SAN DIEGO—A problem the Ravens had hidden in previous weeks resurfaced yesterday. It's called pass defense, and the Ravens played very little, surrendering 352 passing yards in a 21-17 loss to the San Diego Chargers before 54,094 at Qualcomm Stadium.
San Diego veteran quarterback Stan Humphries completed 17 of 26 passes and connected with wide receiver Tony Martin for 155 yards and three touchdowns, the last one of 38 yards with three seconds left in the third quarter that put San Diego ahead 21-17 and eventually the Ravens (3-2) away.
The touchdown passes covered 36, 72 and 38 yards, and appeared to be the result of busted coverages. Even after the game, the Ravens didn't know what had happened.
Ravens secondary coach Alvin Reynolds said the touchdowns were the results of great plays made by Humphries and Martin. Victimized cornerbacks DeRon Jenkins and Donny Brady and safety Stevon Moore were still talking about outside and inside leverage, as well as proper support.
And the Ravens still couldn't decide who their starting cornerbacks would be next week. Imagine what it was like on the field.
"A lot of busted coverages," said middle linebacker Ray Lewis. "When a guy runs by like that, you know they are busted coverages."
Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said: "We're not going to make decisions today [on next week's starting cornerbacks]. We just got to play better. We knew we were going to play against a very good receiver. We knew we had to take care of him. We knew we had to play smart and didn't. We didn't make the big plays."
It was a game of big plays, weird plays, poor plays, penalties and questionable officiating. One of the game's controversial plays came with 16 seconds left in the third quarter when Chargers running back Terrell Fletcher caught a short pass over the middle, was hit and fumbled, the ball recovered by defensive end Michael McCrary at the Ravens' 38.
The officials initially ruled it Ravens ball. A few minutes later, after a discussion among the crew and after the replay was shown on the scoreboard, it was ruled no call and Chargers ball.
On the next play, Humphries connected with Martin for the third and final touchdown. Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda was furious, arguing for several minutes.
"He said his knee had hit the ground," Marchibroda said. "There were just so many bad calls, I couldn't keep track of them."
Referee Gerald Austin said: "The umpires and myself were the closest, but all we saw was the ball rolling around, so our focus goes immediately to the ball and who gets it. Based on that, we ruled that the defense had recovered the fumble. Then the other officials coming in said his knee was down and they agreed that his knee was down before the ball came loose."
Asked whether the officials had peeked at the replay, head linesman Gary Slaughter said: "We didn't peek. We didn't even think about it."
Actually, it appeared the officials made the right call, and the Ravens blew their own call on the next play. Once the ball was snapped, Martin took off and Jenkins, filling in for one play for the injured Antonio Langham, rolled to the outside to take the short zone. Safety Rondell Jones rolled to the outside to take the deep zone. There was one problem. Nobody was in the middle.
"These things are correctable," Moore said. "We just have to get better. The sad part is that we knew they couldn't run the ball against us."
They didn't have to. They just had to throw it.
Martin's first touchdown came on a fourth-and-two at the Ravens' 36 with 8: 33 gone in the first quarter. Martin, split right along with slot receiver Eric Metcalf, ran a pick play with Metcalf and blew by Ray Lewis on a slant-in, which Lewis was supposed to cover. He turned a 6-yard pass into a touchdown by cutting back at the 20 and outracing the defense.
With 7: 56 left in the half, Brady bit on a play-action fake by Humphries and Martin blew down the sideline for a 72-yard touchdown that made it 14-3.
"Stan was throwing some good balls today," Martin said. "We saw that they left the middle open a lot. Their safeties were real aggressive on the run, we were doing a lot of play-faking so the safeties would bite and we could get behind them."
The middle has been open for weeks because the Ravens have been rotating their safeties to the outside to help their cornerbacks. Marchibroda made a bold move by benching starting right cornerback Brady early in the second half for recently signed Eugene Daniel, who played well.
The Ravens had offset a lot of their secondary problems with pressure on the quarterback in recent weeks, but Humphries had a fair amount of time to throw yesterday, despite killing two drives deep in Ravens territory with interceptions.
Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde also had bad moments, as the Chargers (2-3) mugged receivers Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander. He completed 18 of 42 passes for 228 yards and was intercepted twice.
Testaverde sparked a strong opening of the third quarter, throwing some quick passes over the middle in combination with the rushing of Bam Morris to get a 28-yard field goal from Matt Stover and a 37-yard touchdown reception by Jermaine Lewis to take a 17-14 lead with 6: 00 left in the quarter.
But the Ravens couldn't score in crunch time. Testaverde under-threw Jackson and was intercepted at the San Diego 12 by free safety Michael Dumas with 3: 57 left as he threw into double coverage.
"I thought Michael would accelerate harder out of his break and he would make one of those diving catches," Testaverde said.
On their next possession, Testaverde's 13-yard scramble to the Chargers' 11 was nullified because left guard Leo Goeas was called for holding. On the next play, slot receiver Ryan Yarborough dropped a potential first-down pass that bounced off his hands near the Chargers' 12. The Ravens' final drive ended with Testaverde being hit and intercepted by Dwayne Harper at the Chargers' 14 with 1: 40 to play.
"I didn't know it was me," Goeas said of the penalty. "I thought he got the numbers mixed up, but he said I took the guy down."
Testaverde said: "We were off offensively. We were able to get away with it against the Giants and come out with a win. But you can't expect to make those mistakes down the stretch and come away with a victory."
The only consolation for the Ravens was that they left San Diego only one-half game behind the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Central.
"We didn't lose any ground," Marchibroda said. "You're going to hit a bump in the road now and then. Today we hit one of those bumps."