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Ravens hold off late surge by Chargers

Posted Sep 20, 2009

The Chargers narrowly fell short of completing their second fourth-quarter comeback in as many weeks, but a late defensive stand by the Ravens allowed Baltimore to escape with a 31-26 win.

The Chargers’ defense kept Baltimore out of the end zone on two fourth quarter drives Sunday and Philip Rivers threw for a career-high 436 yards, but when Ray Lewis dropped Darren Sproles for a loss on 4th-and-2 in the fourth quarter, it ended San Diego’s hopes of a second-consecutive fourth-quarter win.

Playing without three starters as well as defensive tackle Jamal Williams, the Chargers took the Ravens to the wire in San Diego’s home opener but dropped a 31-26 decision to fall to 1-1 on the season. 

“We came into this game with one thought: to win the game,” Turner said.  “We did some good things, but we didn’t get that done.  We have some errors we have to eliminate.”

The Chargers jumped on the board first as Rivers hit Sproles for an 81-yard touchdown, Rivers’ longest pass of his career and Sproles’ longest play from scrimmage, to put San Diego up 7-0 midway through the first quarter. 

“It seems like every time we need him to make a play he does,” Turner said of Sproles, who caught seven passes for 124 yards Sunday. 

Of Baltimore’s 311 yards Sunday, their running backs accounted for 199 of them.  Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and LaRon McClain combined for all 68 yards the Ravens gained on their first scoring drive of the afternoon, including a five-yard run by McGahee that tied it at 7-7. 

“It was kind of like last week where they were able to establish the run early and then we slowed them down in the second half,” linebacker Stephen Cooper said.  “We’ve got to find a way to start faster.”

San Diego used a 45-yard catch by Malcom Floyd to set up a Nate Kaeding field goal, his first of four on the day, to put the Chargers up briefly, but a 21-yards pass interference penalty set up McGahee’s second score of the day, a three-yard run to give the Ravens a 14-10 advantage. 

The Chargers outgained the Ravens 474 to 311 Sunday afternoon, but San Diego was forced to rely on Kaeding too much.  They failed to score touchdowns on four trips to the red zone, including two second-quarter drives.   Their red zone struggles, combined with a touchdown catch by Baltimore’s Kelly Washington, left the Chargers down 21-16 at halftime. 

“When we get down there, we’ve got to find a way to finish drives,” said tight end Antonio Gates, who had five catches for 78 yards.  “We left a few points out there and you can’t beat good teams when you do that.”

The Ravens extended their lead to 28-16 on a Todd Heap touchdown catch in the third-quarter.  Then San Diego stormed back.  Rivers tossed a 35-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson late in the third quarter to pull the Chargers within five.  On the ensuing possession, Shawne Merriman hit Joe Flacco as he threw, and Antoine Cason intercepted the errant pass to put the Chargers in business. 

“I timed it pretty good,” Merriman said.  “Sometimes you have to go out there and try to make a play and hope for the best.”

Rivers and company marched all the way to Baltimore’s seven yard line but again had to settle for three points as Kaeding tied his career high with his fourth field goal of the afternoon. 

Thanks in part to a tackle for loss by Eric Weddle, the Chargers’ defense gave themselves another chance late when they forced the Ravens to punt with 4:45 left.  But a tipped pass was intercepted by Antwan Barnes to end the drive. 

Still, the Chargers had hope after another timely stop by their defense.  Although Baltimore took over at San Diego’s 13 following the interception, a tackle for loss by Stephen Cooper and a sack by Luis Castillo forced Baltimore to settle for a 33-yard field goal to keep it a one-possession game at 31-26.

A 38-yard pass from Rivers to Jackson got the Chargers into Ravens territory.  Then Rivers threw incomplete on third down and Lewis shot through a gap untouched on fourth down to preserve the win for Baltimore. 

The loss came on a day when the Chargers played without three starters – running back LaDainian Tomlinson, center Nick Hardwick and guard Louis Vasquez.  In addition, three-time Pro Bowler and emotional leader Jamal Williams was lost for the season when the team placed him on “Reserve – Injured” Saturday.  San Diego was coming off a short week of preparation following their Monday Night Football victory in Week 1, and they were facing a team that narrowly lost the AFC Championship Game a year ago.  

Turner scoffed when asked about “moral victories,” saying he’s not into using those words, but he does hope that many of his young players will grow from their experiences Sunday and in turn that will benefit the Chargers down the road. 

“From everything we went through last week, I thought our guys handled most of the things extremely well,” Turner said.  “Obviously there were some situations on both sides of ball where we didn’t handle them as well as we need to.  I believe with the young guys we put inside there, as we continue through we’ll respond to those things.” 

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