SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - The high-flying Baltimore Ravens broke San Diego Chargers’ hearts and dealt a major blow to their playoff hopes when Justin Tucker kicked a 38-yard field goal to complete a hard fought 16-13 win in overtime on Sunday.
While the AFC North leading Ravens improved to 9-2 with their fourth straight victory, Philip Rivers and the Chargers slipped to 4-7, despite having never trailed Baltimore in regulation on a sunny afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium.
A touchdown by wide receiver Malcom Floyd early in the second quarter put San Diego in control for much of the game but Baltimore forced overtime with a late score by tight end Dennis Pitta and a Tucker field goal with just three seconds left.
Tucker’s field goal came six plays after a stunning catch-and-run by Ray Rice to convert a controversial fourth-and-29 from Baltimore’s 37.
Both sides then had two plays apiece in extra time but it was the Ravens who prevailed when Tucker coolly powered the ball through the uprights to end a 12-play drive.
”I just know that we have a football team that has the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen,“ Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told reporters. ”I don’t want to go overboard here but how can you not? Have you ever seen a game like that?
“The thing I‘m most proud of, besides Ray Rice making it on fourth and 29, is that when things were looking the most difficult ... not one guy was pointing his finger or getting down on somebody else.”
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco completed 30 of 51 passes for 355 yards and one touchdown while Rivers threw for 228 yards and one touchdown as his demoralized team suffered a third straight loss.
San Diego, who have stumbled after making a blazing 3-1 start to the season, are now four games behind the AFC West leading Denver Broncos and trail the Indianapolis Colts by three games in the wild card race.
“What we’re trying to do is find a way to win a game and that’s the frustrating part,” said Chargers head coach Norv Turner. “Obviously on the fourth and 29 yards, we should have stopped them. It’s a three-point game.”
Both teams struggled on offense during a scoreless first quarter before the Chargers went ahead when Rivers connected with Floyd for a 21-yard touchdown to cap a nine-play drive.
A 47-yard field goal by Nick Novak gave San Diego a 10-0 lead with just over three minutes left in the second quarter, and helped by swarming defense the Chargers maintained that advantage by halftime.
Baltimore put their first points on the board early in the third quarter with a Tucker field goal from 43 yards.
San Diego continued to batter away at the much vaunted Ravens defense, beginning the fourth quarter with a superb 13-play drive that ended with a 30-yard field goal by Novak to put them 13-3 up.
Baltimore finally found a way to the end zone after Chargers nose tackle Antonio Garay was penalized five yards for a neutral zone infraction, Flacco hitting Pitta for a four-yard touchdown with just over four minutes left.
The game then turned on Rice’s stunning play when he caught a short pass from Flacco and darted his way past two tackles and through to the Chargers’ 33 with just under two minutes left.
After the first-down ruling was reviewed following a challenge, the ball was moved back to the 34 but a new measurement upheld the first-down by the length of the ball.
“Those plays are not acceptable in the NFL ... but they happen,” Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget said of Rice’s play. “The defense, we were fighting. We came up short. It definitely upsets the stomach when things like that happen.”
Six plays later and with just three seconds remaining, Baltimore tied the score at 13-13 when Tucker ended a 12-play drive with a 38-yard field goal to force overtime.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry