The Los Angeles Chargers dominated the Baltimore Ravens for three and a half quarters Sunday afternoon, defeating the birds 23-17 after a huge defensive strip sack sealed the game.
Defense was the key to victory for the Bolts as they made Lamar Jackson look like a rookie for the first time all season. LA used multiple defensive schemes including three safeties lining up as linebackers to attempt to keep Jackson in the pocket and forcing him to throw. The game plan was a huge 180 from the Week 16 meeting and for roughly 50 minutes the Chargers kept the Ravens from picking up any first downs.
Melvin Ingram’s fumble recovery iced the game, but the front seven of LA was the true story of the first round matchup. Jackson was sacked a season high seven times and recorded his lowest rushing total of the year (54 yards). The Bolts racked up nine QB hits on the former Heisman Trophy winner and made him rush essentially every throw. It was the first time all season that a defense was able to keep the first-rounder in check and force his own fan base to boo, while they chanted “put in Flacco” before the comeback bid fell short.
Special teams were another major takeaway this afternoon as field goal kicking has been the Chargers kryptonite for the past decade. Michael Badgley was 5/6 on FG attempts (the only one was blocked after a tough hold), and drilled a game-altering 53-yarder into the wind. It was the first time that I can recall in which a LA/SD kicker actually helped the Bolts win a game.
Field position was key as well. The Chargers got a massive second half opening kickoff returned to Baltimore’s 26 (72 yard return) and didn’t allow any big returns from the Ravens either.
The one hindrance that prevented the Chargers from making an elite statement to the rest of the league was their inability to close out the game up 20. They failed to make two key interceptions and let Michael Crabtree free for a touchdown, sparking life back into the stadium. The next possession the Ravens picked up two fourth downs and converted another to Crabtree inside the 2-minute warning to make it a one score game.
A holding penalty on what looked like a game-sealing first down run by Melvin Gordon gave the Ravens a last-minute chance to march down the field and attempt to make history with the largest fourth quarter comeback in NFL playoff history, but the strip sack by Uchenna Nwosu saved the day and kept the Chargers alive.
Now, Los Angeles will head to Foxboro for a rematch of the 2007 AFC Championship game where Philip Rivers played with a torn ACL and fell to the Patriots.
11 years later, Tom Brady and Rivers meet again in the playoffs and the Chargers will look to be on the other side of the scoreboard this time around.