Something about Sunday's San Diego Chargers 34-33 victory over the Baltimore Ravens seemed to be preordained. No matter how many times the Ravens tried to pull away in the game, the Chargers always seemed to strike back. During the waning moments of the game so many things happened at the right place and at the right time, that it almost feels like this season is hinting at another December magical ride.
"It was playoff football, playoff atmosphere, two really good teams battling it out" Chargers Safety Eric Weddle said after the game. "We just had one more play in us than them-wow."
And it wasn't just Chargers plays that helped with the win.
Take for instance the ensuing kickoff after the Chargers scored a touchdown to make the score 30-27 Baltimore with 3:40 left to play in the fourth quarter.
For the better part of the game, San Diego Kicker Nick Novak had been squib-kicking to avoid any long returns buy Baltimore Kick Returner Jacoby Jones. On this particular play, the call was to kick it deep instead.
And it almost cost the Chargers the game.
Jones fielded the kick two-yards deep in the end zone and returned it all the way to the Chargers 30 yard line. It was what the San Diego coaching staff had been trying to avoid all game, but ironically, the big return may have helped. The Jones return ate up a big chunk of yards but more importantly used less time off the clock in the process. This was extremely important as the Chargers would spend their three timeouts on the drive.
"Well, that's the one thing we talked about earlier in these discussions here," Chargers Head Coach Mike McCoy said. "That's going to win and lose football games. It doesn't matter if they go up and down the field. If you can hold them to field goals at critical times like we did, you put yourself in a situation.
The Ravens, seemingly playing conservative, did just that as they settled for a field goal to make it 33-27, and forcing San Diego to score a touchdown to win. For the game, the Chargers defense held the Ravens to four redzone field goals on the day.
"That was a huge stop by our defense," Quarterback Philip Rivers said. "If the Ravens had gotten a first down there, the game was over. Not only did they stop them, but they forced Joe [Flacco] to throw the ball away. That saved us some time. When they kicked the field goal, we said ‘Let's go win by a point.'"
With 2:22 remaining in the game, the ball was left in Rivers hands, exactly where his teammates wanted it.
"We have a lot of character on this team, and we knew we could do it," Wide Receiver Eddie Royal said. "Everybody in the huddle knew we could win that game. When we got into the huddle, Phil [Rivers] was excited, and he sounded like a little kid. But everyone was relaxed, and we were ready to win the game."
"We're going to go win this game," Weddle remembers thinking during the final drive. "I've been a part of many comebacks with [Rivers], and a lot of the young guys haven't experienced it. I looked at a couple of the young guys like you're going to witness something great right now. Just hold on to your hat and get ready to watch this. They were freaking out. I was just like ‘calm down.' It was just an unbelievable drive. It took a total team effort to get a win in Baltimore. Hostile environment, so it's big time."
The Chargers would utilize the no-huddle quick-passing tempo to march down the field on their final drive. A passing interference call against the Ravens put the ball on the 1 yard line with :46 seconds left to play. The next play, San Diego would take the 34-33 lead on a touchdown pass to Wide Receiver Eddie Royal.
"We were definitely not in a panic mode," Rivers said. "Our goal was to run two plays for the two-minute warning. Not only did we get two plays, but they were big plays for us. When we got to the 25-yard line, we knew it was time to go for the end zone."
On the ensuing kickoff, the Chargers again decided to kick deep to Jones. Only this time, Jones muffed the catch and as soon as he gathered the ball, the special teams unit was already descending on him. Baltimore would start on their on 14 yard line with :38 seconds left.
The Ravens would move the ball to their own 38 yard line with :09 seconds left to play. Trying to get their kicker into field goal range and a chance to win the game, Baltimore Quarterback Joe Flacco hit Wide Receiver Kamar Aiken with a completion at the San Diego 43 yard line. But a game-saving tackle by Chargers Cornerback Brandon Flowers inches away from the out-of-bounds line proved to be the final swing of the wand on a magical day.
"This is a playoff-type team," Rivers said. "To come into this atmosphere and win means so much for our confidence. This was an awesome victory for us. Especially the way we won. The game was back and forth all afternoon, and we kept our confidence and won."