CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Jeff Driskel ran away from Chargers star Joey Bosa, scrambled past a linebacker and dived into the end zone to cap a thrilling effort by the Cincinnati Bengals’ young quarterback.
Except the officials took the touchdown off the board after video review in accordance with this season’s NFL rule that equates a quarterback’s dive with a slide to protect passers.
Driskel didn’t realize the rule had changed, and he didn’t want the protection.
“No, I was not giving myself up,” Driskel said.
The Bengals (5-8) aren’t giving up on their tumultuous season either, and their effort reflected it during their fifth consecutive loss, 26-21 to Los Angeles on Sunday.
Cincinnati held the Chargers’ powerful offense to 288 yards and two touchdowns, keeping it out of the end zone entirely after Los Angeles’ first two drives. The Bengals never led, yet they outgained the Bolts and had two chances to tie the game with 2-point conversions, including a final shot with 1:54 to play.
But Cincinnati still had just enough mishaps — some with the rulebook, others with its headsets, still others with aggressive play calling that didn’t quite work out — to fall just short of knocking off one of the NFL’s top teams on the road.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was sweaty and frustrated after watching his players barely miss out on a win that could have energized them down the stretch. Instead, Cincinnati fell into last place in the AFC North with its seventh loss in eight games, and Lewis’ crew must win out just to finish at .500 after a 4-1 start.
“Well, the team needs to win, so that’s the only progress that really counts, is winning,” said Lewis, whose team is on its third losing streak of five games or more during his 16 seasons in charge. “We’ve got guys playing big-time football, and we’ve got to make sure we’re playing it all the time.”
Lewis shrugged off the notion of a moral victory with 14 players on injured reserve, but Cincinnati hung with the Chargers without quarterback Andy Dalton, receiver A.J. Green and linebacker Vontaze Burfict, among others.
After going 17 of 28 for 170 yards in his second career start, Driskel was frustrated to be denied his third rushing touchdown. On the ensuing fourth-and-inches, guard Alex Redmond committed a false start, forcing Cincinnati to kick a field goal.
“The whole philosophy behind it is to continue to give (the quarterback) protection as he slides forward, just like he used to do when he slid feet-first,” referee John Hussey said.
Driskel was disappointed with the ruling, even after a game in which Lewis called his overall play “career changing.”
“Obviously that’s within the rulebook, and however that’s interpreted,” Driskel said. “But if that’s how it’s interpreted, I’ve got to find a way to get in there some other way.”
Driskel hit John Ross with a TD pass with 20 seconds left in the first half to make it 14-12, and Lewis aggressively called for a 2-point conversion — but it failed when Driskel couldn’t hit Giovani Bernard. That point would have been handy late in the fourth quarter when the Bengals could have trailed by seven instead of eight.
The Chargers got the ball to midfield with 1 second left in the first half to attempt a Hail Mary, but Jordan Willis inexplicably jumped offside, allowing Michael Badgley to kick a 59-yard field goal at the gun.
“It’s very frustrating,” Bengals safety Jessie Bates said. “It’s as simple as staying onside. It’s what we learned since the first time we played football. It’s disappointing that we keep having the same thing come up. It costs us points as well.”
Cincinnati went on fourth-and-1 from its 35 on the opening drive of the second half, but Joe Mixon got stuffed and the Bolts kicked another field goal. Center Billy Price then committed a false start on fourth down in Chargers territory later in the third quarter.
Driskel drove the Bengals 79 yards in the waning minutes for Mixon’s TD. They went for two again, and Driskel had time to make a throw — but everyone was covered, and Los Angeles’ Darius Philon sacked him.
Cincinnati then botched an onside kick that didn’t even go the required 10 yards, and the Bengals headed home to regroup for their final home game of the season against Oakland.
The Bengals even had problems with their communication headsets in the first half. The offense managed to get its plays in by hand, but the defense sometimes had to wing it, according to linebacker Nick Vigil.
“That led a little bit to some of our demise, I think,” Lewis said. “The first half was ridiculous. I’ve not been in an NFL game where that’s been an issue like it was today.”