RAVENS 16 CHARGERS 13, OT
November 25, 2012
The ends justify the means. That may be the only way to explain an ugly performance that resulted in an unlikely 16-13 overtime win for the Ravens in San Diego. In the end a beautiful, hard-fought victory justified a lethargic first-half performance against a Chargers team that had not been playing well.
Coming out of the locker room down 10-0,the Ravens could have accepted excuses about traveling across three time zones to play football. They could have accepted the notion that they don’t match up against a Chargers team who they lost to badly in San Diego a year ago. They could have become frustrated about questionable officiating, or embraced doubts about their ability to execute offensively on the road.
Instead, they stepped up on both sides of the ball in the second half to outgain the Chargers 258 to 70 total yards, tie the game at 13 apiece, and force their way into overtime to pull out the win with Justin Tucker’s third field goal on the day, with less then two minutes left in the extra period.
Predictably, after the game head coach John Harbaugh talked about his team’s heart. He threw out the phrase, “Hope, Faith, and Love” to describe the make up of his team. It sounds corny. It sounds like John Harbaugh. But it also sounds about right. How else do you explain such an unlikely win?
We’ll try to do so by breaking down the performance of each unit and hand out some unpleasant grades. But the grades will only tell half the story. It won’t reveal a bigger Truth that John Harbaugh wants you to see.
Maybe he’s right. Maybe there is something larger at work here than what the numbers reveal.
Joe Flacco gave a butt-ugly performance in the first half. He didn’t check off into smart plays and he wasn’t on the same page as his receivers, waiting too long for them to come out of breaks before releasing the ball or consistently overthrowing them wildly. The Chargers mimicked a Steelers ploy of running a safety underneath Torrey Smith’s out routes and baited Flacco into forcing overthrows rather than finding another target. The only good thing about his first half numbers – 8 of 16 for 59 yards, with three of the eight completions coming during a two-minute drill to end the half – was the fact that he did not turn the ball over. In fact, neither team had a turnover in this odd game. He had only two completions to his wide receivers in the first half, 19 and 12 yards to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, respectively.
He finally got untracked in the second half, starting with the short passing game and utilizing the middle of the field. By the fourth quarter and overtime he was on a roll, with nearly 300 yards passing through the air after halftime. He was particularly effective on third down conversions, 12 for 24 overall.
Running Backs: A
Ray Rice’s 29-yard catch and run on fourth and 29 in the fourth quarter may be the play of the year in the NFL. It put the Ravens in position to kick the tying field goal and force overtime. While at times he was broken down by the first hit or dropped a screen pass, he was mostly a one-man show breaking tackles and willing the team to the win. He ended up with 30 touches and 164 total yards, 97 of those on the ground. Bernard Pierce was effective as a change of pace with 34 yards on nine carries. He was better between the tackles than when dancing on the edges. He and Vonta Leach struggled with a blitz pick up to allow a sack, one of five on the day given up by the Ravens.
Wide Receivers: A
Anquan Boldin was the most aggressive player on the field; however, it did lead to one negative play, a late hit personal foul. Otherwise, it was the perfect compliment to a running game for a team who came in with a game plan to out-physical their opponent. Boldin clobbered Atari Bigby at end of 19-yard catch and run to send a message. He easily beat a jam by Shareece Wright at the line of scrimmage to make a crucial 23-yard catch in overtime. And he threw a devastating block on safety Eric Weddle to allow Rice to finish his 29-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter.
It was nice to see Torrey Smith running crossing routes, which twice beat the Chargers for long gains. His third-down 31-yard reception on a back shoulder comeback route to the Chargers sixteen was second only to Rice’s 29-yarder in importance. It set up the winning field goal. Jacoby Jones quietly averaged ten yards on five catches, including some strong receptions in the fourth quarter. Tandon Doss flashed good hands plucking a hard thrown ball out of the air for a first down.
Tight Ends: B
Dennis PItta made the most of a few chances, converting reliably on third down catches. In traffic, he took big hits and spun for extra yards, but also showed a knack for finding open spots in zone coverage.
Kelechi Osemele struggled against the speed rush. He failed to move his feet while Antwaan Barnes and Shaun Phillips ran around him for sacks. He was also vulnerable to allowing quick inside penetration on zone blocking runs. He did make a very nice chip block to the outside, turning up to seal the linebacker ahead of a 16-yard Ray Rice run.
Micheal Oher was not much better. He looked disorganized allowing Cory Liuget to beat him on a sack and failed to block anyone on a fourth and inches run that was stuffed behind the line.
Interior Line: C
Jah Reid played well in space but struggled head-up, allowing inside penetration. His false start penalty assured a poor start for the offense. Matt Birk was able to get a decent push on the nose tackle on runs straight up the middle, and Marshall Yanda recorded a nice pancake block on a quick-hitter to the right side. But the group never really played well together with any consistency.
Cary Williams continues to excel playing a more aggressive style at the line of scrimmage. It forced an offensive pass interference call against Danario Alexander who tried to shove the corner away with the ball in the air. Williams did not play as well when hanging off receivers and was beaten on a post by Malcolm Floyd for a touchdown, with not much safety help on the inside. Corey Graham also played well again this week, maintaining tight coverage, and using his hands to break up passes. He had a near interception when he broke on a throw to the sidelines.
Bernard Pollard had a poor day defending the pass. He was late with help in the middle on the Floyd TD catch. He also lost Alexander in the middle of zone coverage on a long gainer, including a missed tackle. And he was a step slow chasing receivers sideline to sideline. His aggressiveness drew a flag for a personal foul on a bad call. He did finish with a team-leading 8 tackles. Ed Reed had a quiet day but good coverage help contributed to Phillip Rivers throwing the ball away throughout the game.
Paul Kruger had a quick start, using a shiver to knock tackle Jeromey Clary off balance and then leaping over him for a sack of Rivers. He used the same move on the opposite side to get pressure on Rivers and was a pest chasing the quarterback the entire game.
Dannell Ellerbe looked best attacking the line of scrimmage, but struggled taking good angles in space or covering tight ends and receivers out of the backfield. He eventually limped off the field. His replacement, Josh Bynes, was picked on immediately in the passing game. Bynes was quickly replaced by special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo, who was terrific. Ayanbadejo was key in forcing three-and-outs in the fourth quarter and overtime to allow the comeback win.
Terrell Suggs was quiet, but did manage to bat down a swing pass to force a punt and picked up a sack. Courtney Upshaw chipped in with a sack as well.
Defensive Line: A-
It didn’t look good for this unit to start the game with Ma’ake Kemoeatu getting blown back off the line of scrimmage and Haloti Ngata jumping offsides to yield a first down. But they began to stiffen as the game wore on. Terrence Cody rotated in and played well. Arthur Jones was the standout player on this unit, looking unstoppable at times. He picked up two sacks on speed moves, and beat a double team for a big run stuff. DeAngelo Tyson made some nice contributions as well, including backing Rivers out of the pocket to allow the Suggs sack from the outside. As a unit they were very effective in shutting down the screen pass.
Special Teams: B
The Chargers’ Mike Scifres punted the ball tremendously, and didn’t give Jacoby Jones much to work with including a 62-yard punt Jones fielded but should have let roll into the end zone. Jones did finally get a 23-yard return to the Ravens’ 40 with under three minutes left in regulation, which set up the game-tying drive. Sam Koch was not his usual self, pinning punts inside the ten despite many first-half opportunities.
Anthony Levine was a very effective gunner and made a nice tackle of Chris Carr on a ball that should have been fair caught. Justin Tucker was perfect on all three field-goal attempts, including the game-tying and game-winning kicks. He sure does not look like a rookie.
Credit Cam Cameron with sticking with a run first mentality that allowed Rice to average 4.4 yards on 22 carries. He went to the deep ball well a few too many times, but it was a pleasant shock to see him adjust and call for an actual crossing route that used Smith’s speed. The first time he called it the play went for a season-best 54 yards. See Cam? You don’t always need to throw deep to pick up yardage. You have to question the stretch blocking run on fourth and inches – too slow to develop.
John Harbaugh managed the clock well at the end of the first half and in overtime, forcing the Chargers to burn timeouts and running it down to 72 seconds in case the field goal was botched.
Gene Steratore’s crew is to be credited for not over-officiating, but they threw in some very odd calls at times. That included a terrible call for Pollard leading with the helmet with a hit on Alexander on the sideline. Pollard actually turned and hit him in the ribs with his back. The call allowed the Chargers to kick their final field goal. The holding call against Yanda late in the game was also highly questionable. And the amount of time it took to sort out the spot after Rice’s 29-yard catch and run was embarrassing. While you like them getting the call right, the chains should have never moved on the play. It was a flipping mess.
Dan Fouts was awful. It was as if he couldn’t see the field. He questioned the Ravens “risking” a challenge call they won that moved the ball from inside their own ten to start instead at the sixteen on Jacoby Jones’ non-fumble of a punt. Ian Eagle didn’t help him much. Eagle announced that Ellerbe had limped off the field. Fouts jumped in to exclaim that another Ravens player had just hit the deck. Turns out that player was Ellerbe, sitting in the middle of the field.
Eagle told us that Donald Butler “appeared to be okay” after being helped off the field, but as Butler waddled off as if he was wearing flippers on his feet, it was clear to viewers that Butler had been struggling with more than a minor groin issue on two consecutive plays – he never returned. Similarly, Fouts explained that Andrew Gachkar had a groin injury as he was helped off clutching his ribs.
Fouts credited Matt Birk with a key block late in the game. CBS cut to a replay showing Birk falling on his face in front of the tackler. Just prior to Rice’s big conversion on fourth and 29, Fouts was talking about the Ravens needing 20 yards to get into Tucker’s field goal range, and had to be reminded it was fourth down.