Another week, another trip through the looking glass into the past. This time, we'll examine the last (and so far only) time the Chargers have matched up with the Harbaugh-Flacco lead Baltimore Ravens. The game itself was incredibly exciting and fun to watch, though the end result was ultimately disappointing and extremely frustrating for San Diego fans.
This game was the San Diego home opener, and the Chargers were coming off a nail-biter win over the Oakland Raiders which left them somewhat injury riddled, losing center Nick Hardwick for what would be nearly the entire year, and highly-regarded rookie right guard Louis Vasquez. That left backups Scott Mruczkowski and Brandon Dombrowski, each with minimal playing experience, starting in the middle of the line against a ferocious Baltimore defense. The Ravens were looking to build on a season where they made it all the way to the AFC Championship game with a rookie head coach and quarterback.
The game started off well for San Diego. After the teams exchanged a pair of punts, the Chargers found themselves backed up on their own 1 yard line. After picking up a first down, San Diego faced 3rd and 3 on their own 19. On the play, Darren Sproles leaked out of the backfield completely uncovered, Philip Rivers hit him with a short pass, and Sproles did the rest, sprinting down the field 81 yards for a touchdown.
Baltimore responded quickly with a touchdown of their own, this one a Willis McGahee touchdown run from five yards out. The San Diego offense worked its way down the field, largely thanks to a 45-yard bomb from Rivers to Malcom Floyd, but were unable to punch it into the end zone. They settled for a short field goal and a 10-7 lead. That lead would be short-lived however, as Baltimore again methodically attacked the Charger defense, and scored on another McGahee TD run, going up 14-10.
San Diego tacked on another field goal, but Baltimore added a touchdown and their lead grew to 21-13. The Chargers did manage to answer back just before the half, when with less than two minutes left, Sproles returned the ensuing kickoff all the way to the Baltimore 42 yard line. Helped by a long completion to Vincent Jackson and a roughing the passer penalty, the Chargers were set up with first and goal at the Baltimore 1 with 19 seconds left in the half. Here, though, is where having an inexperienced interior offensive line proved costly-miscommunication between fill-in center Mruczkowski and Rivers lead to a delay-of-game penalty, backing San Diego off the goal line and preventing them from running any sort of quarterback sneak or FB dive play. The result was a pair of incomplete passes, and another short field goal, cutting the lead to 21-16 at halftime.
The second half saw the Ravens extend their lead, when on their first possession Rivers threw an interception to Dawan Landry, and with a short field Flacco hit Todd Heap for a 9-yard touchdown, giving Baltimore a 28-16 lead. The ensuing San Diego drive, while very ugly, ended in a work of art. The Chargers managed to get down the field in spite of holding and chop block penalties (again, thanks to the patchwork offensive line), but ended up facing 3rd and 18 from the Baltimore 35 yard line. Rivers took the shotgun snap, and lofted one of the most beautiful rainbow passes you will ever see. Vincent Jackson got behind the Baltimore secondary, and with three Raven defenders hanging onto him made a stunning touchdown catch. The Ravens' lead was back to one score, and 28-23.
San Diego managed to force a Baltimore punt, but again was only able to kick another field goal, leading to a score of 28-26. A couple drives later, Rivers would throw another pick, this one to then-Raven and current Charger Antwaan Barnes, and again the short field would lead to a Ravens score, though this time only a field goal, increasing their lead to 31-26.
The Chargers took over with just under three minutes to go and a chance to win the game. Things started off well when Rivers found Jackson on another deep ball, this one good for 38 yards. Several plays later, San Diego found itself facing 4th down and 2, on the Baltimore 15 yard line. The next play would decide the game. In what would turn out to be an incredibly controversial decision (and create a BFTB meme), Norv Turner decided to give the ball to Sproles for a run up the middle, rather than put the game in the hands of his best player, Philip Rivers. The play called wasn't a bad one, but again, the injury-riddled offensive line failed to execute, allowing an unblocked Game over. to shoot a gap and drop Sproles for a loss in the backfield.
Frustrating, right? Rivers and the offense played about as well as could be expected given the circumstances, it just wasn't enough. Too many injuries and too good an opposing defense. At least this time, the patchwork offensive line has had more than one week to practice and play together, though it will be difficult, seeing as they're about to face a Baltimore defense with one of if not the best pass rushes in football. And, of course, this is a game they have to win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Piece of cake.