In a tight AFC Playoff Chase, Bengals to host LA Chargers this Sunday; second in a rare three-game home stand

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Eastern.

Television: The game will air nationally on CBS-TV. In the Bengals’ home region, it will be carried by WKRC-TV (Ch. 12) in Cincinnati, WHIO-TV (Ch. 7) in Dayton and on WKYT-TV (Ch. 27) in Lexington. Broadcasters are Ian Eagle (play-by-play), Charles Davis (analyst) and Evan Washburn (sideline reporter).

Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WLW-AM (700), WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530; all sports) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).

Setting the scene: The Bengals face the L.A. Chargers on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, and will be looking to stay on the winning track after last week’s 41-10 win over division-rival Pittsburgh. It was the Bengals’ largest margin of victory over the Steelers in 32 years (also 41-10, on Sept. 17, 1989). The lopsided result surprised observers across the league. But when Bengals QB Joe Burrow was asked after the game about the significance of this season’s convincing sweep of the archrival Steelers, he barely blinked.

“We’re 2-0 against them,” he deadpanned. “We have higher aspirations than beating the Steelers right now.”

Cincinnati’s dominance of Pittsburgh began almost immediately, with scores on each of the Bengals’ first four offensive drives (three TDs and a FG). The fifth offensive possession ended with an INT, but on the Steelers’ first play following the turnover, former Steeler Mike Hilton reciprocated and picked off a Ben Roethlisberger pass and returned it 24 yards for a TD.

Hilton was a key offseason addition for the Bengals and quickly has become one of the more popular and respected players in the locker room. After his TD, Cincinnati’s bench erupted and mobbed him as he came to the sideline. Asked after the game about the reason for the noticeably animated reaction, Bengals QB Joe Burrow answered with a smile, “I think everybody knows why.”

Hilton and the Bengals’ defense turned in a dominating performance that held Pittsburgh to just three points through three quarters. By the time the Steelers finally reached the end zone late in the fourth quarter, many of the Bengals’ defensive starters were resting on the bench.

On the other side of the ball, HB Joe Mixon, one of the NFL’s hottest players in recent weeks, rushed for a career-high 165 yards and two TDs. Mixon has scored a TD in each of his last eight games, the second-longest active streak in the NFL and tied for the third-longest in Bengals history. He also has scored multiple TDs in each of the last four games, the longest such active streak in the NFL and the longest in Bengals history.

Mixon’s success on the ground in turn opened the door for Burrow and the passing game. Burrow completed a career-high 83.3 percent of his passes, including six to WR Tee Higgins, who had 114 receiving yards and a TD. Higgins caught six passes of at least 15 yards on the day, the first time that has been done by a Bengal since 2010 (Terrell Owens, seven).

“We’re right where we want to be,” Burrow said, eyeing a stretch of four home games in the final six weeks. “We have high aspirations this year, so we can’t let up now.

“We started the season out strong, but then we kind of skidded a little bit there in the middle. Now, coming down the stretch, we’re really hitting our stride. We have guys that are excited about where we’re at, but not satisfied.”

This week, the Bengals face the Chargers in a game with significant playoff implications. The 7-4 Bengals currently stand as the fifth seed in the AFC, while the 6-5 Chargers are in the seventh and final playoff spot by virtue of tiebreaker with the 6-5 Raiders and Broncos.

“We have a lot of confidence right now,” Taylor said. “We feel we can play a lot of different ways with whatever the game plan dictates over the course of the week, and then however we have to react over the course of the game.

“We need to keep winning at home. It’s fun to win on the road and go shut up some other crowds, but for us, our fans need to be rewarded. They pay good money to watch us play, and they’ve supported us through some really difficult times. So we need to go put a winner out there that they can cheer on and be proud of.”

Joe Burrow will have his hands full with the Chargers pass rushers (courtesy Bengals Media Relations)

COURTESY CINCINNATI BENGALS MEDIA RELATIONS

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