I figured Sunday night’s road game in San Diego would challenge the Ravens. But, I didn’t expect them to lay an egg like they did against the Chargers, who continued their December dominance with a 34-14 win over the Ravens. The Ravens now trail the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North.
Here are my thoughts after another head-scratching road debacle that dropped the Ravens to 10-4:
1. No need to nitpick after this one. It was a game of missed plays for the Ravens, who picked a poor time to embarrass themselves on national TV. The offense left some plays on the field in the first half when the game was still within reach. And on defense, everyone from future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis to rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith failed to execute. Billy Cundiff missed another short-range kick, too. The good news is this only counts as one loss. The bad news is that they didn’t have a loss to give with the 10-3 Steelers streaking. Baltimore will temporarily be 49ers Country Monday night.
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2. You can’t pin this one on Joe Flacco or Cam Cameron. The Baltimore defense met its match in San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers and his towering wide receivers, Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd. I assume Mike Scifres is still San Diego’s punter, but I don’t know for sure because the Chargers had no need for him Sunday night. The Chargers scored on six of their first seven drives; the other was a missed field goal by former Terps kicker Nick Novak. And don’t try to blame this on Lewis being back after missing four straight Ravens wins. This defense fell back to earth with a loud thud together.
3. One common theme in the team’s four losses? Well, besides them being on the road? The lack of a pass rush. The Ravens had five sacks in those four road losses (and four sacks came against the Jacksonville Jaguars). Without pressure, Smith and fellow cornerback Cary Williams had no chance against Jackson and Floyd. Heck, Terrell Suggs said it this week: "You don't want a quarterback to be in a seven-on-seven match, especially this one, with your defensive backs. It's going to be raining touchdowns and it doesn't feel too good." It won’t feel good in the film room on Monday, either.
4. This was not Flacco’s best showing. If you look at the numbers -- 23-for-34 for 226, two TDs and two interceptions -- Flacco’s performance doesn’t look that bad, but sometimes stats lie. Early in the game, Flacco was struggling to get in sync with his receivers. He couldn’t fit a would-be TD into a window for Lee Evans on the opening drive and missed a wide-open Ray Rice on a short pass in the flat during the second quarter that Rice could have busted for a big gain. Flacco’s up-and-down play on the road is one reason why the Ravens might have to open on the road in the wild-card round.
5. The Ravens lost so Cam Cameron is going to get criticized. I won’t bash him for the run-pass ratio in this one. In the first half, the Ravens called 16 pass plays and 11 rushes. But once the Chargers scored on the first drive of the second half, the Ravens had to abandon Rice. This wasn’t the Seattle Seahawks. The Chargers were going to keep scoring -- and they did -- so the Ravens had to throw it.
6. It’s a shame that a rough statistical season has made some forget that Rivers is one heck of a QB. As far as quarterbacks who have not won a Super Bowl go, this guy’s probably the best of the bunch.
7. I know Cundiff’s misses have become a concern -- especially if he has to kick away from M&T Bank Stadium in the playoffs -- but it’s silly that some folks want the Ravens to cut him. Loyalty aside, what kicker can the Ravens sign of the street who is going to be a better option than him at this moment?
8. It was a rough night for Jimmy Smith. And we also got another reminder of how valuable Lardarius Webb has been this season. But brighter days are ahead for Smith, who got schooled Sunday night.