Local News Professional Sports

Chargers stay alive with playoff win over Ravens

SPORTS DIGEST

This is what the National Football League had in mind when it allowed the St. Louis Rams and the San Diego Chargers to relocate to Los Angeles. 

Two playoffs teams in the second-largest city in the country in a warm-weather market. Only having two playoff-caliber teams in New York would please the league more.

The Chargers escaped the wild card round Jan. 6, defeating the Baltimore Ravens 23-17. It was a total team victory for the Chargers. The offense scored six times, the defense held the Ravens to three points through three quarters and kicker Michael Badgley kicked five field goals in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.

With Badgley kicking four field goals, the Chargers jumped off to a 12-0 halftime lead. After the Ravens closed that gap to 12-3 in the third quarter, the Chargers added 11 more points in the fourth quarter before the Ravens scored twice in the final nine minutes.

Lamar Jackson, the Ravens rookie who led the Ravens to a division title after taking over for injured quarterback Joe Flacco, was sacked seven times and held to 54 yards rushing after gaining almost 700 yards in eight games during the regular season.

The Chargers struggled to get the ball in the end zone offensively, but their defense was more than up to the task of stopping the Ravens and Jackson. 

The Chargers went with an unusual defense, using four down linemen and seven defensive backs virtually the entire game. They brought heat on Jackson without allowing him to find running lanes.

The win earned the Chargers another trip back east this weekend, to Foxboro, Massachusetts, where they face Tom Brady and company Jan. 13 at 10 a.m.

It will take a different kind of defense effort to stop the Patriots, but the Chargers have shown the ability to play well on the road all year. Their only road loss came in their own backyard when they lost to the Rams in the Coliseum in week three back in September. 

Counting a game in London when they were considered the home team, the Chargers have got on a plane nine times this season and flown home happy each time.

Quarterback Philip Rivers has had better games than he had against the Ravens, when he threw for only 160 yards. But he managed the offense well and didn’t make any big mistakes that cost his team points. 

The Chargers might be facing an easier opponent this week. Although always competitive, the Patriots don’t have the same quality of defense the Ravens have and Brady is not the running threat Jackson is.

And while Brady doesn’t have the deep threats he used to have, he is still Tom Brady, a player who always seems to rise to the occasion in big games.

Rivers will have to throw for more than 160 yards and Melvin Gordon will need to gain more than 40 yards on the ground, but those things are doable.

The Chargers have risen to the occasion time and time again this season. There’s no reason to think it won’t happen again this week.

AN OLD FOE: Back in the 1960s and 70s, it seems like the Rams and the Dallas Cowboys battled each other every year in the playoffs, with the Cowboys winning more often than not.

The old foes reunite Jan. 12 at 5:15 p.m. in the Coliseum, and the Cowboys are a seven-point underdog.

The Rams had a week off to let Todd Gurley and other players with injuries heal while the Cowboys had a hard-fought home win over the Seattle Seahawks, 24-22.

The Cowboys are rolling after a slow start this season. They have a solid overall team with Dak Prescott at quarterback and Ezekiel Elliott at running back leading the offense and young linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch leading the defense.

They face the Rams, who were undefeated through eight weeks, endured a mild slump and rallied to overwhelm the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers in the last two weeks of the season before resting last week.

Gurley sat out the last two weeks of the season letting a knee injury heal. An all-pro running back, he finished the year with 1,251 yards rushing and another 590 yards receiving and 21 touchdowns overall. While his knee was healing, C.J. Anderson revived his career, gaining 299 yards and scoring two touchdowns in two games.

Only 27, Anderson knows what it is like to play in big playoff games. He started for the Broncos in the 2015 Super Bowl.

Quarterback Jared Goff had another fine season for the Rams, throwing for 4,688 yards and 32 touchdowns. Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks lead the receiving corps. Each caught more than 80 passes for more than 1,200 yards this season.

Goff can spread the ball around as eight different Rams caught touchdown passes this season

The Rams also excel on defense with tackle Aaron Donald anchoring the pass rush. Donald was the only unanimous selection to the all-pro team for the league. The Rams have proven they can win with offense, a 54-51 win against Kansas City being exhibit A, or with their defense as shown in a 23-20 win at Denver in week six. 

The Rams are seven-point favorites and should be able to hang a win on the Cowboys to advance to the NFC championship game Jan. 20.

THAT WAS QUICK: Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure as offensive coordinator lasted about a month.

The Arizona Cardinals hired Kingsbury as their new head coach Jan. 8, throwing USC’s football program back into turmoil.

Head coach Clay Helton has to be relieved. With Kingsbury on the staff, athletic director Lynn Swann had someone with head coaching experience waiting in the wings if the Trojans had another 5-7 season. Also, Helton is an offensive-oriented coach so he can presumably hire a coordinator who will run the type of offense he wants to run.

Swann comes out of this looking bad, especially after word got out that Swann was trying to prevent NFL teams from talking to Kingsbury about coaching jobs.

A former star at USC who had a Hall of Fame career in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Swann seems out of his element as athletic director. He gave Helton an extension after two 10-win seasons that probably wouldn’t have happened elsewhere and many season ticket holders feel he has not done a good job of explaining what the unviersity is doing as it renovates the Coliseum, creating luxury boxes that used to be prime season ticket space.

Of course, the whole university is a rudderless ship right now with an interim president and a Board of Trustees that seems incapable of dealing with the scandals that the school has faced.

A new university president might want to bring with him a new athletic director.

Whatever happens, the people in Westwood seem to be smiling more lately.

It’s been quite a roller coaster ride for Kingsbury. He was fired as Texas Tech’s head coach after going 35-40 in six seasons, despite his reputation as a quarterback guru. Kingsbury coached Johnny Manziel when he was an assistant at Texas A&M and tutored Blake Mayfield and Pat Mahomes at Texas Tech. Both are now starting in the NFL.

And it makes you wonder about the Texas Tech program, too. How do you fire a coach the NFL can’t wait to get its hands on?

NO MOVES YET: Wake me when Bryce Harper finally signs a contract. I doubt it will be with the Dodgers. Team President Andrew Friedman isn’t a fan of long, expensive contracts. If Harper and agent Scott Boras were interested, Friedman would have happily signed Harper to a five-year, $200 million contract.

But Harper wanted to break Giancarlo Stanton’s record for biggest overall contract. So far, no one has been willing to pay him or Manny Machado that kind of money. The players and their agents are screaming “collusion” at the owners, but who can blame the owners.

Long-term expensive contracts just don’t pay off in baseball. Ask Arte Moreno in Anaheim about Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Ask the Texas Rangers about Alex Rodriguez. In the end, the long contracts no payoff. And that’s the bottom line.

By Don Wanlass

Staff Writer