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Three Down Look: Bengals Fumble Away Chances Against Chargers

Cincinnati still hasn't won three games in a row since 2015.

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals rollercoaster season continued in Sunday's 41-22 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. The game included seven turnovers (four from Cincinnati) and unwound like a three-act play. The Chargers opened with a 24-0 run, then the Bengals made it 24-22 before Los Angeles scored the final 17 points.

There were plenty of turnovers to go with plenty of injury issues. 

Here's our Three Down Look from the Bengals' "sloppy" loss.

Bolts in Slop

The NFL is about red zone execution and holding onto the football. Cincinnati didn't do enough of either on Sunday. The performance was their second time committing four turnovers this season (20-17 loss to Chicago).

Since 2000, the Bengals have turned the ball over four-plus times in 33 contests. They are 5-28 in those games.

Things were that simple, and the frustrating part for Bengals fans is those were largely Cincinnati mistakes, not great Charger plays. Three of the most glaring led directly to points.

Joe Burrow badly missed a chance to hit Ja'Marr Chase in rhythm on a long pass down the left sideline, but hesitated and took a strip-sack. He injured his right pinky finger on the play. According to rbsdm.com, it was third biggest swing play in the game, costing Cincinnati 5.4 EPA.

Four plays later on their next drive, Burrow hit Chase on a perfect deep ball down the opposite sideline, only to have the receiver bobble it up to Michael Davis for the interception. The Chargers scored a touchdown five plays later.

Then Joe Mixon—who hadn't fumbled in over 300 carries—just dropped the ball on a fourth quarter carry with the Bengals trailing 24-22. Tevaughn Campbell picked it up and ran it back for the game-sealing touchdown. It was the biggest swing play in the game, costing the Bengals 10.4 EPA. All of the turnovers, Burrow's red zone pick included, were silver-platter gifts for the Chargers.

Football can be very simple when it comes to turnovers. In their seven wins this season, the Bengals have committed five giveaways. The other 14 all came in their five losses.

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The Injury Shoe Drops

Cincinnati was one of the healthiest teams in the NFL over the first three months of the season, but that armor is denting of late. Center Trey Hopkins and right tackle Riley Reiff were late scratches from the game. Then linebacker Logan Wilson, special team ace Markus Bailey, and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie all suffered injuries.

The players that were all eventually ruled out don't include Burrow. He dislocated his right pinky finger during the strip-sack on the Bengals' first possession. NFL teams are a house of cards, and the quarterback makes up the entire base.

Swelling in the pinky is something to watch this week, while the other players on the mend suffered varying degrees of injury. Head coach Zac Taylor didn't comment on Wilson, who the team carted off with a shoulder injury. The Bengals currently have three healthy linebackers after Wilson and Bailey went down.

Awuzie worked hard on the sideline mid-game to try and get back to the field, but the foot didn't respond effectively. We will learn more as the week moves along on the severity of these injuries. The Bengals have bounced back well to losses in 2021, dropping consecutive games just once.

That response is much tougher to muster without a full stable of horses.

Tee Em Up

Another week, another shout out for Tee Higgins, who is answering the call ever since defenses started giving Chase more attention. The sophomore receiver posted a career-high 138 receiving yards and a touchdown on nine catches.

Higgins was a first down machine on Sunday, moving the sticks a game-high seven times. He was also targeted six more times than the next closest player in the contest (14 targets). The Clemson product is hitting his midseason stride and showing that committing too many coverage resources to Chase is a pick-your-poison decision.

Higgins made three contested catches on the day. One was a little more valuable than the rest.

There were reasons for optimism on Sunday, and No. 85 was the biggest one.

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