CINCINNATI — Playing with a starting quarterback other than Philip Rivers for the first time since 2005, the Los Angeles Chargers mustered just enough offense — and got just enough breaks.
The Chargers got it done against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday but showed they still have plenty of work to do behind journeyman Tyrod Taylor.
Taylor — LA's starter for now, with rookie Justin Herbert awaiting his opportunity — and running back Austin Ekeler chipped away at the improved Bengals defense and found just enough cracks to escape with a 16-13 win. The Chargers got a break when Randy Bullock missed a 31-yard field goal that would have tied the game with 7 seconds left, thwarting a last-minute rally by Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow.
"I was happy as hell when he missed the field goal," Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. "It's hard to win a game in this league."
Taylor, who has had stints with Baltimore, Buffalo and Cleveland, was a mundane 16 for 30 for 208 yards. Rookie Joshua Kelley ran for the only Chargers touchdown, and Michael Badgley booted three field goals.
"Early on in the game, a little out of synch," Taylor said. "And I'll take full blame for that. We have to be better on third down, and that starts with me. We can do that. As the game progressed more and more we were able to get on the same page."
Ekeler carried 19 times for 84 yards, and Hunter Henry caught five passes for 73 yards.
The Chargers' biggest play of the first half was a 36-yard pass from Taylor to Mike Williams. But the drive stalled and LA settled for a 24-yard field goal by Michael Badgley.
Late in first half, Taylor couldn't convert a fourth-and-short on a keeper. On the next series, Taylor hooked up with Henry for a 33-yard gain but again had to turn to Badgley for a field goal.
The Chargers finally got over the hump with a drive capped by a 5-yard scoring run by Kelley that tied the game at 13 with 12:23 left.
"We needed that touchdown," Taylor said. "It came at the end of a long drive, and to be able to finish that with a touchdown was definitely big for us and a momentum swing forward. I wasn't pretty by any means."
Joe Mixon's fumble on the first play of the Bengals' next drive gave the ball back to Los Angeles, which had three shots inside the 5-yard line but had to settle for another field goal.
"They were just trying to find things that work because in the beginning of the game, things were going our way," Bengals linebacker Josh Bynes said. "They were trying to find what was going to work, and they found that. They executed well when they needed to, and that's why they won the game."
LA coach Anthony Lynn said Taylor's avoidance of turnovers — Cincinnati gave the ball away twice — was one of the keys to the game, along with the running of the Kelley, who finished with 60 yards in his NFL debut.
"We have to execute better," Lynn said. "It will get better. We'll clean it up."
Kelley was ecstatic.
"It's crazy my first game is a nail-biter," he said. "I was just hoping for some type of (kick) block or some craziness. I was hugging my position coach. Just happy. Just so happy to get a win, especially in the first game of the season."
Burrow ran 23 yards for a touchdown in his NFL debut. The only rookie quarterback to start the first week of the season got a rough introduction to the NFL. Without a preseason, Burrow was taking his first snaps in a game.
"I made too many mistakes to win the game," Burrow said.
A line anchored by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III pestered him and held him to 23 of 36 passing for 192 yards with three sacks and a costly interception. Burrow overthrew open receivers John Ross and A.J. Green for what would have been touchdowns.
The Bengals took a low-risk approach with Burrow, using a lot of short passes. Burrow was under consistent pressure from the Chargers' line.
"He did a good job of leading his guys, played big at times when they needed him to and he did a good job of controlling the game," Taylor said.
His first NFL score came on a designed draw play that surprised the Chargers. The middle of LA's defense opened, and Burrow ran 23 yards untouched, slamming the ball to the ground in celebration.
The two late drives that ended with an interception and missed field goal provided a spark of what could be.
"Unbelievable," Green said. "Man, that guy don't flinch. The way he handled himself on that last drive was unbelievable.
"We've got a special one in Joe."
Players stood at the goal lines and linked arms — a few raised fists — while "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was played after pregame warm-ups, and then headed to the locker rooms. They returned and gathered at midfield, linking arms, for the national anthem.
Chargers: Two injuries forced a shuffle on the offensive line. C Mike Pouncey was inactive with a hip injury. LG Dan Feeney moved to center and Forrest Lamp took his spot. RG guard Trai Turner was out with a knee injury, replaced by Ryan Groy. ... LB Drue Tranquill hurt his left ankle and was carted off in the first quarter.
Bengals: DT Geno Atkins was out with a shoulder injury that prevented him from practicing last week. ... RG Xavier Su'a-Filo hurt his left ankle in the third quarter.
The Chargers open SoFi Stadium against Kansas City, which beat Houston 34-20 on Thursday night in the season opener.
The Bengals play at Cleveland on Thursday night. Cincinnati beat Cleveland 33-23 at Paul Brown Stadium to end last season, one of the Bengals' two wins.