Chargers 34 Ravens 14 (The RAY RETURNS BUT DEFENSE DISAPPEARS Game)
The Ravens put together another horrific performance on the road in San Diego on Sunday Night Football, bringing their record away from M&T Bank Stadium in 2011 to a very mediocre 3-4. Unlike previous losses in Jacksonville and Seattle though, the Ravens were never really in this one, as the Chargers’ high-powered offense scored at will in blowing Baltimore out of the gym by early in the second half.
San Diego became the first team to score on their first five possessions of a game against the Ravens since the team came into existence in 1996.
The Chargers’ first five drives went as such:
- 74 yards, touchdown
- 80 yards, touchdown
- 80 yards, touchdown
- 62 yards, field goal
- 42 yards, touchdown
The sixth drive?
Following Joe Flacco’s second interception, the Chargers went 8 yards before Nick Novak clanged his 37-yard field goal try off the right upright. If it wasn’t for that miss, San Diego would have scored on their first SEVEN possessions, with their only non-scoring drive coming late in the fourth quarter when all they were trying to do was run out the clock.
You’re not going to win many games when the other team DOESN’T PUNT A SINGLE TIME.
But the Ravens couldn’t get off the field on third down, allowing San Diego to convert 6/9 opportunities, including two 3rd-and-8 situations on their first two touchdown drives. Despite entering the game with a league-leading 45 sacks, the Ravens finished with zero of Philip Rivers on the night, and only a single quarterback hurry. Cory Redding appeared to sack Rivers to set up a 3rd-and-17 with the game tied at 7-7 early in the second quarter, but the play was nullified on an unnecessary roughness penalty on Terrell Suggs. Suggs straight up bitch-slapped Chargers tight end Randy McMichael on the play, obviously frustrated at San Diego’s tactics of having the big veteran shadow him all over the field. Honestly, I thought what Suggs did was a legal move, but I was obviously wrong. The flag extended the San Diego drive, and six plays later they took a 10-7 lead that they would never look back from.
The Ravens would never get to Rivers again all night (Suggs did have a vicious hit on him late in the game, but the ball was already gone).
Chuck Pagano just had no answer, as Norv Turner and Rivers carved his defense up to the tune of 415 total yards. The blitzes that had been so successful in previous weeks just weren’t getting home, as the Chargers’ offensive line did a spectacular job of protecting their quarterback, and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams were absolutely embarrassed by San Diego’s big wide receivers. Vincent Jackson (3 rec, 84 yards) took Williams to the woodshed, while Malcolm Floyd (5, 96) had his way with the rookie Smith. The safeties and linebackers were no help in coverage either, as Rivers was basically playing 7-on-7, sitting back and completing 17/23 passes (74%) for 270 yards – a gaudy 11+ yards per attempt.
The return of Ray Lewis from his turf toe injury was supposed to spark this defense, as the veteran returned to the field rested for the home stretch. Instead of looking fresh, though, Ray’s performance was much more accurately described by Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun, who called it “rusty.”
Speaking of turf toe, Ravens fans were encouraged to see Lardarius Webb listed as active for the game. Unfortunately, Webb was not at nearly 100%, and was only on the field as the nickel cornerback for most of the game. While a healthy Webb may have made a little difference, the ample time Rivers had in the pocket would have allowed him to find an open man regardless of whether Lardarius was playing at his usual high level or not, though.
On the offensive side of the ball, things weren’t much better. While the Ravens were unable to get to Rivers no matter how many rushers they brought, San Diego routinely got in Joe Flacco’s face with just a four-man pass rush. This was very reminiscent of the Tennessee game, as the Ravens’ offensive line and backs again and again failed to block four men with five or six. When all was said and done, Flacco had been sacked a season-high five times. Former Raven Antwan Barnes made Ozzie Newsome look like a fool for giving up on him, racking up four sacks on the night.
While Flacco wasn’t given nearly the luxurious pocket to throw from that his counterpart Rivers was, he did nothing to help himself either. Two of his passes on the game’s opening drive could have been intercepted, and both could have been touchdowns. The second definitely SHOULD have been, as Lee Evans was alone in the secondary – Flacco, though, was late with the ball. After a wonderful drive capped off by a gorgeous touchdown pass to Ed Dickson to answer the Chargers’ opening score, the Ravens found themselves down again, this time 10-7. Facing 3rd-and-3 near midfield, Cam Cameron called a perfect pick play to free Ray Rice for what would have been an easy first down. Joe though, as he is wont to do from time to time, forgot that Rice isn’t 6’2.” The incomplete pass forced a Ravens’ punt, and because the defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed (see above), the Chargers quickly took a 17-7 lead.
San Diego received the opening kickoff of the second half and…SURPRISE…scored a touchdown, making it a 24-7 laugher. At that point, the Ravens were forced to throw, and with Ray Rice and Vonta Leach pretty much neutralized, Flacco threw two interceptions that effectively sealed the game. On the first, he seemingly didn’t see Takeo Spikes at all (though he later said that he did), while the second was just a freaky play by defensive lineman Shaun Phillips to steal an attempted check-down out of the air.
The Ravens never led in the game, though they absolutely should have had a 3-0 lead on that opening drive. Billy Cundiff, however, continued his ridiculous road struggles, missing what should have been an easy 36-yarder. Cundiff has become a liability while kicking anywhere but M&T Bank Stadium, and should the Ravens be forced to go on the road for the playoffs, they should seriously consider replacing him with Shayne Graham.
And, speaking of going on the road for the playoffs….ugh.
Despite the loss, the Ravens had already locked up their playoff spot before the game even started, thanks to losses by the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans earlier in the day. However, their envious position of controlling their own destiny for the #1 overall seed is now completely out the window – they don’t even control their own destiny for the AFC North title and the home playoff game that comes with that any more.
Unless, of course, the Pittsburgh Steelers were to lose in San Francisco tonight. If that happens, the Ravens can still win the division by going 2-0 over the last two weeks, and they should also be able to lock down the #2 seed over the Houston Texans for a much-needed bye week.
Do we really think that Pittsburgh, coming off 11 days rest, is going to lose tonight, though? We’ll cheer like hell for it, but with the rapist reportedly playing on his high ankle sprain, we’re all prepared for the worst. The Steelers’ last two games are against St. Louis (at home) and in Cleveland, so this is pretty much it – they win tonight, the AFC North (and likely the AFC’s #1 overall seed) is theirs. Despite sweeping them (and even if they go 6-0 in the division), the Ravens are again looking at a trip to Heinz Field in January.
And they have nobody to blame but themselves.