AFC Playoff Recap: Wildcard Weekend

Too little, too late for the Ravens

L.A. Chargers 23
Baltimore Ravens 17

Ok, so I was off by one point. It’s the only result I got right on Wildcard weekend, but at least I was really, really close (In case you missed it, I called this game 24-17 Chargers).

I’ve said multiple times that the Chargers might be the best team in the AFC field, and this game on the road, in a very hostile venue, against one of the league’s top defenses does little to dispel that notion.

It wasn’t the play of Philip Rivers that gets my attention here. He was a workmanlike 22/32 for 160 yards against the Ravens defensive front. That’s not a bad line against these guys, but he didn’t exactly carve them up.

Melvin Gordon didn’t gash them on the ground, either. No one does. Gordon and Austin Ekeler COMBINED for 69 yards on the ground. Again, that’s not terrible against these Ravens.

What stands out was the effort of the Chargers defensive unit, which held the Ravens to 90 yards rushing total. That is an exceptional performance against the league’s second-best rushing attack. Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa played inside all night, leading a unit which amassed nine tackles for loss and six sacks on the evening. For three quarters, the Ravens didn’t stand a chance. Here’s a list of their drives through three quarters.

PUNT, FUMBLE, PUNT, PUNT, INTERCEPTION, PUNT, PUNT, FIELD GOAL, MISSED FIELD GOAL.

I don’t care how good your defense is. You’re not beating Philip Rivers and the Chargers with that sort of offensive result. By halftime, pundits and Baltimore fans alike were screaming for Joe Flacco. They wasted their voice. John Harbaugh proved his value as a steady leader, keeping the young quarterback who got them to the playoffs in the game, and leaving his shaky, overpaid veteran on the sidelines. Harbaugh’s patience was rewarded, and in the fourth quarter, with their backs against the wall, Lamar Jackson showed just how bright the future is in Baltimore. As I mentioned in the preview, Jackson isn’t just a rushing quarterback. He’s got a good arm. He showed it, too.

In the Ravens first drive of the final quarter, Jackson found Willie Snead IV for twenty-nine yards on fourth and eleven, then found Michael Crabtree on the very next play for thirty-one yards and a touchdown. It was only a start, but with the emergence of the passing game, the Ravens had life. After the defense forced a quick three-and-out, Jackson took the field again, and took the Ravens eighty-five yards down the field for another Crabtree touchdown, which he caught on a nifty comeback route. The design was so tricky in fact, that it wasn’t initially ruled a TD. They had to go to the replay booth to get the call right.

Now trailing by only six at the two-minute-warning, the Ravens forced yet another key three-and-out. And if you think Arrowhead can be loud…M&T Bank Stadium was in full throat as the quarterback they had booed in the third quarter came out with a minute left with the game on the line.

The Chargers came up with one last big defensive play, though, to end the game. A strip sack by Uchenna Nwosu led to a fumble recovery by Melvin Ingram, and that was that. Lamar Jackson, the youngest quarterback to ever start a playoff game, had done all he could.

For the Chargers, the result was a great team win on the road against one of the league’s top defenses.

For the Ravens, who have a lot to be excited about next year, it was just too little, too late.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out Tom’s other playoff previews here

Image Source: USA Today

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