Ravens vs. Chargers: Reacting to San Diego's Crippling Blowout
Trying to put this kind of loss into perspective is a difficult thing to do.
The Baltimore Ravens had to know that the San Diego Chargers would present a challenge in this late December matchup. After all, this Chargers team always seems to turn it on December, and they were coming off two victories by a combined score of 75-24.
Well the Chargers were every bit a challenge and even more as they rolled over the Ravens.
The final score of 34-14 gives the Ravens their fourth loss this season. However, unlike the other three losses, the Ravens didn't beat themselves, as obviously the better team won last night.
The biggest problem in the loss was the Ravens' inability to stop San Diego's high-powered offense.
The Chargers offense moved the ball at will, scoring points on their first six drives. By the end of the game the Ravens had surrendered a season-high 34 points and a season-high 415 total yards.
There was no way the Ravens offense could keep up with that pace. Although Ed Dickson caught a 15-yard touchdown early on, the Ravens offense soon stalled and eventually self-destructed altogether.
Joe Flacco was at the heart of the ineptitude as he threw two costly interceptions. Although he finished with 226 yards, that was almost entirely the result of playing behind and abandoning the run. He had two touchdowns; the second one was a 36-yard pass to Torrey Smith during garbage time.
Did this loss destroy the Ravens' chance of winning the AFC North?
The loss hurts the Ravens' playoff positioning a lot.
They have now lost control of the AFC North to the hated Pittsburgh Steelers, who would clinch the division should they win their final three games. The Ravens are risking falling all the way from a No. 1 seed to a No. 5 seed and another year of playing playoff games on the road.
There are very few things to like about this game and a lot to dislike.
However, the Ravens had better put this one behind them quickly as they take on the Cleveland Browns in only six days. Here's one thing I liked and the many things I didn't like.
What I Liked
The Ravens' defensive effort was abysmal the entire game, but in the fourth quarter at least they showed some dignity and didn't allow a touchdown. Granted, part of that was because the Chargers were playing more conservatively with their large lead, but it's a good accomplishment given the circumstances.
The secondary allowed only one receiving touchdown—which is amazing given how easily Philip Rivers threw the ball against them.
Then again this isn't that good as the Chargers had three short rushing touchdowns and two field goals. Although he looked a little slow, Ray Lewis had a good game, putting up nine tackles.
Where will the Chargers go from here?
What I Didn't Like
The non-existent pass rush was extremely disheartening. The Ravens had no sacks the entire night, with one sack being called back after Terrell Suggs drew a foul by smacking an offensive lineman's helmet.
Even though they had a patchwork offensive line, the Chargers were successful in negating one of the Ravens' greatest strengths.
One former Raven played a key role in stopping the pass rush.
Jared Gaither left during free agency as the Ravens questioned his work ethic. He spent much of the night lined up across from Suggs and helped prevent him from having any impact on the game.
The other side of the ball was the complete opposite. The Ravens surrendered seven sacks and Flacco had almost no time to get plays off. Four of these sacks came from another former Raven, linebacker Antwan Barnes.
Flacco definitely deserves criticism for this performance, but Ravens fans shouldn't go overboard since he did throw two touchdowns and netted 226 yards. It's the kind of performance that sadly fans have to come to expect from him playing on the road.
Nevertheless it was brutal being down by so many points and having to give up on the running game.
Flacco has shown time and time again that he thrives as a game manager. He does way better in those games where he can hand it off to Ray Rice 20 times and rely on the running game.
The secondary also deserves a major share of blame here. Jimmy Smith, who I though was ready to be a starter, proved quite the opposite. San Diego purposely targeted the rookie and he failed the test as he gave up several big plays.
The other starting cornerback, Cary Williams, wasn't much better. He gave up a long 58-yard pass to Vincent Jackson that set up a Chargers touchdown.
Although Williams ended up with six tackles and a forced fumble, it was clear that both he and Smith were way over their heads against the tall San Diego receivers.
What was lost in the horrible loss was the fact that the Ravens have clinched a playoff berth. Not by their own merit of course, but coming instead from losses by the Tennessee Titans and the Oakland Raiders.
At 10-4 the Ravens are currently second in their division, although that is tentative positioning given that the Steelers have yet to play this week.
However, if the season ended today the Ravens would have the top wild-card spot and would play on the road (again) against the Denver Broncos. The Ravens could still win the division and get the bye that will likely come with it, but that has fallen out of their control.
Next week the Ravens go home to face the Cleveland Browns for the second time in four weeks. This game now has a must-win feel, especially if the Ravens want to get back on top of the division.
The game also gives the Ravens the opportunity to finish 8-0 at home for the first time in franchise history.
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