The Los Angeles Chargers held off a late comeback attempt from the Baltimore Ravens to secure a 23-17 road win and advance to the divisional round against the New England Patriots. Here are the five biggest takeaways from their victory:
The team no one wants to play: The winner of this game, no matter how it performed, was going to earn one of the playoffs’ coveted labels as “the team no one wants to play,” so congrats to the Chargers.
They’re 8-1 on the road this season, with wins at Pittsburgh and Kansas City and the lone loss actually coming in Los Angeles at the Coliseum against the Rams. So prepare to hear the Patriots label them January’s most dangerous foe. As for the Chargers, never mind Philip Rivers’s lament about having have to fly back to the West Coast, then fly back East to play in the divisional game next Sunday in New England, with their body clocks saying kickoff is at 10 a.m. These aren’t the same old Chargers.
Chargers’ defense plays big: The Ravens' offense and Lamar Jackson were their own worst enemies for much of Sunday, but make no mistake, Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa and the Chargers defense were formidable. If there’s one thing we know going forward, it’s that Tom Brady does not like to be disrupted in the pocket. The Patriots' offensive line is going to earn its pay next week, or an upset could be in the works.
Melvin Gordon status: The health of the stellar running back will be a topic of concern. He missed three games in December with a knee problem and played Sunday wearing a knee brace. He hurt the other knee against the Ravens and was seen sporting another brace. Gordon is one of the Chargers’ best players, and it’s fair to assume New England might offer a little more running room next week than Baltimore’s stout defense did on Sunday.
A tough loss for the Ravens: For Baltimore, the future is bright, but there will be second-guessing. With nothing working on offense and Jackson suffering from a case of the yips, John Harbaugh declined to put Joe Flacco, a former Super Bowl MVP, into the game. The fans were yelling for it, but Harbaugh stuck with his rookie — and Jackson rewarded it with two late touchdown drives, although they still came up a little short after a strip-sack by L.A. ended the game.
This is a young team, with a strong defense, that has a great future ahead of it. Will Harbaugh be around for it? After the game, he sought to put that to rest, not that he won’t continue to be asked about it. “There’s a Bible verse that says, ‘make no oath.’ . . . We’ll see what God has in store, but I have every expectation of being here as long as the Ravens want me here," he told reporters. " . . . I do believe that’s what they want.”
Officiating again gets attention: Just as with a ton of other games this season, there were debatable decisions made by the officiating crew. You make the call on these disputed decisions.
Even Gene Steratore, a former ref turned CBS analyst, wasn’t sure.
Live in-game updates
Ravens can’t finish a rally: The Ravens had one last chance with under two minutes left, but the offense reverted to its earlier form and Chargers fans could at last relax.
Uchenna Nwosu forced a Lamar Jackson fumble that Melvin Ingram fell on, putting an end to Baltimore’s hopes and sending Los Angeles to a game next Sunday against the Patriots in New England.
“Gosh we know the run they’ve had,” Philip Rivers said after the game. “ . . . We’re gonna fly back home, then fly back here for another 10 a.m. [West Coast time] game. We really don’t care. What’s that we say [to Melvin Ingram]?” “Any squad, any place,” Ingram replied.
Another field goal and two Ravens scores: The Chargers, helped along by Philip Rivers’s “scamper” for a first down, expanded their lead to 23-3 on a 34-yard field goal midway through the final quarter, but the Ravens responded with a touchdown of their own. Lamar Jackson’s 31-yard scoring pass to Michael Crabtree and the ensuing PAT cut the lead to 13 points and they were far from finished.
They drove down the field again and Jackson hit Crabtree with another touchdown pass that cut the lead to 23-17 with just under 2 minutes left.
Controversy! The Chargers scored early in the fourth quarter, taking a 20-3 lead. The story, though, is far more complex than that.
Late in the third quarter, Philip Rivers hit Mike Williams with a 28-yard pass that put the Chargers in scoring range, and a few plays later Derek Watt caught a pass and got just inside the 1-yard line as the third quarter expired. Watt had caught the pass at the 1, but kept rolling toward the goal line until he was touched down. The Chargers challenged, believing he had gotten in. Watt’s brother, J.J., certainly thought he was in, but the officials in New York felt otherwise.
On the next play, Melvin Gordon lost the ball going to the ground and the Ravens picked it up and ran it back the other way for a touchdown — except Gordon was judged to have been down by contact first. After review, the Chargers maintained possession on the one-inch line, and Gordon scored on a fourth-down touchdown run.
CBS’s Gene Steratore, a former game official, felt that both the Watt and Gordon plays should have been called differently.
The Chargers’ two-point conversion may have put the game out of reach and, although Lamar Jackson remained in the game, the boos began.
A big break fizzles: The Ravens get a big break with a blocked punt, but Lamar Jackson’s sprint to the 20-yard line on second down was marred by a holding penalty on Ronnie Stanley (who had all he could handle from Melvin Ingram) and helped stymie the drive. Justin Tucker came on for a 50-yard field goal attempt and, for the first time, he missed one in postseason play.
Ravens cut Chargers' lead 12-3: Baltimore got a lift just after the second half started when Za’Darius Smith blocked a Michael Badgley field goal attempt. And there was another big lift when the Chargers' Virgil Green caught a pass, was stripped of the ball and Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley scooped it up and ran to the Chargers' 21 yard line. The Ravens could do little with the possession, thanks to the defensive efforts of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, and settled for a 33-yard field goal from Justin Tucker.
Chargers take 12-0 lead into halftime: Evidently, the Chargers’ loss to the Ravens two weeks ago gave them some ideas, because they thwarted Baltimore’s offense and rattled rookie Lamar Jackson en route to taking a 12-0 lead at halftime.
To be sure, this has been a defensive battle, with a total of 11 first downs in the half, but the Chargers have gotten enough of those (eight) to move into position for Badgley to put all 12 points on the board. And the Ravens' offense has all of 69 total yards (the Chargers have 129). Baltimore wouldn’t consider going to Joe Flacco in the second half, would it? According to CBS’s Tracy Wolfson, Coach John Harbaugh didn’t answer directly when asked, saying only “I’m not going to answer that.”
Baltimore struggles early: An incredibly sloppy start resulted in the Ravens playing from behind for one of the few times this season, and from a deficit greater than eight points for the first time since Jackson became the starter. Jackson, the youngest player to start an NFL playoff game, has been jittery. He fumbled the ball on the first series, but recovered the ball and threw it away. The first play of the second series was a repeat. But the next play was more costly, a fumble by Kenneth Dixon — Baltimore’s third fumble in its first eight snaps — that was recovered by the Chargers’ Adrian Phillips at the 15. Getting past the Ravens defense was another matter, and the Chargers settled for a Badgley field goal and a three-point lead with just under 7 minutes left in the first quarter.
After the Ravens were forced to punt, Desmond King took off for a 33-yard return, but the Chargers were forced to settle for a field goal and 6-0 lead on Badgley’s 53-yard kick into a swirling wind. His 40-yard field goal with a little more than 3 minutes left in the second quarter put the Chargers up 9-0 and his 35-yarder as time ran out in the first half put L.A. up 12-0.
Defenses are ruling the day so far and nothing is going the Ravens' way on offense. On their first six possessions, they had four first downs, four punts, a lost fumble and an interception by Phillips on a tipped pass.
Melvin Gordon hurts his other knee: Running back Melvin Gordon, whose knee banged into two players, left the game briefly, but returned with a brace on his left knee. He’s been wearing one on his other knee.
Who are those masked men? The Ravens returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and, like the Colts' T.Y. Hilton on Saturday, they donned masks (including a Guy Fawkes mask — Google it) for the occasion.
The Ravens defense will be without cornerback Tavon Young, their top slot corner. He’s officially inactive because of a groin injury, so look for Brandon Carr and Anthony Levine Sr. to pick up the slack against Keenan Allen and the Chargers' receivers. The Ravens also brought out Ray Lewis for a little squirrel dance. Can’t hurt.
What’s next: The Chargers will face the second-seeded Patriots at 1:05 p.m. next Sunday in New England (CBS). The teams did not face each other during the regular season.
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