The Bengals punted a club-record 11 times. They let Eric Metcalf set an NFL record by returning two punts for touchdowns.
Yet, as the clock ran down, the Bengals were dousing their coach with a water cooler and running around the field like they'd just won a huge game. Three second-quarter turnovers had a lot do with it.
The Bengals scored three touchdowns off the turnovers, including John Copeland's 25-yard return of a fumbled snap, then held on Sunday to beat San Diego.
Metcalf returned punts 85 and 67 yards for touchdowns, giving him the NFL record of 10 career kick returns for scores. He has returned eight punts for touchdowns, matching that record, and four have come against the Bengals.
"Anyone could have run through those holes, I think," Metcalf said.
Cincinnati snapped a seven-game losing streak, scoring 24 points in its biggest second quarter since 1989. The Bengals had six sacks _ one fewer than their total for the first eight games _ and knocked quarterback Stan Humphries out of the game in the third quarter with a concussion.
Former FSU star Reinard Wilson, who had two sacks, was penalized for a late hit on the play that injured Humphries.
Backup Craig Whelihan's 44-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Jones cut it to 38-31 with 6:00 left, but the Chargers never threatened again.
Corey Dillon gained 123 yards on 19 carries and became the first Bengals rookie to rush for 100 since Ickey Woods in 1988.