With a pair of methodical, 80-yard touchdown drives already ceded to the San Diego Chargers and the prospect of a third straight home loss facing the Ravens, defensive coordinator Dean Pees laid out a fiery challenge to his beleaguered unit at halftime Sunday.
Pees told the Ravens defense they had nothing to lose, and that he was going to call the game that way.
It was up to the players to make plays and get off the field, and save for one big play — a 70-yard touchdown pass to Malcom Floyd that John Harbaugh said they prepared for all week and still allowed — the defense did.
The Ravens defense forced two punts and a field goal in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 29-26 win over the San Diego Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium to prevent the kind of heart-breaking late loss they've suffered so many times before this season.
"What you saw today, I think, is very similar to what you saw in every one of the last seven games before this," Harbaugh said. "Except we found a way to win the football game. We grew in that sense."
San Diego's late drive with the game on the line felt like it would end the same inevitable way so many others had in the Ravens' disappointing season — with the defense yielding the game-deciding score. It did in the fourth quarter in losses to the Denver Broncos in Week 1, Week 2 at the Oakland Raiders, Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals, and Week 5 against the Cleveland Browns.
Everyone on the defense felt the pressure, too.
"We'd been in that predicament so many times and we didn't make it happen, we didn't get them off the field," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "This time, all 11 guys were just like reminders: 'Hey, we're in this position. Let's get off this field, let's win this game.'"
Said inside linebacker Daryl Smith: "It was just like, 'Hey, let's stand up right here. This can't be happening over and over again. We've got to make a stand at some point.' We came out today and got the win."
The Chargers were down three points when they took the ball back with 4:34 remaining in the game, and after going 53 yards in four plays to make that feeling of inevitability loom over M&T Bank Stadium, they held San Diego to a field goal and gave the offense the ball back with 2:27 left in the game.
After so many of the previous disappointments, the defensive leaders said what happened was uncharacteristic. The end of Sunday's game, in which they forced a punt in the shadow of San Diego's goal posts and held the Chargers to a field goal on the last drive, was what they had expected all along.
"We knew we always could do it," safety Kendrick Lewis said. "It was just about the getting it done. Today, we went out there and got it done. We got the stop that we needed to get our offense the ball and win the ballgame."
With Rivers having just three incompletions on 22 pass attempts, 157 yards and two touchdowns at halftime, and the Chargers leading, 16-13, Sunday's game between two surprising last-place teams had the makings of a shootout when Pees let his defense have it.
"He challenges us every week," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "But this time, he came down yelling."
"He always gets on us at halftime," outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. "Maybe Jimmy was just paying attention this time. Dean, he's a guy that's pretty emotional. He was just fired up."
After Pees put his defense in primarily man coverage and challenged them to not get beat, they only really did on the big touchdown to Floyd. Otherwise, the Chargers had three punts and the late, game-tying field goal. San Diego had six first downs after gaining 15 in the first half.
The change in coverage needed to come. On the Chargers' first touchdown drive, quarterback Philip Rivers found backup receiver Dontrelle Inman sitting in a soft spot in zone coverage between four Ravens defenders for a 10-yard completion on third down.
Rivers went more than 17 minutes of game time in the second half without an incompletion, and marched the Chargers on scoring drives of 13 plays and 14 plays, respectively.
It wasn't all bad — they held the Chargers to just over 3 yards per carry and 81 rushing yards overall, and still made stops on the ground even as they welcomed the run by playing an extra defensive back for nearly the entire game.
But it was always going to come down to whether they could get off the field at the end of the game.
"We're well-seasoned in that situation, and it felt great in front of our home crowd," Dumervil said. "Our defense gave our offense the chance to go out and close the game, and our special teams did a great job today. So it's good to see our team seasoned-up to go out and get a win."