Instead of going ahead, the Bengals gave the ball up.
"The truth is we deserve the criticism," offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said. "It falls on everybody. Everyone got frustrated. Coming in we expected to play well. We're going to get criticized and we deserve it."
Still, Cincinnati took a 10-7 lead on Mike Nugent's field goal on the final play of the half.
The Chargers took the lead for good on Philip Rivers' 4-yard fade route to tight end Ladarius Green — who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 240 pounds and reached over 5-11, 197-pound Chris Crocker to make the catch.
Dalton then tried to make a play and was straining for an extra yard or 2 on a scramble when he fumbled the ball. That led to Nick Novak's 25-yard field goal for a 17-10 San Diego lead.
The lead wasn't insurmountable, but it certainly was the way the Bengals' sputtering offense was playing.
Four plays later, Dalton short-armed a pass into the right flat that Shareece Wright picked off at the Cincinnati 30. Novak converted again, this time from 23 yards, to make it 20-10.
Dalton then turned right around and threw yet another interception, this one to Melvin Ingram.
However, the Cincinnati defense stiffened and prevented the lead from growing. But by then it was too late.
So much for a solid season, a division title, all those strong showings.
"The last two years we were hoping to win. This year, we went in knowing we could win," wide receiver A.J. Green said. "That's the most hurtful."
Notes: It was San Diego's first playoff win since a 23-17 overtime victory over the Colts in 2008 and its first road playoff win in an open-air stadium since a 17-13 victory in Pittsburgh for the 1994 AFC title. ... The Chargers ran for a season-high 196 yards. They've rushed for at least 144 yards in each of their past five games. ... Marvin Jones caught eight passes for 130 yards, a Bengals playoff record. A.J. Green was limited to three catches for 34 yards.