Something about Kenneth Dixon and the Los Angeles Chargers just do not mix.
For the second time in as many meetings, the Ravens running back lost a fumble against Los Angeles, which parlayed the giveaway into its first field goal in Sunday’s 23-17 win in an AFC wild-card-round playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium.
Dixon fumbled the ball in the third quarter Dec. 22, which the Chargers turned into a touchdown. The Ravens won that game, 22-10, but were not as fortunate this time.
“It was very disappointing every time you lose the ball,” said Dixon, who also rushed for 13 yards which were 15 yards shy of his previous season-low mark, against Los Angeles. “But you know it comes with the game. You’ve just got to move on from it. But it was definitely hard when it first happened.”
Dixon’s outing was symptomatic of a lackluster showing by a Ravens running game that had finished the regular season ranked second in the NFL but could manage only 90 yards, which were far below their average of 152.6.
After surrendering 159 yards in the first game, the Chargers were determined to slow the run, frequently moving eight players into the box to force rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson to beat them with his arm. They also started the game with seven defensive backs, using them instead of linebackers to cover the edges and plug rushing lanes
“We thought putting the speed guys in there — we didn’t know if that was going to work, but we wanted to take a look at it,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “We feel like today, it worked fine. They could run it down or at least catch him. With the linebackers in there, the physical guys, the bigger guys, that didn’t work out so well the first time.”
Cornerback Marlon Humphrey did not dispute the officials’ decision to wipe out his apparent fumble return for a touchdown to begin the fourth quarter.
With the Chargers threatening to score a touchdown on third-and-goal from the Ravens’ 1-yard line, running back Melvin Gordon III carried the ball and fell near the goal line, losing the ball. Humphrey scooped up the ball and went end zone to end zone just six seconds into the period.
But officials ruled that Gordon had broken the plane of the goal line and that he had scored. An official review overturned that ruling and said Gordon was down by contact inside the 1 after getting tripped by free safety Eric Weddle.
On the next play, Gordon scored and Los Angeles added a 2-point conversion to assume a 20-3 advantage.
“It was the right call,” Humphrey said simply.
Al Riveron, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, told a pool reporter that Gordon’s elbow hit the turf before the goal line, negating anything that occurred afterward.
“We do see that he is down short of the goal line before the ball comes loose; therefore the ball is dead,” Riveron said. “The ball coming loose has no bearing whatsoever because you are already down by contact.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh defended his decision to try for a field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-2 at the Chargers’ 32-yard line in the third quarter.
But kicker Justin Tucker’s attempt from 50 yards strayed wide right and the team continued to trail Los Angeles 12-3.
“I thought we would make it and get within one score,” Harbaugh said. “We would get within seven points. So if we get the first down there, there’s a good chance we’re kicking the field goal anyway. So at that point in time, kick the field goal, be down by six, and preserve time to win the game. That was exactly the thinking.”
Last hurrah for Suggs, Weddle?
A pair of defensive starters, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and free safety Eric Weddle, said they are unsure whether Sunday’s game was their last as members of the Ravens.
Speculation has swirled around whether Suggs, the team’s longest-tenured player who turned 36 in October and will be a free agent in March, will return for another season. He said he still believes he can help the defense.
“I’m healthy, and I still feel like I have some juice in the tank,” he said. “I would love to be a Raven for life. We’ll have to see what happens. It’s a long time between here and March. So we’re just going to enjoy it and hope we can work it out. If not, I’ll be lining up for somebody next year.”
Weddle, who turned 34 on Friday, has one more year left on his contract, but acknowledged that he doesn’t know what is in store for him.
“Who knows what happens in the offseason?” he said. “It could be my last, it couldn’t, who knows? But I gave it my all, and there are no regrets in this body of mine. So obviously, I wish we would have won, but I did the best I could and could definitely live with it.”
» Ravens nose tackle Michael Pierce injured his right elbow on the defense’s first snap of the third quarter and did not return to the game. Weddle (left ankle) and outside linebacker Matthew Judon (undisclosed) were injured in the second quarter and went to the locker room, but returned after halftime.
>> The team deactivated slot cornerback Tavon Young before the game. Young has been battling a groin injury since late November and did not practice Wednesday and Thursday before getting in limited work Friday. He was joined by quarterback Robert Griffin III, rookie wide receiver Jordan Lasley, left guard Alex Lewis (left shoulder), defensive tackle Patrick Ricard, rookie defensive end Zach Sieler and outside linebacker Tim Williams.
>> Wide receiver Chris Moore played despite sitting out Friday’s practice because of a “muscle issue” related to the shoulder injury he suffered in the win against the Browns. Moore, who had fully participated in Wednesday’s and Thursday’s sessions, had been listed as questionable. Moore did not return kicks, though. That duty went to running back Ty Montgomery, who averaged 17.7 yards on six returns.
» Los Angeles played without a second defensive starter after deactivating nose tackle Brandon Mebane. Rated the team’s top interior lineman according to Pro Football Focus, Mebane has been in Omaha, Neb., with his ailing newborn daughter and was listed as doubtful. The Chargers had ruled out outside linebacker Jatavis Brown (ankle) Friday. Four other starters — safety Jahleel Addae (shoulder), left guard Dan Feeney (knee), running back Melvin Gordon (ankle) and right tackle Sam Tevi (groin) — played.
» Los Angeles also scratched rookie wide receiver Dylan Cantrell, right guard Forrest Lamp, defensive end Anthony Lanier II, running back Troymaine Pope and center Cole Toner. The team decided Saturday not to activate tight end Hunter Henry (torn right ACL) from the physically unable to perform list and move him to the active roster.
» Tight end Nick Boyle, punter Sam Koch and right guard Marshal Yanda represented the Ravens for the pregame coin toss, which was won by the Chargers.
» Former free safety Ed Reed, a finalist for the 2019 class to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was the Ravens’ honorary captain.
» Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis, former tight end Todd Heap and Olympic gold-medal swimmer Michael Phelps attended the game.