Although nothing as momentous as a World Series title was on the line, the Chargers' desperate attempt to reach the postseason—and save their coach's job—took a hit with their stunning inability to stop Ray Rice and the Baltimore Ravens from converting on fourth-and-29 late in regulation Sunday.
It was an "Are you kidding?" moment, for sure; one that neatly yet painfully summed up a season in which the Chargers have perfected the come-from-ahead loss.
Joe Flacco took the snap in shotgun formation, looked down field and then dumped the ball to Rice, who had slipped just past the line of scrimmage. The running back cut past three defenders at the 50, kept going and then slammed into two defensive backs.
The ball originally was spotted at the 33. After a long video review, it was moved back to the 34. The refs stretched the chains for a measurement and the Ravens got the first down by the length of the ball. Officially, it was a 29-yard gain.
Six plays later, Justin Tucker kicked a 38-yard field goal as regulation expired, and then won it with another 38-yarder with 1:07 left in overtime.
Afterward, a smiling Rice said the name of his big play was, "Check down, Hey Diddle Diddle, Ray Rice up the middle."
The Chargers (4-7) were pushed closer to oblivion and with it the expected end of the Norv Turner era. Who knows, general manager A.J. Smith might get fired, too, for the glaring deficiencies on a team that Turner at one point said could be "outstanding" and started the season at 3-1.
The Chargers led the Ravens by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter and were up by three with two minutes left.
Pushed back by a holding call against guard Marshal Yanda and a 9-yard sack of Flacco by Antwan Barnes, the Ravens were down to their last desperate shot. All the Chargers had to do was get a stop and run out the clock to secure their first win against a team with a winning record this season.
They couldn't do it.
Letting Rice convert was right up there with the Chargers blowing that 24-0 halftime lead against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, and letting former teammate Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints escape from a 10-point, second-half deficit.
Asked if Rice's play summed up the Chargers' season, Turner said: "I guess for you guys, you can say that, and it's easy to say. It's a play we had guys in position to make the play and we didn't handle it very well."
Linebacker Jarret Johnson, who played his first nine seasons with Baltimore before joining the Chargers as a free agent, was asked the same question Monday.
"You know, I mean, you could say that," Johnson said. "I mean, it's frustrating. It's extremely frustrating because we were just in the locker room talking just as a group of guys, and we have a hard time putting our finger on how we're in this situation or why we're in this situation. We do everything there is to do to win, you know, got them backed up, big play by Barnes getting a sack, and then the inconsistent play to come back and give up a check down for 29 yards to convert and give them the opportunity to kick a field goal is just extremely frustrating.
"I know as media you want something more dramatic than the old technique and fundamentals and all that, but that's what it was," he said. "We took bad angles, didn't get him boxed in when we had the opportunity to, he got out and did what great players do and make a great play. He had a huge block that got him over the line. It's extra frustrating."
Johnson said the Chargers covered the Ravens deep.
"That's what you want; you want them checking down and you coming up to make the tackle. I've practiced against that guy for five years. The worst thing you can do is get him in the open field. But you still have to get him down and we didn't do it."
Adding insult to the big gain was when safety Eric Weddle sustained a concussion when he was blocked by receiver Anquan Boldin.
Turner said he spoke with Weddle on Monday.
"Other than feeling that he had been rear-ended on Highway 5 with a clip and a helmet-to-helmet collision, he felt pretty good and it was very positive and he didn't have any signs from having that collision," Turner said. "I thought it was a clip and I thought it was helmet-to-helmet on a defenseless player. It really doesn't matter what I thought, though. Obviously, what matters is the way it's called."
After 11 games, Turner is still talking about how the Chargers can't put together a complete game.
While Philip Rivers got through just his third game this season without committing a turnover, he was sacked a season-high six times.
Interestingly, Rivers didn't throw a single pass to Robert Meachem, who has all but disappeared since dropping what appeared to be a certain touchdown pass in a 7-6 loss at Cleveland on Oct. 28.
The Chargers certainly expected more from Meachem when they signed him to a four-year deal worth $25.9 million, with $14 million guaranteed, hours after Vincent Jackson left San Diego to sign a five-year, $55.55 million deal with Tampa Bay in March.
Meachem has only 14 catches for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Another big free agent, Eddie Royal, has just 16 catches for 134 yards and one TD.
Meachem, Royal and left tackle Jared Gaither, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Friday, represent some serious dead weight in the big class of free agents signed by Smith.
Smith did make a key move by signing receiver Danario Alexander on Oct. 22.
Alexander has become San Diego's fifth-leading receiver in just five games, with 20 catches for 365 yards and three TDs in five games. Their leading receiver is Malcom Floyd, who has 47 catches for 704 yards and four scores.
"Again, some of it comes down to what we're using in personnel groups," Turner said. "We have a comfort level, obviously, with Malcom. Malcom plays all the positions. We're trying to get Danario going and he's made some plays for us. As I've said, that's where we're at right now."
San Diego hosts Cincinnati (6-5) on Sunday.