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SAN DIEGO — Ray Lewis stopped running, ending his pursuit as he realized it would have been an idle chase trying to catch up with accelerating San Diego Chargers All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates.
The Baltimore Ravens’ middle linebacker was several steps behind Gates as he headed toward the end zone unchallenged.
Gates’ 25-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter was emblematic of a puzzling day for the Baltimore Ravens’ usually-sound defense. The Ravens’ pass defense broke down twice on deep balls thrown to the athletic converted basketball player in a 32-14 loss Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.
Gates caught a pair of touchdowns to finish with a game-high 105 yards on six receptions.
Botched coverages were the apparent story each time.
"When you have a couple of blown coverage plays on one of the best tight ends in football, it’s always going to be that way," Lewis said. "Bottom line is there’s no way that you can let No. 85 fly down the field like that.
"It was just a blown communication. Bottom line is we can’t be giving one of the best tight ends in football two wide open touchdowns."
On Gates’ first score, a 35-yard touchdown in the second quarter, he sprinted past linebacker Bart Scott, who seemed to be releasing the tight end to the deep middle of the field.
However, safety Ed Reed was occupied with double-teaming a receiver. So, Gates ran free into the end zone with no one within 15 yards of him.
"I don’t know who was back there or what was going on," Scott said. "It was cover 3 defense. I had the hook and curl."
On Gates’ second touchdown, Lewis appeared to be in single coverage. It’s hard to tell, though, if a safety was supposed to provide some assistance.
When asked why Gates was left unguarded both times, Ravens coach Brian Billick didn’t have any concrete answers.
"We look at that with the defensive staff as to exactly what happened and how he ended up where he did," Billick said.
With All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson contained to 77 rushing yards on 24 carries while eclipsing the 10,000 career rushing milestone, quarterback Philip Rivers was meticulous about targeting Gates downfield.
And the Ravens didn’t come close to locking up the former Kent State power forward, who passed the credit onto Rivers, who threw three touchdown passes with no interceptions after entering the game as the NFL leader with 17 turnovers.
"I just want to give all the credit of this game to Philip," Gates said. "He gets all the boos. He just came out and played tremendous, and I was happy for him."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.