Cincinnati did just about all it could to force overtime.
An impressive late-game drive set the stage for a 31-yard field goal that would've locked the Bengals and Chargers in a 16-all tie.
Seven seconds was all that remained on the clock and, once the ball left kicker Randy Bullock's foot, it quickly became clear that those ticks would be the last of the game. Bullock doubled over almost instantly, appearing to be in considerable pain as the ball sailed wide right, giving L.A. the 16-13 win.
"I let the team down and I'm really disappointed," said Bullock after the game after revealing a left calf cramp impacted his kicking motion, according to ESPN.
The optics of the moment, on top of his earlier makes of 50 and 43 yards, situates Bullock as the most-glaring cause for the loss but, as we know, outcomes are decided by more than a single play. Looking back on the events that led to the ill-fated kick, rookie quarterback Joe Burrow chose to examine the afternoon as a whole rather than blame it on the closing moments.
"I thought we played well enough on that particular drive to put it in the end zone and then they made the call," the No. 1 overall pick said. "Not sure what happened on the kick but it doesn't matter what happened on the kick, we should've put 'em away a lot of times before that. … A lot of different plays affected the game."
Over the last 3:08 of the game, Burrow displayed a demeanor well beyond his years. Playing under the gun with no timeouts, the prized rookie QB led a 14-play, 84-yard drive -- their longest of the day -- to give Cincy two shots at ending it. The first came on a play to A.J. Green, which is the call Burrow was referring to.
Burrow hit Green in the end zone on first-and-3 from the 3-yard line with 12 seconds left in regulation to take the lead. Unfortunately, the play was nullified after the refs determined Green pushed off to create separation from Chargers corner Casey Hayward as the two jockeyed for position.
It was as much of a bang-bang play as you'd ever see that late in the game, and it was a situation that influenced Zac Taylor, who also took into account how often the Chargers' pass rush got to Burrow for much of the game, to go for three rather than six.
"Just getting bumped back there with the rush that they can get you with, if you don't get the ball in the end zone and you take a sack there, the game's over. And you want to get a chance to tie it," Taylor said. "We felt like we had great momentum heading into overtime. It can go either way sometimes, just felt like we had great momentum, let's kick the field goal and go win in overtime."
Despite the heartbreaking loss, the Bengals should be encouraged by the guts Burrow, who finished with 193 passing yards to go along with a rushing TD, displayed in crunch time. Rather than show frustration after tossing an interception on the previous drive, the young signal-caller shook it off and moved onto the next play, something his go-to wideout loved to see.
"It's unbelievable. That guy don't flinch," Green said, per ESPN. "The way he handled himself on that last drive was unbelievable. ... We have a special one in Joe."