hooked his extra point attempt wide left.
The Chargers moved from their own 29 to the Bengals one and faced a 3rd-and- goal at the one at the two minute warning. Cincinnati's defense stiffened and denied the visitors after Michael Johnson stopped Matthews for a one-yard loss.
The long drive yielded only three points after Kaeding split the uprights from 20 yards out to make it a 13-3 game at the break.
On San Diego's first drive of the second half, Matthews carried the ball four times for 33 yards. He finished the drive with a 23-yard scamper by dashing to the outside, evading several would-be tacklers and diving into the end zone, cutting the deficit to 13-10.
Tolbert was wheeled off the field after the hit, but gave the crowd a thumbs up. He had movement in his extremities, but did not return to the game. Antonio Gates did not suit up for San Diego because of a a foot injury. Sproles caught eight passes for 55 yards in the loss...The loss snapped San Diego's 11-game December win streak on the road...Sunday was the first time Ochocinco has been inactive since the final two games of the 2008 season. Palmer completed his first 10 passes...The first incompletion came 2 1/2 minutes into the second half...Benson rushed the ball 24 times for 52 yards...Caldwell caught four balls for 87 yards.
12/26 21:03:29 ET