Norv Turner’s team played the first 52 minutes and nine seconds of this week's game at a high level. Philip Rivers didn’t turn the ball over and the defense held the Ravens to just three points. A Nick Novak field goal put the Chargers up 13-3 with a little less than eight minutes left and then things started to unravel.
The Chargers embarrassed themselves with their play over the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter and nearly 14 minutes of overtime. They would lose 16-13 to the visiting Baltimore Ravens, dropping to 4-7 and virtually guaranteeing a change on the sidelines this offseason.
Change is something the fans in San Diego welcome after enduring season after season of Turner’s disappointing teams. Perhaps it’s not all on Turner, but there has to be some explanation for a team so incapable of avoiding a costly error or closing out a game.
Which blown lead was the most embarassing?
The Chargers led by 10 points with about eight minutes left in the game and promptly allowed a nine-play touchdown drive to cut the lead to three points. The drive featured a 25-yard deep pass to Jacoby Jones and a 22-yard deep pass to Torrey Smith.
Leading by three points, the Chargers had a chance to ice the game by running their four-minute drill. A couple first downs and the game would have been over. Instead, the Chargers burned less than a minute off the clock as they went three-and-out and were forced to punt with over three minutes left on the clock.
A holding penalty on the Ravens, followed two plays later by a sack of Joe Flacco, brought up 4th-and-29 from the Baltimore 37-yard line. The game was on the line and the Ravens could do no better than dump it off to Ray Rice.
Rice cut back across the field and ran around the Chargers defense, diving forward for what appeared to be a first down on one of the wildest plays you will ever see. On the replay, it appeared that Rice may have been a little short of the first-down marker, but the officials re-spotted the ball on official review, giving Rice even more yardage and the first down.
The Chargers probably got a raw deal on the spot of the ball, but allowing Rice to gain even 28-and-a-half yards on 4th-and-29 is just inexcusable. The Ravens tied the game with a field goal by Justin Tucker as time expired in the fourth quarter.
The Chargers got the first crack at scoring in overtime. A touchdown would have won the game and erased the previous eight minutes of terrible football. Perhaps predictably, the Chargers got to midfield where the drive stalled. A field goal would have at least put pressure on the Ravens to score, but instead the pressure was on San Diego’s defense to get a stop of their own.
Mike Scifres pinned the Ravens at the 11-yard line and San Diego’s defense came through and forced a punt after the Ravens moved the ball close to midfield. San Diego’s offense got yet another chance to win the game and gained all of seven yards on three plays before punting for the second time in overtime. The Ravens proceeded to move the ball out to the 47-yard line before Flacco hit Smith for a 31-yard completion to set up a game-winning 38-yard field goal by Tucker.
The Chargers didn’t turn the ball over and played good defense, but it was the Ravens and not the Chargers who made big plays late in the game to win. Two of the Chargers’ final three drives were for three-and-outs while the Ravens had five plays of 20 or more yards on four drives in the late fourth quarter and overtime.
Mistake-free football came at a price of a high-powered offense. Rivers completed 23 passes for 228 yards, which is slightly less than 10 yards per completion, and the Chargers were also just 3-of-15 on third down, which pales in comparison to Baltimore’s 50 percent conversion rate.
With Rivers checking the ball down instead of taking chances down the field, it makes sense then that 12 of Rivers’ completions were to a running back or tight end with a long of just 11 yards.
Turner has been unable to put a great defense that plays all 60 minutes or a high-powered, mistake-free offense on the field at the same time. Sunday’s collapse against the Ravens was just the latest sign of Turner’s inability to do the job he was hired to do. It was the Chargers' third collapse of the season and perhaps the final nail in the coffin of Turner's head-coaching career.