CARSON, CA-Playing the Baltimore Ravens at home was not going to be a gimme game for the Los Angeles Chargers. This game carried immeasurable playoff implications riding on it. Win and the Chargers rachet up the pressure on the Kansas City Chiefs to do the same or else Los Angeles edge up to first place in the AFC West.
Well, the Ravens didn’t come to Southern California to lay down for anybody. Baltimore, with playoff aspirations of its own, decided to play the Saturday contest with some grit-n-grind style of football with a dash of a passing game with a wet-behind-the-ears rookie signal-caller.
Baltimore’s game plan worked to perfection as the Ravens held the high-powered Chargers offense to less than 200 total yards and just one touchdown in their surprising 22-10 win on a brisk Saturday evening at ROKIT Field at StubHub Center.
“We got out-coached today, and we got out-played,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said at his postgame press conference. “By some miracle, we still had a chance to win that game. Our defense got us the ball back, we returned the punt on the other side of the 50 and then we turned the ball over at the end. Penalties came at untimely times. They played their game. We couldn’t get them off the field on defense, and we couldn’t stay on the field on offense. I thought special teams played pretty solid this evening. Our offense and defense — we got out-played, and we got out-coached. It’s just that simple. It’s a good football team. They came in here, and they beat us.”
In recent weeks, the Chargers have become the “IT” team around the NFL. Recording thrilling come-from-behind wins on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Chiefs have only ramped up vibes that the Chargers could very well be the “cool” pick to make it to Super Bowl LIII.
And why not? Led by quarterback Philip Rivers, wide receiver Keenan Allen and rookie stalwart Derwin James, the Chargers have seven players named as Pro Bowl choices, more than any other team. The Chargers have the No. 8 defense in the league, backed by the No. 6 offense. That’s a pretty stout combination and the Chargers have played like it as well recently.
Rivers and the Chargers offense have been chugging along in recent weeks, doing what they pretty much wanted to do when they needed to do it in sparkling road wins against Pittsburgh and Kansas City. After they lost two of the first three games of the regular season, the Chargers had reeled off 10 wins in their last 11 games before playing Baltimore. The ride ended with an emphatic thump when the Chargers ran into Baltimore’s No. 1 rated defense.
The Ravens limited Rivers to just 181 yards passing yards and picked off the Chargers quarterback twice. That was the extent of the Chargers offense, which came up with only 51 yards rushing for the game. And it seemed like every other play that Rivers was on his backside when he went back to pass. Officially, the Ravens was credited with four sacks in the game, but it felt a whole more with the way Baltimore’s defense was coming into the Chargers’ backfield, particularly in the second half.
“We got off to a terrible start, turning the ball over the first play,” Rivers said. “Third down conversions called back early that we couldn’t overcome. We got ourselves in third-and-super long a lot. It’s a good defense and they just out-played us today. They out-played us. We couldn’t sustain that many drives early in the game. Therefore, the time of possession in the first half was way lopsided due to us keeping our defense out there. We couldn’t sustain any drives. It’s a good defense and they played us today. Depending on what happens, we may get another crack at them in two weeks.”
The Chargers, entering their matchup against the Ravens as the hottest team in the NFL, was hoping to put some distance between themselves and other top competitors as the supreme team in the AFC and nail down a home field playoff spot. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have played like a good team this season, but the swagger has left the building.
The Steelers, while you can’t count them out of any games, can be counted to do something to fall apart when it matters most. That leaves the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, and possibly the Ravens as outsiders looking to punch their Super ticket to Atlanta in February.
Speaking of the Ravens, Baltimore was pretty much an afterthought when it comes to teams in play for the postseason when Lamar Jackson was inserted into the AFC North powerhouse starting lineup in a 24-21 win against the Cincinnati Bengals Nov. 18.
In the five games prior to facing the Chargers, Jackson and the Ravens had piled up 1,152 yards rushing, best in the NFL during that span. The Ravens, No. 2 in the NFL in rushing offense, was determined to batter and bruise the Chargers with this style of play as they dominated the clock in time possession, especially in the first half. Baltimore, behind their powerful running attack, owned the time of possession.
What was surprising is that the Ravens, behind Jackson, would outgain the Chargers in total offense (381-198), thanks in large part to their monstrous defensive effort.
“It’s great,” Baltimore linebacker Patrick Onwuasor. “We have a great defense and we have a trio of linebackers inside with Kenny Young and CJ [Mosley]. We can rotate where me and Kenny play on special teams as well and if I need a breather Kenny [Young] can come in and do the same thing I do. It’s great with that. We never take any gas off the petal especially at will because we need that.”
The Chargers, No. 9 in rushing defense, lived with the bend-but-don’t-break rule through the first two quarters, conceding long drives by the Ravens, but holding Baltimore to just six points. The Chargers got the break they needed when the Ravens fumbled deep in their own territory leading to a short Melvin Gordon touchdown run to give them their first lead of the game with just over 13 minutes left in the third quarter. Outside of Michael Badgley’s 38-yard field goal that was the extent of the Chargers putting points on the board.
The Ravens put the game on ice when Tavon Young scooped up a fumble by Antonio Gates and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The fumble that Young picked up was caused by an opportunistic Onwuasor, who punched the ball out of the hands of Gates.
“I told [CB Tavon] T [Young] earlier in the game I had seen a couple opportunities where I could punch the ball out,” Onwuasor said. “That was one of them. I saw the ball and I just punched. We work on that at practice every week. Going out there and practicing stuff like that. When I saw my opportunity, I just took it and the ball came out.”