The Los Angeles Chargers check a lot of the boxes you need to make a long playoff run, as they showed in Sunday’s 23-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
They have a fantastic quarterback in Philip Rivers, a very good running back in Melvin Gordon and some dangerous receivers. Their defense has elite players, including pass rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa and do-everything rookie safety Derwin James, and a lot of other key pieces. They’re very well coached by Anthony Lynn. They also have a history of weird losses and that almost showed up again when the Ravens rallied late on Sunday, but rookie Uchenna Nwosu forced a Lamar Jackson fumble with 18 seconds left to end it.
Of course, there’s a big mountain to climb next weekend. The New England Patriots are an NFL dynasty for good reason. The Chargers play at New England next Sunday.
For most of Sunday’s wild-card playoff win over the Ravens, the Chargers looked like the type of team that could pull off that upset. The defense was unbelievable, shutting down Jackson until a late rally. The Chargers made every correct adjustment from the Week 16 loss to the Ravens, a sign of good coaching. The offense didn’t do much against the Ravens’ tough defense, but there shouldn’t be a question about what Rivers and his crew can do. And special teams, a problem for the Chargers for years, came through with some big plays.
They’re on to New England.
Chargers defense is dominant
Most of the attention will be on Jackson, who struggled badly in his first playoff start after helping the Ravens rally to make to the postseason. Don’t forget to credit Los Angeles’ defense, too.
James was a key piece to shutting down Jackson. The first-round pick is used in many, many ways, and he was used near the line a lot to neutralize the Ravens’ strong running game. The Chargers often brought safeties in the box and dared the Ravens to throw. And whenever Jackson went back to pass, he was under pressure. The Chargers let down a bit in the final minutes and it almost cost them, but for most of the game it was a great performance.
The Ravens had minus-2 yards passing, three first downs (none after halftime) and just a field goal with 9:02 left in the fourth quarter and he Chargers up 23-3. A lot of attention will go to Jackson, because many have been waiting for a chance to criticize him and the Ravens’ unique offense and this is their chance. Ravens fans booed when Joe Flacco didn’t get a chance to turn things around.
Jackson didn’t play well until a couple touchdowns late, but the Chargers defense had a lot to do with that.
Chargers face a huge challenge in New England
To beat the Patriots in New England, where they’re 8-0 at home this season, the Chargers will have to be better on offense. It was a slog for the Chargers’ offense too, as they struggled to get anything going downfield. Special teams helped. Kicker Mike Badgley hit five field goals. A 72-yard kickoff return by Desmond King was the longest play of the game. The big lead the Chargers built held up, barely.
The Chargers were good all season. They went 12-4. The Patriots might be undefeated at home, but the Chargers are 8-1 on the road including Sunday’s win. Man-by-man, the Chargers match up very well against the Patriots. Talent-wise, there’s no reason to believe the Chargers can’t win. But plenty of teams have gone to Foxborough with high hopes in January only to be sent home with a loss.
It’s great for the Chargers to win a playoff game, especially on the road, but they have the type of talent that should have Super Bowl dreams. To get there, they’ll have to slay the Patriots first. That won’t be easy.
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