How could the San Diego Chargers let Baltimore Ravens halfback Ray Rice convert a fourth down and 29 with the game on the line? How could San Diego let the most dangerous man on the field take a short pass and run through everyone for 30 yards?
Clinging to a three point lead with less than two minutes to play, all the Chargers had to do was stop Baltimore from gaining 29 yards and the game was over. The Ravens had only one time out left. If San Diego had stopped them, then they could have run out the clock and won a game which the Chargers had led the entire way 13-10. Instead, they lost 16-13 in overtime.
Anyone who follows pro football knows that Rice is the Ravens best player. Whenever Baltimore needs a big play, they turn to the 5′ 8″ halfback to get it done. If they do not give the ball to Rice, then they use him as a decoy to open things up for someone else. Every coach in the NFL knows that Rice has to be accounted for on every play. The biggest compliment given to him is that New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick refuses to let Rice beat him.
On the key fourth down, San Diego was in a textbook prevent defense. They played down and distance by dropping their defensive backs and linebackers deep. The plan was to keep the Ravens receivers in front of them, make quarterback Joe Flacco throw short, then tackle the man with the ball.
In theory, this was the proper defense. In reality, it did not account for Rice.
The Chargers should have had someone cover Rice. Instead of having three linebackers on the field, they should have had an extra defensive back assigned to him. The chances of Flacco completing a deep pass were slim, because San Diego was in position to defend it. The chances of Rice eluding defenders in the open field were greater, because he was given room to work with. Once the ball was in his hands, the play became similar to a punt in that the defense had to close the cushion before Rice got up to speed.
Rice got up to speed before the defense closed the cushion. He eluded three linebackers who had no business being on the field. Then, Rice raced all of the way across field, picked up a block from wide receiver Anquan Boldin and muscled his way between two defenders for the first down. The play led to a game tying field goal which forced overtime.
The Chargers had time to figure out what to do. The two minute time out took place before the fourth down play. During that time, the San Diego coaches should have set up a defense to account for Rice. They did not.
Rice was not covered man to man and he made the Chargers pay.
San Diego let the only man on the field who could beat them do just that.