Chargers beat Ravens to advance to Divisional Round

The Chargers are moving on to face the second-seeded Patriots in the Divsional Round after knocking off the Ravens 23-17 in a defensive-powered slugfest at M&T Bank Stadium.

Here's what we learned from Sunday's white-knuckle Los Angeles victory over a Baltimore team that surged late:

  1. The Ravens were ominously jittery out of the gate, losing the ball three times on their first eight snaps. Lamar Jackson was fortunate to pick up his own bouncing fumble on Baltimore's first drive and luckier to see a botched shotgun snap still wind up with the Ravens. The Football Fates had seen enough, though, as runner Kenneth Dixon lost the ball on Baltimore's second series off an athletic Melvin Ingram strip. Baltimore's first four drives -- punt, fumble, punt, punt -- gave way to a fifth that saw the rookie passer overthrow Chris Moore on a toss pulled down by Chargers safety Adrian Phillips. Amid whispers that veteran Joe Flacco might take over, Jackson -- who, at one stage, had nearly two hours of real time pass between completions -- finished with 194 yards through the air, the vast majority of that in deep-space garbage time. Down 23-3 midway through the final period, Jackson and Baltimore caught fire with a pair of touchdown strikes to Michael Crabtree that left the Chargers angling for a first down -- and their playoff lives -- inside the two-minute warning up 23-17. The Ravens forced a punt to take over with 45 seconds left, but Jackson's season -- Baltimore's, too -- ended when the rookie passer saw his third fumble of the game recovered by Ingram.
  1. Two weeks made all the difference for Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who unfurled a creative game plan that held the Ravens to 69 first-half yards -- just 11 passing -- two turnovers, zero points, not a single play past the 50, only 12:24 in time of possession and fleeting memories of the run-heavy, Maryland-based beast that averaged 229.6 rushing yards since Week 11. The Chargers came out employing six-plus defensive backs with first-round safety Derwin James hovering at the line to snuff out ball-carriers for a Chargers unit that all but ignored the middle linebacker position. Holding the Ravens to just 90 yards rushing at 3.9 yards per pop -- again, almost all of that during a late-game flurry -- the Chargers made it clear this Baltimore attack can be studied and stopped.
  1. Star Chargers runner Melvin Gordon came up hobbling with an early left knee injury -- his other knee -- only to return in the second quarter for a Chargers club that struggled on the ground. Gordon never quite looked the same and was spelled often by Austin Ekeler. Los Angeles fans waited for Philip Rivers to test the Ravens deep, but his longer lobs were visibly impacted by a whipping wind. Credit goes to rookie kicker Mike Badgley, who calmly nailed first-half field goals of 21, 34, 40 and 53 yards despite the Bolts being held to 129 total yards before break. The entire third quarter passed without a first down for either team until Antonio Gates moved the sticks with two-plus minutes left in the frame. Rivers then hit receiver Mike Williams for 28 yards -- the first big play of the game -- to set up a Gordon goal-line scoring blast that buried the Ravens in a 20-3 void.
  1. What more could you ask from Baltimore's defense? Until the floor fell out late, the Ravens put the clamps on a Chargers attack that left points on the board with some overly cautious play-calling along the way. Brilliant Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor attempted to shift the game when he coaxed Virgil Green into a third-quarter fumble that C.J. Mosley took to the Los Angeles 21-yard line. The Ravens, though, could only manage a field goal.
  1. Special teams played a major factor for both teams. Chargers ace Desmond King barreled 33 yards on a punt return to Baltimore's 42, setting up Badgley's second field goal. King then opened the second half with a 72-yard kick return, but this hamstrung offense couldn't make anything of it, with the march fizzling away when Badgley's 41-yard field goal try was blocked. Midway through the third period, disaster struck again when Buck Allen blocked a Chargers punt -- only to have that lead to a super-rare missed field goal by Ravens superhero Justin Tucker.
  1. Back to Ingram, who played with a fire from beyond. The Chargers pass rusher generating that Dixon fumble, recovered the game-winning fumble, ushered a flurry of next-level run-stuffing magic and barreling into Jackson for a drive-crushing third-quarter sack. Joey Bosa also helped with a first-quarter takedown for a defense that came out with a brilliant scheme. Fifteen days ago the Ravens put a physical hurt on the Bolts, but Los Angeles and their staff deserve credit for learning from that setback. It's now on Baltimore's staff to learn from Sunday's stunning defeat.
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