It took Baltimore 13 seconds to set the tone on Saturday against the Chargers. On the first play of the game, L.A. quarterback Philip Rivers faked a handoff, dropped back, and launched a ball to midfield looking for receiver Mike Williams, the hero of last week’s win against Kansas City. Instead, Rivers found Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr.
It didn’t get much better for Los Angeles from there. Baltimore’s defense dominated the Chargers on Saturday, holding Rivers to 181 passing yards (a season low) and the team to just 198 total yards (also a season low) and 10 points (another season low). One day after the team announced coach John Harbaugh would return in 2019, the Ravens won 22-10 despite traveling cross-country on a short week, and they did so with a throwback run-and-defense identity that has gone out of style in 2018.
Baltimore entered Saturday second in the league in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA and tied for first in points allowed per game (18.1) and first in yards allowed per game (290.1). The Ravens defense sacked Rivers four times, intercepted him twice (on his first and last passes of the game), and held every Chargers skill player to under 60 total yards. When the Chargers were at midfield down six points with less than three minutes to go, Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor punched the ball out of tight end Antonio Gates’s hands and cornerback Tavon Young scooped up the ball for a 62-yard touchdown that all but sealed the game.
Baltimore’s defense deserves a lot of credit for the victory, as does rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, who had the finest performance of his young career. The Ravens are 5-1 since Jackson took over as the starter. For the first nine weeks of the season, quarterback Joe Flacco led the league in pass attempts and Baltimore was passing on 64 percent of its plays and running on 36 percent. Since switching to Jackson during their bye week, the Ravens still had a 64-36 split, but reversed: Entering this week, Baltimore, now the league’s best ground attack, was running 64 percent of the time, by far the highest rate (and the most rushing yards) since Week 11. The Ravens continued that ground dominance in L.A. and rushed for 159 yards on 35 attempts (4.5 yards per carry). Running back Gus Edwards ran for 92 yards on just 14 carries while Jackson added 39 yards on 14 carries.
Lamar Jackson ranks 5th in the @NFL in rushing yards since his first start (Nov. 11), and one of the players ahead of him is Gus Edwards. They are the first rookie teammates in NFL history each to rush for 400+ yards over 5 games.@Ravens at @Chargers— Elias Sports Bureau (@EliasSports) December 23, 2018
now on @NFLNetwork
Jackson also finished with 12 completions on 22 attempts for 204 yards, a touchdown, and a 101.3 passer rating. With the Ravens down four early in the third quarter, Jackson laid in a perfect ball for tight end (and fellow rookie) Mark Andrews, who stiff-armed a defender to finish the 68-yard touchdown pass.
It’s a tough loss for the Chargers, who had a chance to win the AFC West and earn the no. 1 overall seed in the AFC with a 2-0 finish to their season after beating Kansas City last week. With the loss, the Chargers will get the wild card and the fifth seed in the AFC unless the Chiefs drop their final two games and the Chargers beat Denver in Week 17. Meanwhile, the Ravens are now 9-6 entering the final week of the season, and a win against Cleveland in Week 17 would give them a 98 percent chance of making the playoffs and the inside track for the division title. The league may be on pace for one of the most pass-heavy seasons in NFL history, but the Ravens showed they’re still a threat in the AFC with an old-school approach that will be tough for any team come playoff time—and when that time comes, it just might be the Chargers, who have a serious chance to head to Baltimore for the first round of the postseason if the Ravens win the NFC North.
After the game, Ravens (and former Chargers) safety Eric Weddle was asked about Baltimore’s dominant victory.
“Shoot, I mean we might have to play them in two more weeks,” Weddle said. “It was a great team win tonight. I’m not going to boast too much.”