A Chargers Miss and a Prayer Answered

Baltimore Ravens running back leaves San Diego Chargers defensive end Shaun Phillips in his dust. Photo Credit: J. Gaede

SAN DIEGO-This one is going to sting for a long time. The carryover affects of the San Diego Charges overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens at Qualcomm Stadium will no doubt linger like bad odor hanging over a meat slaughterhouse. The stench of defeat always leaves a bad taste in the mouths of a player or a team.

The Chargers’ 16-13 heartbreaking defeat to the Ravens would certainly fit into that category. For over two quarters, the Chargers defense played lights out against Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and the Ravens offensive unit, holding the visitors to nothing more than a blank stare at halftime.

It was a pretty impressive sight to see Chargers defenders flying around the ball, holding the Ravens, which put up 55 points against the Raiders this season, in check for most of the afternoon.  To close out a potential 13-10 lead late in the fourth quarter the Chargers defense needed to make just one more play and wrap up the game.

They couldn’t do it.

Make one more play and the Chargers would still be in the mix of the AFC playoff hunt. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. It should have, but it didn’t. The game, and possibly the season for the Chargers, came down to this: The Ravens needed a 29-yard miracle on fourth down at the Chargers 34-yard line with 1:37 remaining in the game. The Ravens got their miracle in the form of the diminutive, but powerfully built Rice.

Rice took a short dump off pass from Flacco and eluded several would-be Chargers tacklers, before bouncing off of a few more defenders along the way to a winding and breathtaking 29-yard reception to keep the Ravens’ drive and game-tying thoughts alive. By any stretch of the imagination this was not suppose to happen. It should not have happened. But it did.

Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram lays the wood on Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. Photo Credit: J. Gaede

The Chargers, after playing so well on the defensive side of the ball most of the offensive-grounded game, carried on as if imminent defeat was coming after Rice’s back-breaking play.  That didn’t work out too well for the Chargers. That play seemed to have sucked the oxygen out of the Chargers for the remainder of the game.

Sure, the Chargers kept playing and battling to the end, but it was clear that the team’s energy level had evaporated after Rice’s controversial first down catch-and-run play.  The Ravens eventually tied the game on Justin Tucker’s 38-yard field goal on the last play of the regulation. Tucker then put the finishing touches on the Ravens comeback victory with another 38-yard field goal in overtime, giving Baltimore (9-2) its ninth win of the season.

Meanwhile, the Chargers slipped to an unforeseen 4-7 overall mark with their postseason chances getting slimmer with each defeat. The buzz on the outcome of the game seemed to hinge on the play Rice made on Baltimore’s final possession in regulation.

Quarterback Philip Rivers, who passed for 228 yards and a touchdown for the Chargers, didn’t think Rice made the necessary yards to have a first down.

“I don’t think anybody thinks he got it,” Rivers said. “I don’t think anybody in the stadium thinks he got it. I don’t think Ray Rice thinks he got it. I don’t think anybody on their team thinks he got it. But he got it.”

Game officials had a difficult time trying to figure if Rice had successfully picked up enough yardage for the drive to continue, deliberating and watching replays of the play in question for an extended period of time. After all that was said and done, officials took a measurement and gave Baltimore a reprieve from defeat to potential victory with the call favoring the Ravens, taking the air out of the Chargers and their season.

When pressed about what the referee told him about the play, Rivers said the game official said he didn’t see the play.

“He felt bad because he didn’t have a view,” Rivers said. “He just said, ‘I didn’t have a view.’”

That one play may have been a microcosm of the Chargers’ season thus far: play well, play good enough to win, but unable to close the deal when it matters.

“We’re playing really good teams,” Rivers said. “The team we played last week was a really good team. This team we played is a really good team…It’s getting more and frustrating. I think we’re at our max of frustration.”

Rice and the rest of the Ravens seemed to shake off their jet lag just in time to pull off the victory with enough plays at the end of the game, which appeared to be a lock for the Chargers to win. As he stood on the sideline watching the Ravens’ last gasp play unfold, Baltimore defense end Arthur Jones said all he could think about was seeking help from a higher source.

“I caught up on years of praying,” Jones said. “I was praying. I was just pacing up and down the sidelines, saying, ‘Come on, Lord. Come on. We need you.’ I just kept praying, and when it was a first down, I knew we had the game won.”

Rice, who rushed for 97 yards on 22 carries for the game, summed up his stunning play in a different way.

“Checkdown. Hey, diddle, diddle, Ray Rice up the middle,” Rice quipped. “On that play, it was just total will. Once I made the first guy miss, when I cut back across the grain, I actually seen the defense had to flip their hips, then I kept eyeing the first down…I just kept getting up field. I left it in the hands of the officials. I’m not going to say they owed us one, but I’m glad we came out on top.”

 

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