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Ravens routed by Chargers in embarrassing loss

SAN DIEGO -- The football sailed over the outstretched fingertips of Baltimore Ravens rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith, well past his reach as Malcom Floyd dashed away from him into the end zone.

The first-round draft pick was helpless to stop Floyd from hauling in the touchdown pass from strong-armed San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers as another spiral darted through the air past the first-round draft pick. Back in Southern California roughly an hour from his hometown of Colton with a large contingent of family and friends watching, Smith was picked on repeatedly.

It was that kind of ugly evening for Smith and the Ravens' defense, experiencing a meltdown of epic proportions Sunday night in an embarrassing 34-14 defeat before 67,242 at Snapdragon Stadium. It was a season-high for points allowed. "We got our ass kicked," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "When you don't show up to play in big games like this, you're going to get your ass kicked. This is definitely humbling. "It's a reality check. We're in hell now, but we got a vacation home in hell. When it's tough for everybody else, it's just right for us." It's a costly setback since it drops the Ravens behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the race for the AFC North division title unless the Steelers lose tonight's game against the San Francisco 49ers. And the Ravens have now lost their grip on potentially claiming the top seed in the AFC due to the New England Patriots' victory over the Denver Broncos. If the Ravens had defeated the Chargers and then won their remaining two games against the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals, they were previously assured of earning home-field advantage for the playoffs. Although the Ravens lost, they did clinch at least a wild-card playoff berth due to the New York Jets being blown out by the Philadelphia Eagles. Ravens coach John Harbaugh was in no mood to discuss the implications of the setback. "To me, that's not a factor at all," Harbaugh said. "It has absolutely no factor in the way we think. We don't have the energy, nor the time nor the inclination to give that one second's worth of thought. All of our energy, all of our time and all of our effort has to go toward playing the Cleveland Browns. "We'll have our hands full. It's a fierce division rival. They're going to come in there hungry and they're going to come in their looking for a victory and we better be ready to do something about it." The Ravens' traditionally stingy defense was powerless to stop the Charger from scoring at will, allowing their most points of the season. Rivers was deadly accurate, completing 17 of 23 passes for 270 yards and no interceptions as he now has seven touchdowns and no interceptions in the past three games. "They did a lot of things to me as a young player," Smith said. "It was double moves I got beat on." Familiar issues manifested themselves again as the Ravens (10-4) lost their fourth road game with the Chargers scoring 27 points before Baltimore finally answered with a late score. And quarterback Joe Flacco was erratic, throwing two interceptions in the third quarter. He was sacked four times by former Ravens outside linebacker Antwan Barnes. "It was an ugly one," Flacco said. "Things weren't going our way. They were playing well and we weren't. You have to move on. We're really already in an all-win situation and we'll continue to be in that. We just got to get back on the horse and go get one this week. It was just bad." What did Harbaugh think about how the Ravens played in allowing 23 first downs and 415 yards of total offense? Addressing the breakdowns in the secondary, Harbaugh said: "We had a lot of difficulties. We messed up." It was a thorough beating where virtually nothing went right. "We got beat, it's that simple," running back Ray Rice said. "You've got to come out ready to play. That's a winning performance by them." Despite the return of All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the defense was unable to slow down the Chargers' high-octane offense. Playing in his first game in a month because of a right turf toe injury, Lewis was a step behind the pace all night as running back Ryan Mathews bolted away from him for 90 yards and two touchdown runs. "The only thing at the end of the day that's disappointing is you didn't come out and play your type of football," Lewis said. "Outside of that, the thought process is the same and getting into the playoffs is the No. 1 agenda. "The disappointing part is we didn't come out and do what we're supposed to do. It's one thing to try to get home-field, but the bottom line is when you get in the playoffs everybody's record goes back to 0-0." With top cornerback Lardarius Webb limited to nickel responsibilities due to an injured left toe, the Ravens couldn't cover the Chargers' tall, fast wide receivers. Suggs was stymied in his charge toward Rivers after entering the game with 13 sacks and generating NFL Defensive Player of the Year buzz. He was blocked repeatedly by former Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither, a career underachiever on his third NFL employer this year after being discarded by Baltimore. Rivers was never sacked.

Flacco's interceptions included one tossed directly to outside linebacker Shaun Phillips in the second half. Flacco was sacked five times. With the exception of a perfect pass over the middle to tight end Ed Dickson threaded into heavy traffic in the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, little went right for Flacco and the Ravens' offense. Flacco capped the scoring with a 36-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith in the final two minutes, but the outcome had already been decided. Although Flacco completed 23 of 34 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns, nine of his completions were on safety valve passes to Rice for a total of 55 yards.

And Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff failed to make a chip shot from 36 yards, pushing what's normally a routine field goal wide of the right upright.

That miscue in the first quarter got the Ravens off to a bad start as his errant kick now drops him to 2 for 5 in December. Cundiff didn't practice all week due to a left calf injury, his plant leg. "To be honest with you, I'm not making any excuses," Cundiff said. "It's been frustrating dealing with my leg. That's pretty obvious. Regardless of the situation, I should have made the kick.

Cundiff's miss was preceded by Flacco being unable to connect with wide receiver Lee Evans. First, a fade pass to Evans was nearly intercepted by cornerback Antoine Cason. Then, Flacco didn't deliver the football in time on another throw to an open Evans that was knocked down by free safety Eric Weddle. Once the Ravens briefly tied the score on Dickson's touchdown, the Chargers re-assumed control.

They took the lead for good on a 45-yard Nick Novak field goal in the second quarter set up by a 20-yard pass to tight end Antonio Gates behind Lewis and in front of safety Tom Zbikowski. That drive was kept alive by Suggs' unnecessary roughness penalty on an illegal head slap of a Charger lineman a la retired NFL legend Deacon Jones.

The Chargers would score once more before intermission when Mathews' got in from one yard out on a pitch out as he got around outside linebacker Jarret Johnson. That score was set up by a 58-yard bomb from Rivers to wide receiver Vincent Jackson behind cornerback Cary Williams. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound standout went over 1,000 receiving yards on the catch.

After falling behind 17-7 at halftime, the Ravens had little choice but to abandon the running game. Rice rushed for 53 yards on nine carries by halftime, but only had one carry for four more yards in the third quarter. Rivers signaled immediately what kind of game this was going to be on the Chargers' explosive, crisp opening drive.

Rivers completed 5 of his first 6 throws for 55 yards, marching the Chargers downfield for a 12-play, 74-yard drive capped by a two-yard Mike Tolbert touchdown plunge up the middle. He targeted Smith immediately on the drive. In the third quarter, Rivers drove the Chargers down to the Ravens' 28-yard line before uncorking his touchdown pass to Floyd. The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder finished with five receptions for 96 yards as Jackson caught three passes for 84 yards. "It's a long season," free safety Ed Reed said. "It's a long two weeks. A lot has to happen. A lot will happen. Everybody still has a chance. We'll bounce back. We have to." Personifying the frustration of the night, Flacco got picked off by veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes in the third quarter.

And Spikes' 45-yard return led to Mathews' second touchdown run. This time, he just dove over the top from three yards out and landed in the end zone.

"We knew they were going to go downtown," Suggs said. "We knew they were going to spread us out and try to light up the scoreboard. I feel disappointed. I feel we let our fans down. We could still get our first-round bye.

"All that could still happen for us, but we need a little help now. We got to go the long way. We can't let balls go over our head, we've got to stop the run. Back to the drawing board. Like I said, ass-whipping, reality check."

Ravens notebook: Ray Lewis gets back on the field

SAN DIEGO -- As his teammates huddled around him Sunday night, Baltimore Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis exhorted them with his usual fervor before kickoff.

The big difference between this scene and what's transpired over the past month during his convalescence from a right turf toe injury: Lewis was finally back in a helmet and shoulder pads, rejoining the Ravens on the field during a 34-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers at Snapdragon Stadium as he made his return Sunday night after being sidelined for four games with a right turf toe injury.

Although there were some obvious signs of rust in Lewis' game as Chargers running back Ryan Mathews rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns, he still recorded 10 tackles. And he didn't aggravate his injury.

"I felt good," Lewis said. "I never injured myself one time and I take my hat off to this organization because we made some real hard decisions the last couple of weeks if I should or should not play. I came out totally healthy and I'm excited because in the long run when you sit back and watch our team we get to go back home to do some special things coming up this next couple of weeks. For me personally I think I came out really healthy and I'm very excited." Lewis estimated his health at 95 to 100 percent. "I'm not even worried about it," Lewis said. It was the longest absence for the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year in several years, and the Ravens went undefeated while he was out. During that time, inside linebackers Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe and Brendon Ayanbadejo all increased their contributions.

"Whenever he does return, we're going to be back to a really great defense," Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "I don't think you all should take this credit away from the job that Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe have done these past few weeks.

"They have been phenomenal for us. We get him back in there, we get the greatest player to play this football game. The way this machine works, it starts with No. 52."

SMITH STRUGGLES: It was a rough night for rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith. The first-round draft pick allowed a 28-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Malcom Floyd and was repeatedly targeted by San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.

"They did a lot of things to me being a younger player," Smith said. "That's going to happen. I think they did that well. I'm definitely my own worst critic."

Although Floyd caught five passes for 96 yards as Rivers attempted six passes in his direction, Smith didn't seem fazed by being burnt by the veteran wide receiver. "I've been beat before," Smith said. "It happens. It's football. I know what happened. It was double moves I got beat on."

Smith was starting in place of cornerback Lardarius Webb, who was limited to nickel duties as he was affected by a left toe injury. Rivers immediately went after Smith on the Chargers' opening drive, connecting with Floyd and Vincent Jackson for 12 yards and 15 yards. "Do you know my record at Colorado?" said Smith, who was an All-American selection in college. "At the same time, you have to deal with it. They did a lot of things to me being a younger player. That's going to happen. I think they did that well."

Lewis said Smith will learn from this experience. "I was talking to Jimmy, it's not on Jimmy," Lewis said. "He just has to start and understand. You have to understand when you have veteran quarterbacks, how they manipulate certain things. That's a learning curve. You don't want to get down on him.

"If I hadn't been through this a million times, then I'd say, ‘Aw, man, this is BS.' But the bottom line, it's a learning curve and every man has to take this learning curve and say, ‘How can I get better?' That's the next step for us."

PLAYOFF BOUND: Hours before kickoff, the Ravens' ticket to the NFL postseason was stamped. The Ravens clinched at least a wild-card playoff berth by virtue of the New York Jets' blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles The Ravens made the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, an unprecedented accomplishment in franchise history.

The Ravens are the lone NFL team to make the playoffs every year since the 2008 season. In those playoff appearances, they've won 4 of 7 games with at least one playoff victory annually under coach John Harbaugh. Harbaugh replaced former Ravens coach Brian Billick prior to the 2008 season, his first as a head coach at any level.

The Pittsburgh Steelers also clinched a playoff berth because of the previously winless Indianapolis Colts defeating the Tennessee Titans. WEBB ACTIVE: Despite a painful left toe injury that prevented him from practicing all week, Webb was active. As expected, he didn't start and was replaced in the lineup by Smith.

Webb lined up in nickel packages and didn't appear to have his mobility affected much. Team officials had predicted late in the week that Webb had an outside chance of playing depending on how his toe responded to treatment. Webb took a pain killer before the game. "It felt great," said Webb, who leads the Ravens with four interceptions. "It lasted until the end of the game, just a slight bit of pain. The coaches were doing a slight bit of precautionary action. So, try to limit it as much as we can. It ended out well. I didn't make it worse. It's sore, it's sore."

CUNDIFF'S STRUGGLES CONTINUE: Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff didn't practice all week due to a left calf injury, his plant leg. And he missed his lone field goal try wide right, a miss from 36 yards. It's unclear whether the problem can be attributed to the leg injury or lagging confidence.

"To be honest with you, I'm not making any excuses," Cundiff said. "It's been frustrating dealing with my leg. That's pretty obvious. Regardless of the situation, I should have made the kick."

He's now 2 for 5 in December. All of his misses this season except for one against the Seattle Seahawks caused by a poor snap by long snapper Morgan Cox have been wide right.

The Ravens recently brought in former Pro Bowl kicker Shayne Graham for a tryout, but didn't sign him to a contract. Cundiff said there was a slight possibility he could have missed this game.

"There was still an outside chance I wasn't going to play," Cundiff said. "I'm still not 100 percent, so I'm trying to figure out what's the best thing to do and make sure I'm capable of playing at a high level for the team. You got to find a way to get healthy."

Cundiff has made 27 of 36field goals this year after connecting on 26 of 29 kicks last season. All of his misses have been on the road. "It's been a learning experience this year," Cundiff said. "I feel like I've unfortunately learned a lot from these misses. My confidence doesn't waver. It's one of those things, I just have to make kicks. It's just that simple." BARNES SHINES: Former Ravens outside linebacker Antwan Barnes recorded a career-high four sacks and leads the Chargers with 11 sacks. Barnes was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles last season and then released before being picked up by San Diego.

"It was nice," Barnes said. "You think about the things that I went through with them and everything happens for a reason and I have no animosity toward the Ravens and it was great to get out there and show what I can do." Barnes said the Ravens eventually resorted to chip-blocking to help out offensive tackles Michael Oher and Bryant McKinnie. "More Michael Oher but I didn't really get a chance to get on his side the entire game," Barnes said They started chipping a little bit, but then they got away from it so then it was time for me to just get back on it."

UNCHARACTERISTIC: One of the top rushing defenses in the league, the Ravens allowed three touchdown runs.

The Ravens hadn't done so since the Tennessee Titans' three touchdown runs against Baltimore on Nov. 12, 2006. "When it rains, it pours," free safety Ed Reed said. "You're talking about stopping a high-powered offense. Granted, we're not going to be perfect every week and we're not going to stop everybody every week. Now, you start another streak."

CARR RETURNS: Cornerback Chris Carr played in his first game since suffering a bulging disc in his back. Carr had missed the previous three games with the ailment.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (back), offensive guard Ben Grubbs (right turf toe) and defensive end Cory Redding (ankle) were both active after missing time during the week. Redding limped off the field at one point, but returned. The Ravens scratched wide receivers LaQuan Williams and Tandon Doss, running back Anthony Allen, cornerback Danny Gorrer, linebacker Chavis Williams, nose guard Brandon McKinney and linebacker Sergio Kindle. Kindle had been active against the Indianapolis Colts a week ago.

QUICK HITS: The Chargers deactivated wide receiver Bryant Walters, cornerback Shareece Wright, defensive end Jacques Cesaire, former Ravens offensive lineman Tony Moll, outside linebacker Everette Brown and linebacker Nate Triplett.

The Ravens lost the coin toss, but the Chargers deferred until the second half and Baltimore received. The Ravens' game captains were quarterback Joe Flacco, Lewis and Ayanbadejo.

Rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith caught his seventh touchdown of the year, breaking the Ravens' rookie scoring record previously shared by him and former running back Jamal Lewis. .

Baltimore Ravens' Report Card

Quarterback: D-minus

Joe Flacco threw two interceptions and was generally erratic this game. He didn't rise to the occasion the way an elite quarterback would. He completed 23 of 34 passes for 226 yards, two touchdowns and had an 81.2 passer rating. His timing was definitely off.

Running back: C-plus

Ray Rice was blameless for this one, running hard and effectively. He was having success before the Ravens understandably abandoned the run. He rushed for 57 yards on 10 carries, gaining 53 yards in the first half. He also caught nine passes for 55 yards.

Receiver: C

They didn't create nearly enough separation against the Chargers' defense as Joe Flacco had to wait far too long for anyone to get open. Torrey Smith had a solid game, catching six passes for 77 yards and a late, meaningless touchdown. Ed Dickson snagged a 15-yard touchdown pass in traffic. Anquan Boldin caught two passes for 51 yards.

Offensive line: D

They sacked Flacco five times. Former Ravens outside linebacker Antwan Barnes had four sacks by himself. There's a reason why the Ravens traded him for a measly seventh-round draft pick, but Michael Oher made him look like a world-beater.

Defensive line: D

They rarely created any penetration and didn't harass Philip Rivers. They also faltered against the run as the Chargers piled up 145 rushing yards on 37 carries. Ryan Mathews rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Haloti Ngata led the defensive line with eight tackles and was extremely active.

Linebacker: F

Terrell Suggs wasn't his usual dominant self and was a non-factor against former Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither. There was some chip-blocking assistance that Suggs dealt with, but he only recorded two tackles. Philip Rivers was never sacked. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis was a step behind Ryan Mathews this game, but recorded 10 tackles. He displayed some signs of rust.

Secondary: F

The Ravens need the bomb squad to investigate what happened after this embarrassment. Rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams got torched by Malcom Floyd and Vincent Jackson, biting on double moves. Ed Reed was late helping out over the top. Communication problems were an issue. Phillip Rivers picked them apart, completing 17 of 23 passes for 270 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 127.1 passer rating.

Special teams: C-minus

Billy Cundiff missed a chip shot, a 36-yard field goal. Obviously, his calf injury to his left, plant leg is an issue. And his confidence is in question at this point, too. The Ravens need to get this problem fixed one way or another. Tom Zbikowski averaged 21.8 yards per kickoff return. David Reed contributed a 47-yard kickoff return late in the game.

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