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Nine takeaways from Saturday's NFL games

The Baltimore Ravens (9-6) shut down the Los Angeles Chargers (11-4) while the Tennessee Titans (9-6) held off the Washington Redskins (7-8) in two close contests littered with significant playoff implications. Here's what we learned from Saturday's games:

  1. In a game between two AFC heavyweights, the Ravens turned out to be the defensive bully everybody thought they were. Baltimore dominated the Chargers' sixth-ranked offense, which managed just 198 total net yards, 194 yards below a per-game average of 392. The Ravens also held the Chargers 18.2 points below their season per-game average (28.2). The Ravens set the tone early with an incredible first half, holding a 19:54-10:06 edge in time of possession and a 223-72 margin in total net yards. The Ravens continued to punch the Chargers in the mouth throughout the second half and finished the game with four sacks, two interceptions and a game-changing fumble recovery returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Baltimore has now won five of its past six games and is arguably the team nobody in the AFC wants to face in January. The Ravens maintained their hold on the No. 6 seed and is scorching hot at the right time with an elite defense built to win in the postseason.
  1. Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, who totaled 39 yards as a ball carrier, proved he can be more than a rusher by posting a career-high 204 yards passing. He showed touch with a gorgeous pass over the top to rookie tight end Mark Andrews, who caught the ball in stride en route to a 68-yard touchdown pass. Jackson, who completed 12 of 22 passes, also posted a career-high 101.3 passer rating and 9.3 yards per attempt. Sure, Jackson can work on his mechanics and accuracy, but his performance on the road against a Chargers defense ranked eighth in the league put AFC defensive coordinators on notice that they have something else to worry about other than the Ravens ground attack.
  1. Speaking of Baltimore's rushing game, the Ravens entered Saturday night with five straight contests of 190-plus rushing as a team. The offense fell short of the mark against the Chargers, but not by much with 159 yards. Again, the Ravens pose all kinds of problems for opponents and possess a style of football that's a throwback when compared to the high-flying offenses around the league. With a punishing ground game, a rookie signal-caller coming into his own and a suffocating defense, look out, NFL.
  1. The Chargers didn't help their cause Saturday night with costly turnovers, an inability to convert on third down (4 of 13) and eight penalties for 69 yards. Quarterback Philip Rivers also came up small with 181 yards passing, marking the first time this season that he failed to top the 200-yard mark. While the loss didn't lessen the Chargers' hold on the top wild-card spot, the setback opened up some breathing room for the Kansas City Chiefs (11-3) in the AFC West pending the outcome of Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks. Still, don't be quick to write off the Chargers based on Saturday's game. The Chargers remain one of the NFL's top teams, but had the misfortune of running against a defensive juggernaut.
  1. Chargers running back Melvin Gordon returned to the lineup after a knee injury caused him to miss three straight games. Gordon, however, was mostly ineffective against the Ravens' stout defense, totaling 54 yards (41 rushing) and a touchdown in the losing cause. The Chargers are obviously a better offense with Gordon in the lineup, and he'll have the season finale against the Denver Broncos to knock off the rust from the missed time before the postseason.
  1. The Titans' chances for the postseason appeared doomed when quarterback Marcus Mariota left the game with a shoulder stinger injury to close the first half. But Blaine Gabbert played efficiently in the second half, completing 7 of 11 passes for 101 yards and the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter to help keep the Titans alive in the postseason chase. Gabbert might get another shot to lead the team in the season finale against the Indianapolis Colts, depending on Mariota's status, and the Titans can protect the quarterback with a strong defense and running game. Still, the Titans, who improved to 9-6 on the season, will need a repeat of Gabbert's play given the wild-card berth in the AFC will likely to come down to the final game.
  1. After producing two straight games of 170-plus yards rushing, Titans running back Derrick Henry came back to Earth a little with 84 yards rushing and a touchdown on 21 carries. Henry, however, saved his best running for when it was needed the most in the final two quarters. After being held to 27 yards rushing on seven carries in the first half, Henry found a rhythm in the second half with 57 yards on 14 attempts to help pace the Titans' ground attack, which totaled 99 yards on the game. Henry's hot December continued in the end zone, too. On his career, the third-year pro has 22 rushing touchdowns, with 12 coming in December. Eight of Henry's 12 rushing scores in 2018 have come in the past three weeks, and his emergence down the stretch of the season will be a large contributing factor in determining whether the Titans advance to the postseason.
  1. In a season of turmoil for Washington's offense, which was plagued by injuries at the quarterback position and offensive line, veteran running back Adrian Peterson proved a constant and bright spot. Against the Titans, Peterson showed flashes of his younger days, running with speed, agility and power en route to an impressive 119-yard rushing effort on 26 carries. The 33-year-old Peterson, who joined Washington in August, entered the game needing 77 yards to reach 1,000 yards rushing for the eighth time on his career. Peterson became the fifth player in NFL history to rush for 1,000-plus yards in a season at age 33-plus. He joins Frank Gore and Hall of Famers John Riggins, who did it twice, Franco Harris and John Henry Johnson, who also did it twice, as the only players in NFL history to accomplish the feat.
  1. Redskins quarterback Josh Johnson was having a good game, displaying poise through the first three quarters, until disaster struck in the final period. Johnson, a 32-year-old journeyman signal-caller, threw two costly interceptions with the game still very much in doubt, costing the Redskins a win and likely any glimmer of hope for a postseason berth. Johnson, who signed weeks ago from the AAF, was in a tough spot to begin with after taking over last week when injuries wrecked the quarterback position in Washington. The loss dropped the Redskins to 7-8 with one game to go.
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