Baltimore took its high-powered, Ray Lewis-led defense into San Diego and got thoroughly embarrassed in a nationally televised contest on NBC's Sunday Night Football. Though the Ravens had already clinched a spot, the game held major playoff implications for the Chargers along with the rest of the AFC West.
The Chargers' third in row, the win puts San Diego at 7-7 on the season, now tied for second in the division with just two games left to play.
By the middle of the third quarter, San Diego had taken Baltimore out of their game plan, and, as good as the Ravens are, they're simply not built to come from behind. Joe Flacco has never been effective in a pass-first offense, always depending upon the power running game. Down by 24 points in the third quarter, though, controlling the clock and tempo with a heavy dose of Ray Rice was simply no longer an option.
As such, the Chargers record in December remains impeccable and, while they still need a little help, San Diego now has a legitimate shot at making the playoffs this season. This despite suffering a six-game losing streak earlier in the year.
Cris Collinsworth is not the only one asking where this offense has been hiding all season long, a question that few, if any, other than head coach Norv Turner can answer. Nevertheless, as has been the case each and every year under Turner, the Chargers look like a completely different team down the stretch.
Amazingly, Turner has lost only two games in December, going back five seasons now as the head coach of the San Diego Chargers.
Prior to their defeat of the Baltimore Ravens, the argument could have been made that the Chargers haven't beaten anyone yet.
Not anymore. San Diego went head to head with the best the AFC has to offer and blew them up for 34 points and 400-yards.
While winning convincingly against sub-par talent, such as Buffalo and Jacksonville is fine, nothing builds confidence like beating-up on a quality opponent. Over the last three weeks the Chargers have outscored their opponents 109 to 40 en route to racking up over 1,100 total yards on offense.
And while it may ultimately turn out to be too little to late for San Diego, should Denver, the Jets, Bengals, or Titans falter over these last two games, the Chargers may end up being the hottest team entering the 2011 NFL playoffs.
After Sunday night's throttling of the Ravens, there's absolutely no reason to doubt that the Chargers can take care of business in Detroit and Oakland to finish 9-7 on the season. Should Denver drop both of their final two games, not out of the question now that Bill Belichick has given the league the book on shutting down Tim Tebow, the Chargers could very well end up winning the AFC West crown.
And, even if Denver hangs on to win one or both of their final two games, the Chargers could still squeak in as a Wild Card, provided they get a little help from one or two of the teams currently hovering around .500 in the AFC.
By the time coach Norv Turner was ready to break-out his second half playbook, the Chargers no longer had the horses to run the spread-style offense that has made San Diego so hard to beat late in the year.
Already without All-Pro left guard Chris Dielman, San Diego lost four, that's right, four offensive lineman in a week 10 match-up against the Oakland Raiders.
An uncanny series of events, though, led to what Philip Rivers called “the best waiver-wire pick-up in the history of the NFL” when veteran left tackle, Jared Gaither, was inexplicably cut from Kansas City. He was promptly picked up by San Diego and penciled in as the starter from day one. The rest is history.
Gaither's presence has provided Rivers with, perhaps for the first time all season, the time he needs to set his feet in the pocket and deliver the football on target. The return of backup guard Tyrone Greene cannot be understated, either, which allowed Luis Vasquez to move back to his natural position at right guard.
Anybody still wondering what was wrong with Rivers during the first half of the schedule now has their answer. Although the difference in the offense Turner runs during the first half of the season has a lot to do with it, the improvement in terms of pass protection has had the biggest impact on Rivers' performance.
The truth is that the blocking tandem of Jared Gaither and Tyrone Greene on the left side of the Chargers' offensive line has out-performed that of the regulars they've replaced. Marcus McNeill and Chris Dielman, had both been struggling before going down with injuries. The difference can be seen in the running game and in the passing game, and may well lead to some tough personal decisions for San Diego at the end of the season.
The Chargers have quite a bit of money locked up in McNeill and Dielman, who were not meeting expectations. Meanwhile, both Gaither and Greene have made strong cases for themselves as being legitimate starters and would come at a much lower price tag.
In any case, no matter who's playing quarterback, a minimum amount of time in the pocket is absolutely essential to the success of any offense. Rivers is certainly no different, as has been made evident by how the improvement in his game over the course of the last several weeks has directly coincided with the improved play of his offensive line.
Neither Terrell Suggs, nor Ray Lewis had an answer for tight end Antonio Gates Sunday night, who set the stage for the Chargers' big win in the first half with three key receptions. It was Gates' block on Jake Reed that sprung Mathews for his first touchdown of the contest, as well.
Performing more and more each week like the Gates of old, his contribution over the last three games has had as much to do with the Chargers' success as anything else. Heading forward, the Chargers' opponents will have no choice but to double-up on Gates or be destroyed by him. Problem is, if you double Gates, Floyd and Jackson will eat-up the single coverage on the outside. Either way, it's a win—win for San Diego.
It's official, Eric Weddle's performance this season makes him the most productive player at the free safety position in the history of the franchise. Granted, that's not saying much given that free safety has long been a perennial weakness for San Diego, going all the way back to the NFL-AFL merger.
Still, now tied for the league-lead in interceptions, and leading all free safeties with 16 passes defended, Weddle has all but locked in an invitation to Hawaii this year. Although contrary to some reports, Weddle is not the highest paid free safety in the league. He is, however, at least at this stage of the season, the most productive in the league at his position.
This is true despite the large and rather vocal contingent of the Chargers' fan base who've been highly critical of both the decision to draft Weddle, and also of the contract he signed this year to stay in San Diego. Weddle, though, has responded, leaving his critics with little if anything left to base their arguments on. That is, of course, outside of the negative media-hype that some of the fans have allowed to shape their opinion on the subject.
Thankfully, the Chargers' personnel department has proven once again that they know a little bit more about scouting and player development than does the average fan. Go figure.