In the San Diego Chargers' scheme of things, footballs fill the air like hail. Before the rockets' red glare even has begun to subside, ovoid pigskins are dancing through the arc-lighted heavens.

"And we can get better," said Wes Chandler, who gained one-seventh of a mile in pass receptions in his team's 50-34 defeat of the Cincinnati Bengals Monday night. "We got better in a week's time before the San Francisco game, and this time we did it again."

The San Francisco game, a 41-37 victory for the Chargers Dec. 12, featured a similar display of unashamed offense accompanied by an almost total disregard for the fundamentals. Dan Fouts passed for more than 400 yards in that game, then came back and did it again Monday night, achieving an NFL first. Only a last-minute penalty that prevented Cincinnati from gaining a final possession kept the NFL record of 98 passes intact.

As it was, NFL records for completions (66) and passing offense (883) were set. No one kept count of the dropped passes, but that record could have fallen, too. It was a shoddy game worthy of a season that's been thrown together.

Cincinnati's visit to San Diego was billed here as a revenge match, a chance to erase the frigid nightmare of last January's AFC championship Pole Bowl. But efforts to portray the thing as a glowering, physical rivalry gave way during the week to childlike anticipation of the impending fireworks.

The Chargers have allowed 71 points in the last two games. Seen in that light, their offense is more one of desperation, a series of passes flying across the field.

Monday night, the likes of Cincinnati's Cris Collinsworth, Dan Ross and Ken Anderson conspired to rack up numbers that would make a computer blush. It was you-score-I'll-score at its unashamed worst.

"Don't forget that we lost one game this year, against Kansas City, where their offense didn't score a touchdown," said safety Tim Fox. "And what happened to San Francisco this week after they scored 37 against us? They scored seven points."

Which is proof positive of what has been theorized all along: the San Diego skew is infectious. Opposing teams abandon all pretense of fundamentals -- and not just on offense, where Anderson threw 55 times, often on third and short.

On defense, the Bengals started to rush six and seven men, wielding safety blitzes by the six-pack, in an effort to befuddle Fouts. So quickly were Fouts' linemen backing up to pass block that twice he fell down when a retreating guard stepped on his feet.

It was a game of punches thrown from the heels. Chuck Muncie, once a runner of some renown, began the Chargers' scoring with a 66-yard touchdown pass to Chandler off the option. Bo Harris returned a Fouts interception 62 yards for a touchdown. Collinsworth broke four tackles on one 49-yard roam.

On James Brooks' 48-yard, third-quarter touchdown run, Bengals linebacker Harris tackled Fouts while he was handing off to Brooks, who ran right through where Harris was supposed to be. That play epitomized the San Diego show. Double-digit gains were the order of the evening.

Perhaps it is appropriate that the pass should evolve in a city of perpetual sunshine, where the populace regularly fills the skies with the likes of frisbees, kites, hang-gliders and errant tennis balls. Perhaps the best defense really is a good offense.