"Until we win a playoff game, there's going to be that. It's the way it works. Until you prove people wrong, people can say whatever they want."
Dalton completed 29 of 51 passes for 334 yards, but also threw two interceptions and lost a fumble as the offense continually bumbled in the second half.
The Bengals, the AFC North champs, had four turnovers to all but hand the game to the Chargers (10-7).
Coach Marvin Lewis, who fell to 0-5 in the playoffs, refused to believe that the early exits have gotten into the Bengals' heads.
"These players, their memory is so short-lived," he said. "I wish I could say there was that much carry-over, because there would be that much carry-over all the time for the positives. You're starting from scratch all the time."
The fans didn't handle the defeat well. As the rain increased in intensity in the second half, a steady flow of them departed the stadium.
By the time San Diego's Ronnie Brown burst through a big hole for a 58-yard touchdown in the final minutes, the stadium was all but empty.
One reason for the optimism by the Bengals and their faithful was that they had already beaten the Chargers in San Diego. Cincinnati's defense forced three turnovers in a 17-10 win on Dec. 1.
The turnovers went the other way in the rematch, with the Bengals continually making costly mistakes.
The Bengals tied it at 7 when Dalton hit tight end Jermaine Gresham on a 4-yard pass. But just about everything the Bengals did offensively after that ended badly.
They were driving for a go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter when Dalton found Giovani Bernard over the middle.
He gathered the ball, turned and took two steps inside the Chargers 5 when he was hit from behind by inside linebacker Donald Butler, the ball squirting into the end zone where San Diego's Richard Marshall recovered.