No cadence. No motioning. A Bengals snap, and no surprises.
The Chargers weren't ready.
They weren't to start the season. Why begin now?
Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer hurried his offense to the line of scrimmage, and wide receiver Jerome Simpson caught Antoine Cason off-guard on a quick snap, bolting past the cornerback for a 59-yard touchdown catch in a 34-20 Sunday loss, an unaffordable verdict that eliminated the Chargers' hopes for a fifth consecutive playoff berth.
The defense showed little urgency in the seconds before the sneaky fourth quarter streak-and-strike, jogging into pre-snap position and stance as if it had the time. Cason lined up at short depth and was looking to the left as Simpson sprinted past him to the right, and the Bengals took a 27-13 lead with 6:25 remaining.
“Obviously,” coach Norv Turner said, “we weren't ready for it.”
The Chargers (8-7) had been playing uphill all season after a 2-5 start. In Cincinnati, they sledded from behind in the snow and against the wind.
It was all too much.
On the first play from scrimmage, Mike Tolbert and Vincent Jackson botched the hand-off on a wide receiver reverse for a 19-yard loss. Pinned back at their own 1-yard line against a breeze, the Chargers forfeited any chance of establishing field position.
Turner's coin-toss decision to receive instead of play with the wind had backfired.
The Bengals' average starting position on their first four drives was 3 inches short of the San Diego 46-yard line, and they scored touchdowns on the first and last of those possessions, leading 13-0 in the second quarter and 13-3 at halftime.
As they have done this season, the Chargers made things interesting with a touchdown on their first drive of the second half, capped by rookie Ryan Mathews' career-long 23-yard run.
The late push was not hard enough.
On the final play of the third quarter, tight end Randy McMichael stumbled at the end of his route, leaving Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga room to intercept and return a Philip Rivers pass 47 yards to the San Diego 21.
Four plays later, the Bengals (4-11) scored to take a 10-point lead.
The Chargers managed a 28-yard field goal to answer, but Simpson's 59-yard surprise quieted them at last.
The loss clinched the Kansas City Chiefs' first AFC West title since 2003 and renders the Chargers' season finale in Denver next week essentially meaningless.
“We can only blame ourselves for the position we put ourselves in,” safety Eric Weddle said. “It caught up to us.... Words can't really explain as a player the feeling when everything is lost for the season.... To have it come down to this, it's a tough thing to go through.”