SAN DIEGO — It wasn’t a sophisticated approach from the Baltimore Ravens’ running game.
They simply rolled up their sleeves, gritted their teeth and grinded out tough yards in the red zone.
Ultimately, they were much too physical for the San Diego Chargers during a 31-26 victory Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium where backup running back Willis McGahee wound up rushing for 79 yards and two short touchdown runs on 15 carries.
"No pitter-patter stuff, no tip-toeing," McGahee said. "Down on the goal line, you’ve got to make a quick decision and run hard. We always try to establish the run game quick and early.
"That’s one thing we work on all the time. That’s what I’m here for, to run the ball. I can’t do anything but work hard on that."
The Ravens converted three of four red-zone opportunities on touchdown runs from McGahee and a nine-yard touchdown catch from tight end Todd Heap.
"That killed us last year as far not scoring in the red zone and kicking field goals," McGahee said.
Conversely, the Chargers managed to convert zero of their five scoring chances inside the Ravens’ 20-yard line into touchdowns as they settled for four Nate Kaeding field goals.
"They got off to a quick start and we came right back and answered,” Heap said. “We were able to play the field-position game and have a few big drives that determined the outcome."
LIGHTS OUT: Tight end Edgar Jones sent Chargers star outside linebacker Shawne Merriman sprawling through the air with a big block that knocked an unsuspecting Merriman to the ground.
It was a play designed by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron called "Lights On," named after the former University of Maryland player’s nickname, "Lights Out."
"He calls himself, ‘Lights Out,’ so it was a play for me to go hit Shawne Merriman and put his lights out," Jones said. "I did what I was supposed to do."
Matched up against fellow former University of Maryland player Jared Gaither for the majority of the game, Merriman was limited to one tackle and two quarterback hits.
"I feel great about the matchup since we won," Gaither said. "I definitely think I played well, but we have to look at the film."
Merriman’s top contribution was in the fourth quarter when he got a big jump on the snap count and pressured Joe Flacco from behind into an interception to cornerback Antoine Cason.
It looked like Merriman might have been offsides on the play.
"Hey, the refs didn’t call it, so I guess he wasn’t," Gaither said. "Of course, I have a different opinion."
And so did Merriman.
"I timed it pretty good," he said. "Sometimes, you have got to go out and make a play and hope for the best."
A LONG WAIT: Wide receiver Kelley Washington’s 27-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter marked his first score since September 17, 2006 when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Personally, it was good for me to get in the end zone," Washington said. "It’s been a while since I’ve scored, so that felt good."
Quarterback Joe Flacco had Washington all alone, lobbing the football high into the air like a pop fly to the wide receiver. Washington pretended like he was going to block on the play, then burst downfield to get open.
"It’s a changeup on the screen play," Washington said. "It’s one of those plays where you’re wide open, so just catch the ball first. Don’t think about anything else."
With no one near him, Washington finished off the score and he celebrated with an elaborate set of spins and strutting.
"That was the infamous Squirrel dance," Washington said. "I’ve been doing it a long time. It felt good to put it in play for the Baltimore fans. That’s pure excitement."
SOLID DAY: One game removed from posting a career-high three touchdown passes and 307 passing yards against the Kansas City Chiefs, Flacco turned in a solid performance with two touchdown passes and one interception
He completed 17 of 26 passes for 190 yards for a 96.6 quarterback rating.
"Our offensive line did a great job and I felt great back there," Flacco said. "I felt like we did the things we wanted to do.
“We didn’t have a ton of yards, but we put points on the board and we came away with some points and our defense stopped them when they needed to. We came out victorious."
Added Ravens coach John Harbaugh: "Joe played really good."
CORRECTING THE MISTAKES: After allowing Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to pass for a career-high 436 yards, the Ravens have some work to do to correct those mistakes.
"It’s the big plays," Harbaugh said. "There are situations where you’ve got a big wide receiver matched up, running downfield, against the corner, going up and making the play. We can play more two-deep, put double-coverage back there more often. I just think we’ve got to figure out how to make plays and play a little more two-deep in those situations maybe."
UNCONTAINABLE: Although the Ravens stopped shifty Chargers running back Darren Sproles on fourth down on Ray Lewis’ big tackle, they didn’t keep him contained throughout the contest.
The franchise player finished with 278 all-purpose yards, the ninth-most in franchise history.
"I knew he was their best player on either side of the ball," linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said. "He was their most lethal player and he got the most yards."
Sproles finished with 124 receiving yards on seven catches, including an 81-yard touchdown.
He returned a kickoff 53 yards, gaining 128 yards total on four returns.
Kicker Steve Hauschka pushed Sproles out of bounds on his long return.
“I’m just glad I was able to push him out of bounds,” Hauschka said. “That’s not a matchup you want in the open field.”
Sproles also rushed for 26 yards on 10 carries.
INJURY UPDATE: Cornerback Fabian Washington left the game in the fourth quarter with a concussion when he tackled Sproles.
Afterward, Washington was woozy on the details.
“Not too hot,” Washington said when asked how he was feeling. “A little lightheaded, but nothing more than that.”
Team officials said he suffered a concussion, but Washington said he was going to get evaluated further.
"I really don’t know, I have no idea," he said. "I’m about to go get checked out."
Defensive tackle Justin Bannan left the game in the first half with a sprained left knee, but returned.
Strong safety Dawan Landry needed an IV on the sidelines in the second half to replenish his fluids after cramping up.
"I was just cramping up, nothing serious," he said.
Landry was also rejuvenated by a key interception in the third quarter that he lateraled to free safety Ed Reed for an eight-yard gain.
"After that I felt good," Landry said.
SMITH STILL SIDELINED: Following a week where he made progress from a pulled left hamstring, tight end L.J. Smith was deactivated for the second game in a row.
Although this was the game that Smith had targeted for his return, he was limited in practice and listed as questionable on the injury report.
Meanwhile, rookie outside linebacker-defensive end Paul Kruger was a healthy scratch for the second week in a row with the Ravens going with outside linebacker Antwan Barnes again this week because of his contributions on special teams. Kruger doesn’t have a special-teams background.
The Ravens also deactivated third quarterback John Beck, safety Tom Zbikowski (concussion), linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (sprained right medial collateral ligament), offensive tackle Oniel Cousins, offensive lineman Tony Moll and nose guard Brandon McKinney, a former Charger.
NO L.T.: Due to a sprained ankle, the Chargers were without star running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
The Chargers were playing without nose guard Jamal Williams, who was placed on injured reserve Saturday with a torn triceps tendon.
Ogemdi Nwagbuo started in Williams’ place.
San Diego signed defensive end Andre Coleman to take Williams’ roster spot.
"We were looking forward to playing against him," McGahee said. "We didn’t find out until we got here that he wasn’t playing. It didn’t change anything."
The Chargers also deactivated Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick (ankle), quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, safety C.J. Spillman, offensive guard Louis Vasquez (knee), wide receiver Buster Davis, linebacker Antwan Applewhite and defensive lineman Travis Johnson (groin).
"Hardwick being out helped a little bit," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "His replacement was a lot less experienced."
QUICK HITS: Rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb turned in a heady, athletic play when he knocked a Sam Koch punt back toward Washington to down it at the Chargers’ one-yard line in the first quarter. "I just got a good jump on things and ran down there as fast as I could," he said. "It was fun." … If middle linebacker Ray Lewis didn’t tackle Sproles on the final play, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was positioning himself to stop him. "I knew he was going to make the play," Suggs said. "I just didn’t know where he was going to make it at. I was just trying to make it myself. When he did it, I didn’t believe it. I didn’t think it was real, but sure indeed it was." … Ayanbadejo’s playing time on defense increased markedly as the Ravens employed a lot of nickel packages. "I haven’t ever played that much linebacker before," he said "When the offense goes small, they put me in. I was in there because of their smaller groups. I’m not a big guy, but I’m running around out there." … Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes intercepted the first pass of his career in the fourth quarter to set up Steve Hauschka’s 33-yard field goal. Plus, Landry intercepted his first pass since his rookie season in 2006 when he intercepted five passes. "It’s always good just to get an interception, period," Landry said. "As long as we create turnovers and put our offense back on the field, we know we can score that way." … Free safety Ed Reed, tight end Todd Heap and punter Sam Koch were the Ravens’ game captains.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.