Five thoughts on the Ravens' 16-13 overtime victory over the San Diego Chargers Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium:
Win Qualifies As A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
I'm not sure there's a name for the quality that enabled the Ravens to rally from 10 points down in the final eight minutes. It sounds a little like a Yogi Berra-ism. They won because they're a winning team and San Diego isn't. They won because it's what they do more often than not (53 times in 75 regular-season games since 2008), because it is in their DNA and therefore they expect good things to happen. Meanwhile, the Chargers are eternally disappointing, a talented team that always underperforms; a team that expects bad things to happen. It was pretty amazing to feel the air in the stadium change when the Ravens suddenly found their "A" game and began making plays in the final minutes. The fans' cheers persisted, but they grew tinny, shrill rather than thunderous. Their worst fears, and also those of the Chargers, were almost palpable enough to touch. They could all feel the bad news coming. Yes, it still took a miracle play, a fourth-and-29 conversion by Ray Rice, for the Ravens to pull it off. But beyond that measurable, this game almost qualified as a self-fulfilling prophecy, won by the Ravens' innate confidence … and the Chargers' lack of it.
Offense Could Be Different Going Forward
Until the final minutes, this game was going to be about the Ravens' continuing offensive ineptitude and overall road woes. I'm sure fans were yelling at their televisions throughout Baltimore. The touchdown the Ravens scored in the fourth quarter was the first by their offense in 139 minutes, dating back to the third quarter of the Oakland game. The offense had gone 23 possessions without reaching the end zone (not counting series at the end of halves) when Joe Flacco hit Dennis Pitta for a score. The unit was victimized repeatedly by dropped passes and leaky blocking Sunday, and was awful in short-yardage situations. But then it suddenly scored a touchdown, got the ball back, and converted that fourth-and 29 – a stunning and galvanizing play, the kind that potentially alters beliefs and confidences. It will be interesting to see if the offense ups its game now, starts playing better. There's no reason one play should do it, but nothing is more energizing than finding a way to win a game you were about to lose.
Chargers Fans Stop Complaining, Officials Got Spot Correct
The semi-endless replay delay after Rice's fourth-and-29 conversion had the look and feel of an officiating disaster, but it was the opposite. The game was on the line, possibly to be decided by this single judgment, and referee Gene Steratore (one of the best in the game) and his crew methodically worked to get the call right. There was no doubt the original spot was too generous, but the sideline crew went ahead and moved the sticks in the aftermath of a breathtaking play. Steratore had to resort to replay to make two judgments – the right spot for the ball, and the right spots for the sticks so the measurement for a first down would be accurate. Getting the sticks re-positioned via replay was what took so long. If callers to the Chargers' postgame show are any indication, their fans seem to believe Steratore botched the call. I think their frustrations are better aimed at a defense that unforgivably allowed a fourth-and-29 escape.
No-Name Defense Officially Good
The Ravens' defense is officially playing good football. Its numbers will continue to lag in the lower echelons of the league rankings because of its struggles earlier in the season, but starting with the second half of the Cleveland game on Nov. 4, a week after Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb were lost for the season, the largely no-name unit has allowed just four touchdowns in 14 quarters while playing both the run and pass significantly better. The Chargers offered an interesting challenge because Philip Rivers shredded the Ravens a year ago, but there was no reprise. Rivers got on a roll in the second quarter, but otherwise was under too much pressure to get much done, as Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees correctly amped up the heat against the Chargers' beleaguered offensive line. Meanwhile, the longer the game went on, the better the run defense played. Kudos to Art Jones, whose career-best performance featured two sacks. Individual improvement like that is what is enabling the defense to rise.
Ravens' Playoff Focus Shifts
The Ravens' win combined with the Steelers' horrifying loss to the Cleveland Browns leaves Baltimore three games up in the AFC North with five to play, a pretty impregnable position. But now the focus shifts. While the division title is all but wrapped up, the Ravens are seeking one of the top two seeds in the AFC field, which would give them a first-round bye and second-round home game – things that, let's face it, they could really use. They're currently situated one game ahead of both the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots in that race, so there's little room for error. It's funny, December isn't even here and the Ravens' fifth-straight trip to the playoffs, a sizable achievement, is already all but certain. But they can't rest.