SAN DIEGO -- Through the air is how the Cincinnati Bengals beat teams. Through the air is how the San Diego Chargers lose to teams.
But on Sunday, it was the Bengals' rushing attack -- and opportune defense -- that resulted in a 17-10 win over San Diego.
The Bengals (8-4) rushed for a touchdown and 164 yards, with the Chargers allowing but a lone scoring reception by wide receiver A.J. Green.
But with the reeling Chargers (5-7) scoring their lowest point total in 14 games, that was more than enough to fall for the fourth time in five outings. Especially with the Chargers committing three turnovers
"It's unacceptable," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. "There were too many mistakes overall."
The Bengals, who maintained their two-game lead in the AFC North, were more than happy to accept them as they out-muscled the depleted Chargers in the second half.
"I can't be more proud of our effort, our energy and our resolve out there," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "It was a day where we knew that running the football was going to be important and I thought we did a good job of that."
Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis paced the Bengals with 92 yards and a score on 20 rushes. Teammate Giovani Bernard added 57 on 14 carries.
"We wore ourselves down," Chargers linebacker Manti Te'o said. "We had opportunities to make plays but they executed.
The effort was there; we just got to execute better and we will bounce back."
The Chargers better hurry. They lost ground in the race for the AFC's final playoff berth while the Bengals kept their two-game bulge over the second-place Baltimore Ravens.
"They had everything running in their favor and they're playing for a playoff spot as well," said Green, who had a team-high 83 receiving yards, which included a 21-yard touchdown catch. "I knew it was going to be a physical game and we came with the mindset of running the ball and being physical."
What derailed the Chargers was that their usual potent offense was a dud.
"You can't score 10 points in this league and win very often," said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who was 23 of 37 for 252 yards, a touchdown and an interception. "You score 10 points, and I bet the percentage of winning is not very high. That's what it came down to."
The Bengals converted a third-quarter turnover into seven points when quarterback Andy Dalton (14 of 23 for 190 yards, a touchdown and interception) spotted Green over the middle for a touchdown. Green was so open it was hard to determine which Chargers were responsible for tracking him. Defensive backs Marcus Gilchrist and Eric Weddle were closest to Green, and both looked befuddled after the catch, which gave the Bengals a 14-7 advantage.
"It just goes back to communication and being on the same page," Weddle said. "And when someone is not, someone is wide open."
The Chargers appeared poised to break the 7-7 deadlock earlier in the third quarter. They marched from their 18-yard line to the Bengals' 30, when Rivers was intercepted by cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.
It was a tough pick for Rivers, as he put the ball in tight end Antonio Gates' hands, but it was ripped away by Kirkpatrick.
Tight end Ladarius Green proved again in the second quarter that his role is increasing in the Chargers offense with his second touchdown reception in as many games. Green split the coverage of Bengals linebackers Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict when corralling a Rivers pass for a 30-yard reception to tie the score 7-7.
The Chargers had trouble matching the Bengals' offensive line, and it led to the game's first score.
Green-Elllis' 4-yard scoring run in the opening quarter capped a 66-yard drive in which the Bengals moved the ball easily on the ground. This came despite guard Clint Boling exiting with a knee injury on the possession.
"The run game was big for us and I think we put an emphasis on it and the guys responded," Dalton said. "The guys up front played really well, getting a lot of movement, and the backs did a really good job getting a lot of tough yardage that helped us win the game."
NOTES: The Chargers honored their 1963 AFL championship squad at halftime, inducting it into the team's ring of honor. That team is the only one to win a championship in franchise history. ... OL Jarret Johnson was among the Chargers' inactives with a hand injury. Johnson missed three of the past four games. ... Chargers LT King Dunlap was out for the third straight games with a neck injury. ... Bengals RG Kevin Zeitler (foot) was replaced by Mike Pollak. ... Bengals LB Rey Maualuga returned to the starting lineup after skipping three starts with a knee injury. ... Three of the Bengals' final four games are at home, starting next Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.