Instant analysis: After awful start, late charge can't save Ravens' season in 23-17 wild-card-round loss to Chargers

Quarterback Lamar Jackson fumbled on a last-minute, potential game-winning drive, ending the Ravens’ gutsy and improbable comeback bid in a 23-17 loss Sunday to the Los Angeles Chargers in their AFC wild-card-round game.

The season-ending loss at M&T Bank Stadium was only the second overall for Jackson since taking over as a starter in Week 11. The Chargers advance to face the second-seeded New England Patriots in the divisional round.

Jackson finished 14-for-29 for 194 yards and had an interception, and added 54 rushing yards, but his best from a bad day came too late. He was 11-for-17 for 169 passing yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the last a fourth-down pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree that, after an overturned call, drew the Ravens to within six with under two minutes remaining.

After choosing not to kick the onside kick, the Ravens forced a three-and-out and got the ball back at their 37 with 45 seconds remaining. But they never got past midfield. Chargers linebacker Uchenna Nwosu dipped around right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. before stripping the ball from Jackson, his third fumble and the Ravens’ fourth overall. The Chargers recovered, effectively ending the game.

In their second meeting in three weeks, the Chargers looked far more prepared for the Ravens offense with far less help — starting defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and linebacker Jatavis Brown both missed the game.

They averaged 3.9 yards per play. The longest carry between running backs Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon went for 5 yards. Only two drives lasted longer than four plays. They gave up seven sacks and 10 quarterback hits. After scoring in at least three quarters of every game Jackson started, they entered halftime with no points and just 69 total yards.

Their only help for much of Sunday’s game came from outside sources. On back-to-back Chargers possessions, the Ravens forced and recovered a fumble and blocked a punt. The Ravens went 6 yards in three plays after the first turnover in enemy territory, then just 8 after taking over at the Chargers' 40. They came away with just three points.

Philip Rivers didn't look like a Pro Bowl quarterback often Sunday, but he only had to be competent. He finished 22-for-32 for 160 yards and was just inches away from a touchdown to fullback Derek Watt. An upheld review of his near-goal-line completion set up another review one play later, one that could have swung momentum in the Ravens’ favor.

On third-and-1, running back Melvin Gordon was ruled to have scored on a third-down play that continued after he lost the ball near the goal line, with cornerback Marlon Humphrey picking up the apparent fumble and returning it for a touchdown. But after a long review and much debate, Gordon was ruled short of the goal line — no fumble.

Gordon scored easily on the next play, and the Chargers went up 20-3 thanks to a 2-point conversion completed against just 10 Ravens defenders.

Fans booed the Ravens and clamored for backup quarterback Joe Flacco. Jackson stayed in, and the Ravens somehow got back in, too.

Jonas Shaffer, reporter: All week, fans and media wondered whether it would be easier for the Chargers to stop the Ravens having already seen Lamar Jackson once this season. The results do not bode well for the team’s offense as currently constructed. The defense was mostly blameless in this defeat, but the Chargers showed the Ravens that their offense will need more than one dimension, however impressive it has been, to succeed in the years ahead.

Childs Walker, reporter: The Ravens nearly completed one of the wildest playoff comebacks in NFL history. Resilience was the theme of their season, and they again refused to die in front of a home crowd that had turned to booing them. But the blocking and ball-security woes that had hurt them all day finally ended their season.

They ran into a team with the plan and personnel to stifle Lamar Jackson. Jackson’s ball handling has been a problem since he became the starter, and it bit the Ravens again. But turnovers (Jackson also threw an interception) proved a secondary problem behind the Ravens’ inability to block the Chargers’ front seven. The offensive line had a bad day in general, and left guard James Hurst was particularly awful. Hurst gave up sacks on two consecutive plays in the third quarter; he was overpowered on the first and left flat-footed by a spin move on the second.

The Chargers also spanked the Ravens on special teams, with Desmond King returning a kickoff 72 yards and a punt 33 yards and Justin Tucker missing a 50-yard field-goal attempt.

The Ravens defense played another outstanding game, led by linebackers C.J. Mosley, Matthew Judon and Patrick Onwuasor. But with nothing happening on the other side of the ball, they couldn’t keep their fingers in the dam.

We’ll see how much of that defense is back in 2019 as the Ravens try to build their next long-term contender. We likely saw the last Baltimore chapter for Joe Flacco on Sunday, possibly for Terrell Suggs as well. It was not a day worthy of their careers, but ideal endings have never been the norm in sports.

Peter Schmuck, columnist: In the space of a couple of hours, all that fawning over the Ravens new run-oriented offense was transformed into a hollow chant for Joe Flacco to come save the day. But it was already too late for that. The Los Angeles Chargers obviously figured something out during their loss to the Ravens last week and the Ravens offensive coaching staff had absolutely no answer until LA had a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens fumbled three times in their first eight plays from scrimmage and Jackson would also throw an interception. And still, there was a moment in the third quarter when they lined up for a long field goal attempt by Justin Tucker with a chance to make it a one-score game. Instead, he missed a postseason field-goal attempt for the first time in his NFL career … because it was that kind of day.

The defense actually played well, but it was on the field too much and defending bad field position too often. The offense finally made a run in the final minutes and scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns and had the ball back with 45 seconds left, but the game ended on Jackson's third fumble of the afternoon.

So, while the Ravens made the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, the season ended with serious questions about how effective the new Ravens offense will be once the rest of the league has an offseason to study it and scheme against it.

Jen Badie, editor: After being dominated for more than three quarters, it was surprising that the Ravens were in the game enough to mount an improbable comeback. And it was fitting that the final nail in the coffin on their season came on a fumble with the Ravens down by 6 in the waning seconds.

This was the first time Lamar Jackson was facing a team for the second time as a starter, and the Chargers clearly figured out how to stop him and the Ravens run game, leading to questions about whether this offense will be sustainable. The Ravens couldn’t get anything going on offense from the get-go; they couldn’t hold on to the ball, fumbling three times in the first eight plays of the game (they also had as many first downs as turnovers at halftime). Jackson had a QB rating of zero at halftime. Even Justin Tucker missed a 50-yard field goal, his first in the postseason.

jshaffer@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jonas_shaffer

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