Ravens Fall Victim to Game of Chance
By Ken Denlinger
SAN DIEGO, Sept. 28 The Baltimore Ravens turned what could have been a rout into a lead late in the third quarter today against the San Diego Chargers. Then the Chargers turned what the Ravens — and at least one official — thought was a fumble into a touchdown pass that produced a 21-17 victory before 54,094 at Qualcomm Stadium and snapped the Ravens' victory streak at three games.
The Ravens had two late chances to win, but each ended with an interception.
"The good thing is we didn't lose any ground," said Ravens Coach Ted Marchibroda. The Ravens (3-2) remained one game behind the Jaguars in the AFC Central because Jacksonville lost to the Washington Redskins.
There were all manner of momentum swings, but one of the constants was Chargers wide receiver Tony Martin. He had touchdown catches of 36, 72 and 38 yards, the last one turning the game San Diego's way for good as the third quarter drew to a close.
"All week we talked about how we couldn't give up the big play," said defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, "and that's just what we did."
Martin's third touchdown catch came a play after the Ravens thought they had recovered a fumble by Chargers running back Terrell Fletcher. At least one official signaled Ravens possession, but the final ruling was that Fletcher's knee had hit the ground before he lost the ball after a 15-yard gain with a short pass.
"The officiating was just horrible," Ravens guard Leo Goeas said.
Chargers quarterback Stan Humphries, who passed for a career-high 358 yards, went for the jugular on first down — and Martin sped by free safety Rondell Jones and was open by 10 yards when he caught the pass in the end zone.
The Ravens switched right cornerbacks during the game, and Eugene Daniel had an interception after replacing Donny Brady. But Daniel missed two other nice interception chances. And a clip from behind by reserve linebacker Tyrell Peters nullified about a 90-yard run by Jermaine Lewis on the kickoff after Martin's third touchdown.
Still, Baltimore had the ball inside Chargers territory twice in the final five minutes. The first time, Vinny Testaverde threw into double coverage and free safety Michael Dumas made a diving catch at the 12.
"I looked at [wide receiver Michael Jackson] too soon," Testaverde said. "I also put too much air on the ball and Dumas made a great play."
The Ravens had an even better chance after Derrick Alexander took advantage of a block by Daniel that eliminated two tacklers and returned a punt 34 yards to the San Diego 36 with 2:33 left. Alexander was subbing for Jermaine Lewis, who had a 37-yard touchdown pass but also missed time with a concussion and hamstring pull.
Testaverde appeared to scramble to the 11 on second and 10 from the San Diego 24. But Goeas was caught holding. On the last of three tries with 20 yards to go for a first down, Testaverde was hit as he released the ball and cornerback Dwayne Harper made the interception at the 14.
"I was tired and the heat [105 degrees at kickoff] was a factor," said Testaverde, speaking for himself and his teammates. "It was a long trip. But good teams get it done under conditions like that."
The Ravens trailed by 14-6 at halftime and were lucky the margin wasn't much larger. Humphries was intercepted in the Baltimore end zone near the end of the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, Gary Brown fumbled after a hard hit by defensive tackle James Jones and Brady recovered at the Baltimore 24.
By that time, San Diego had gotten a 7-3 lead when Humphries hit the wide-open Martin on a short crossing pattern behind middle linebacker Ray Lewis on fourth and two from the Baltimore 36 and Martin quickly eluded everyone during his sprint to the end zone.
The Ravens converted on fourth down on the next possession, but the drive stalled at the San Diego 30 and Matt Stover was long and true from 47 yards.
Martin sped by Brady and caught the medium-range pass that became a 72-yard touchdown and lifted the Chargers to a 14-3 lead midway through the second quarter.
Stover hit a 35-yarder just before halftime and a 25-yarder early in the third quarter. And when Jermaine Lewis cracked the Chargers' defense for his 37-yard touchdown catch and Jackson caught a pass from Testaverde for the two-point conversion, Baltimore had a 17-14 lead with six minutes left in the third quarter.
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