It was a game they probably deserved to win and it was definitely a game they could have won, but it wound up being a Sunday night loss for the San Diego Chargers — a 16-13 overtime setback to the street-tough Baltimore Ravens.
Baltimore won the game in back-alley fashion. They recovered from a 13-3 deficit in the fourth quarter and just plain beat the daylights out of San Diego in the final quarter and the overtime period.
The Chargers’ defense was battered — losing both safeties Eric Weddle and Atari Bigby and linebacker Donald Butler with injuries as the day wore on. The defense, playing virtually every young kid on the roster, wore down as the Ravens ran off 90 snaps to just 65 for San Diego. When they were done, the Ravens had an edge in offense (447-280), and surely showed their grit, getting up off the deck.
The Ravens made about three big plays the entire day, but that is all you need in a 16-point offensive day.
Young wide receiver Torrey Smith had a key 54-yard pass reception early in the game to start a Ravens comeback from a 10-0 deficit. And he caught a critical 31-yard pass in overtime that put them within game-winning field goal range.
But it was the play of the day that spelled the beginning of the end. Facing a 4th-and-29 deep in their own territory after a penalty and a sack, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco hit running back Ray Rice with a swing pass out in the right flat.
He caught it, then running left, ran away from six Chargers defenders and spilled into the 34-yard line, enough for a critical first down.
It took an eight-minute instant replay review to determine where the ball was when his knee hit the 35, and then to make sure the spot of the ball was correct. A measurement gave him the critical first down. End result — the Ravens scored, tied the game and sent it into overtime.
The Rice catch and run outshone an enormous fourth down tackle on the prior series by defensive tackle Corey Liuget that could have ended the Ravens’ hopes. San Diego left it on the field defensively, with five sacks of a flustered Flacco, but there was no gas left in the tank in overtime.
For the Chargers, it was another failed attempt by quarterback Philip Rivers, who is paid lots of money to win games in crunch time and who cannot win games when they are on the line.
As bad as their (4-7) record is, and their playoffs hopes likely extinguished, Rivers is now (0-14) with chances to win games in the final quarter or overtime dating back two years. No, he has little help, but yes, he seems to have lost his magic.
Of course, Rivers has few he can depend on. Tight end Antonio Gates catches fewer and fewer passes weekly. High-priced Robert Meachem did not even get on the field. Ryan Mathews went another game without a 100-yard rushing performance and has one rushing touchdown this season. Rivers managed not to throw balls into coverage, but was sacked six more times on Sunday.
The Bolts were (3-15) on third down conversions, with a quarterback who once-upon-a-time “refused to lose.” But that is when he had people like Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles, and LaDainian Tomlinson as his running mates, riding shotgun on the offense.
Whom do you trust in San Diego now, if not the quarterback? Not Danario Alexander or Randy McMichael, who both dropped wide-open passes that could have kept overtime drives going. And surely not his offensive line, where each one of his guys let him get sacked.
It was an exhausting game to watch. The Ravens dropped bunches of passes early. Baltimore had three cornerbacks hurt also. And the Ravens took horrible personal foul penalties by safety Bernard Pollard and Anquan Boldin, yet they survived the day.
There were two things I looked at in the final minutes of that overtime game – a raging Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, screaming at officials, then at his defense, imploring them to make a stop and a quiet, reserved Norv Turner, looking like the kid who had his lunch stolen from him and could do nothing but cry.
The bullies normally win against the babies.
Maybe that is why the Ravens have won a Super Bowl, why they are (9-2) this year, why they are (22-1) at home and (18-17) on the road over the last three seasons. Good teams find a way to win from their coach on down. The Chargers found another way to lose, failing on the fourth down play to make a stop, and failing in overtime on both offense and defense.
They could have won it, maybe should have won it. If they had, it would have put them one game behind Cincinnati in the wild-card race, and would have meant next weekend’s game against the Bengals would have been for a playoff tiebreaker. Had they won that, the following week they might have had a chance to win in Pittsburgh.
They didn’t win and this lost game might well mean that the head coach and, eventually, the general manager will lose their jobs, for this surely looks like another non-playoff season.
I kept telling people this would be an ugly game, and I picked the Bolts to win. But there were not enough quality plays from the big money quarterback, not enough leadership from the coach, not enough defense with so many guys hurt on that fateful fourth down play, and not enough toughness and resolve to find a way to win.
Six losses in the last seven games. A bad-sad loss for the Chargers, something we are seeing more and more of.