Here are five top lessons learned from the Chargers' 23-17 win over the Ravens.
1. Seven Up – The Chargers won the toss and deferred, and when Lamar Jackson lined up under center for the first snap of the game, he probably couldn't believe his eyes. Neither could the millions of fans watching around the country. The Bolts lined up with seven defensive backs, opting to play Jahleel Addae in the box while putting Rayshawn Jenkins at free safety. They went with this lineup for 58 of 59 snaps, which is more than the 50 total plays in the regular season that they ran their quarters defense out there. In addition, no team in the NFL rolled with seven defensive backs more than 18 times in a single game during the regular season. The result speaks for itself as the Chargers authored their finest postseason defensive performance in team history, giving up only 229 yards of total defense. So, after the game, Head Coach Anthony Lynn made sure to give proper due to Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley and company for their innovative decision:
"Our defense was outstanding. We held that team down to 100 yards rushing. No one has played that team the way our defense played today. I was really impressed with the way our defense stepped up. Especially with playing the little guys inside and not playing with our linebackers. So, my hat goes off to Gus Bradley and his staff. They did an outstanding job all week of getting that defense ready for this unconventional style of offense."
2. Four Quarters Needed – The Bolts flat out dominated for the first 53 minutes of the game, leading 23-3 as Ravens fans began leaving M&T Bank Stadium. Well, the home team sure made things interesting. Through three quarters, Jackson had only seven net passing yards and 25 total. However, he led Baltimore on two late scoring drives, giving his team a chance to pull off an improbable comeback until Uchenna Nwosu forced a fumble in the game's final seconds. The Bolts know moving forward they need to keep the pedal to the metal for a full 60 minutes, starting next week when they head to New England. And while they did make the play when needed in the final seconds, they know it shouldn't have even been that close. Thus, after the game, they doubled down on needing to play all 60 minutes going forward. Here's what Joey Bosa had to say:
"I'm just exhausted after that one. I'm not extremely happy about the way I finished the game. I kind of got a little complacent with the score. I need to rush a lot better. I need to put that on me. But I think as a defense, we did a pretty good job throughout the game."
Derwin James echoed that very same sentiment:
"We took our foot off the gas and got a little relaxed trying to keep everything in front of us. They started throwing underneath and gaining momentum. We have to learn how to finish better and close out teams when we have them down."
3. Badgley Breaks Records – There may be no higher-pressure situation in all of sports than a kicker in the postseason. Well, the lights weren't too bright for Michael Badgley as the undrafted rookie authored the best kicking performance in Chargers history. The "Money Badger" set single-game franchise records for field goals (five) and points (15), while his 53-yard field goal was the second-longest in the team's playoff annals. It was a defensive slugfest in Baltimore, putting points at a premium. As Philip Rivers alluded, each time Badgley banged one through the uprights it felt as though the team scored a touchdown. While the rookie remained humble after the win, his teammates didn't shy away from singing his praises. Perhaps no one summed up their feelings more than Austin Ekeler:
"He's been huge. Before it was like, 'Oh shoot, we need to get a little closer,' but Badge has been stepping up, proving that he can put them through (no matter the distance). And he keeps doing it. I think he had one block today, but it was just a low kick, and it didn't even faze him at all. He went out there and made two more."
4. SupaMel's Super Performance – Big plays abounded on defense, but no one shined more than Melvin Ingram. The Ravens had no answer for the Pro Bowler as "SupaMel" finished with seven tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. While his stat line is impressive, it doesn't tell the whole story. Ingram sparked the Chargers early by forcing a fumble on the Ravens' second drive. Adrian Phillips recovered, and Badgley connected on his first field goal of the day to give L.A. a lead they would never relinquish. He bookended that with a recovery on the Ravens' final offensive snap of the game, pouncing on a loose ball after Nwosu's strip-sack. The team's best players must shine come the postseason, and Ingram certainly did. He knows he has to keep this rolling next week into New England, and believes he can keep it up if he stays true to the game plan:
"We played assignment football. We were told to see what we're supposed to see. They do a lot to confuse us, but we stayed with it and it was a much better result for us."
5. Keep the Pressure Rolling – Ingram and Nwosu weren't the only Chargers to make Lamar Jackson's life hell on Sunday. Overall, the Bolts got to the quarterback seven times as Joey Bosa, Isaac Rochell, Desmond King and Justin Jones also recorded sacks. No matter if you're a rookie making his playoff debut or a future Hall of Fame quarterback, nothing disrupts the passer more than pressure. That's why the Bolts know they must keep it up next week against Tom Brady and the Patriots. According to Lynn, his team is going to enjoy the Wild Card win for only one night before coming up with a game-plan to do just that:
"I'm looking forward to it. A lot of times you have to go through New England to accomplish your goals. We'll watch the tape on them, and we'll get ready for those guys next week. But, right now, we're going to enjoy this one."