5 Reasons Why The Baltimore Ravens Beat The San Diego Chargers
There was plenty to consider positive after the Baltimore Ravens pulled off a Houdini-like comeback victory in overtime over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. That wasn’t the case early in game though, as the Ravens appeared to be in the midst of another road game malaise. The Ravens were shutout 10-0 at halftime, which was the first time that happened in the last 20 games. Joe Flacco had a meager 59 yards passing, while Ray Rice had a misleading 43 yards rushing, as a long run right before the half that meant nothing skewed his total. The mistake-prone Philip Rivers was looking comfortable and not being forced into bad situations, as he guided the Chargers through a pretty smooth first half. The second half started out pretty uneventful, as the teams exchanged field goals. A Nick Novak field goal put the game at 13-3 with 7:51 left in the fourth quarter. Considering how tough it was for the Ravens’ offense up to that point, a comeback seemed very farfetched. However, the offense awoke with vigor and started to rip off yards in large chunks. Flacco picked his game up, while all his pass-catchers did the same as the Ravens stormed down the field for a touchdown. Down three, the final drive appeared to run out of gas, as the offense went further backwards than forwards until one of the most clutch plays in Ravens’ history. Rice took a one-yard pass and made magic with it, as his miraculous conversion on a fourth-and-29 play led to a game-tying Justin Tucker field goal as time expired in regulation. The Ravens went on to win the game in overtime, as the huge play by Rice overshadowed some other big efforts from various Ravens’ players. The following five aspects are the reasons why the Ravens ultimately went on to defeat the Chargers 16-13 in overtime.
The undrafted rookie kicker out of Texas has really flown under the radar this season, which is definitely a good thing. Tucker continued to fly under the radar despite a couple of clutch field goal conversions, as all the to-do about the game was about the Rice play to set up Tucker’s game-tying 38-yard field goal as time expired in regulation. Tucker put the Ravens on the board with a 48-yard third quarter field goal that the Ravens desperately needed to get some offensive momentum. Tucker confidently drilled the game-tying field goal, then won the game with another 38-yard field goal with only 1:07 left in overtime. After time outs by both teams, Tucker came out and drilled the game-winner, sending the Ravens to a three game lead in the AFC North. Tucker is now 22-for-24 in field goal attempts, and his 95 points scored rank him fifth in the NFL for scoring. Tucker’s consistency and range are a big reason why five of the Ravens’ nine wins have come by three points or less. His emergence gives the Ravens one of the league’s top kickers as they head down the stretch.
It had been a pretty quiet season for Arthur Jones, as he had only started to see consistent playing time recently. However, the third-year defensive end out of Syracuse is making the most of his new-found abundance of playing time. Since starting left defensive end Pernell McPhee went down with an assortment of injuries, Jones has slid in seamlessly and instantly contributed. Jones had by far his best game of his career as he registered the first two sacks of his career against the Chargers. In all Jones had five tackles, two sacks and three tackles for a loss. Jones now has nearly half his total career tackles in the last five games since he replaced McPhee. Jones’ play was much needed, as the defensive line was having little success in winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. If Jones can continue to evolve and be a threat opposite Haloti Ngata, it will really help like likes of the linebackers, so the 3-4 defense can really unleash its potential. If the linebackers can penetrate behind the defensive line, the Ravens will continue to get the pressure their defense desperately needs.
Jones was a key cog for the defense against the Chargers, but there were other big defensive efforts on Sunday. The defense as a whole only allowed 280 yards, which was the least they have allowed all season. The six sacks registered were a season high, as the unit is really rounding into form in regards to apply more pressure on the quarterback. The Ravens have 12 sacks in their last three games, so the pressure has really come on of late. Those 12 sacks are good for 48 percent of the Ravens’ sack total for the entire season. Contributing in the sack department aside from Jones, were linebackers Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw. Despite the ample pressure, the Ravens couldn’t force a turnover on the mistake-prone Rivers, but they had a strong effort nonetheless holding the Chargers to 13 points. The Ravens defense is only allowing 14.5 points the last four games, so the increase in pressure has had a direct positive effect on the points allowed as well. With the recent news that team-leader Ray Lewis will be back at some point down the stretch, after it was thought he was lost for the season to injury, it can only give the defense a lift as they are coming together despite being without their backbone.
The Ravens have made bending without breaking a way of life this season. They have had an affinity for pulling out close games despite not having the strongest performances on both sides of the ball. That was again the case against the Chargers, as the Ravens pulled out a game they really had no business winning. The Ravens needed overtime for their fifth win of the season of three points or less, as both sides of the ball stepped up in crunch time. Joe Flacco had a brutal first half, as he had completed eight passes for 59 yards. However, Flacco caught fire as the game went on, and really stepped his game up in the fourth quarter and overtime. Torrey Smith had a series of clutch grabs; none bigger than a back shoulder acrobatic catch on a third-and-10 that put the ball in range for Tucker’s game-winning field goal. Dennis Pitta also stepped up as he made a nice catch on the Ravens’ only touchdown of the day. Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones both made contributions, as the offense needed all hands on deck to pull of the comeback. Defensively, the sacks and overall pressure kept the Chargers at bay when they had a chance to add to their 10-point lead and possibly run away with the game. Whenever the Chargers were on the verge of getting into field goal range in overtime, the defense rose to the occasion and got the big stop. The Chargers had a chance at the end of regulation to get a first down and run the clock out, but again they were stopped, setting up the epic Rice play. That play by Rice was a microcosm for both the Ravens’ resiliency and the Chargers’ futility for the 2012 season. The Ravens theme of the season has been bending without breaking, and this game only further solidified that notion.
Alright, yes, there was other key contributions, but the lasting image from this game will be Ray Rice scampering for 29 yards on a miraculous fourth-and-29 conversion. The play was legendary and was drawn out like a movie. After taking the one-yard check down, dump-off pass, Rice made a series of cuts and moves that eventually led to one of the most miraculous fourth down conversions in NFL history. After running up the field, then making a hard cutback across the field, Rice got a crushing block from Anquan Boldin to spring him the final five yards for the first down. That play was the longest fourth down conversion without the aid of a penalty since 2001. The only play that was longer than the Rice play on fourth down in the NFL in the last 25 years was a fourth-and-34 pass from Rob Johnson to Peerless Price in Week 2 of 2011. However, that play meant little as it happened towards the end of a blowout loss. Anyway, after Rice appeared to have the first down based on the initial spot, the play went under a lengthy review. After that review the ball was in fact moved back a half-yard, but it was still ruled a first down. The Ravens went on to push the ball up a little further, setting up Tucker to tie the game as regulation expired. When you consider the magnitude of this conversion, it is a play that will go down as one of the greatest fourth down conversions in NFL history.