‘It’s been a lit­tle while’

Ravens, Charg­ers re­turn to post­sea­son in wild-card matchup

Sunday Star - - SPORTS -

— It’s been six years since the Ravens hosted a play­off game, so for­give Pro Bowl guard Mar­shal Yanda for for­get­ting pro­to­col re­gard­ing the dis­tri­bu­tion of tick­ets.

“Some­body was ask­ing me if we got tick­ets dur­ing the play­off games, and I couldn’t re­ally re­mem­ber,” he said this week. “I was like, ‘Uh, it’s been a lit­tle while.’”

The last time Bal­ti­more was at home in the post­sea­son was in 2012, when line­backer Ray Lewis and quar­ter­back Joe Flacco en­gi­neered a 24-8 vic­tory over In­di­anapo­lis to launch a sur­pris­ing Su­per Bowl run.

Lewis is now in the Hall of Fame, and Flacco will be on the bench when rookie La­mar Jack­son and the Ravens

(10-6) face the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers

(12-4) in a wild-card game Sun­day.

It’s a re­match of a piv­otal con­test two weeks ago, when Bal­ti­more took con­trol of the AFC North with a 22-10 vic­tor y that dropped the Charg­ers to the No. 6 seed. The Ravens’ top-ranked de­fense lim­ited Los An­ge­les quar­ter­back Philip Rivers to 181 yards pass­ing with two in­ter­cep­tions.

“You know they’re go­ing to come back with changes, with wrin­kles, and they’re go­ing to play that much harder, be­cause they know what hap­pened the first game,” said Ravens safety Eric Wed­dle, who played nine years with the Charg­ers be­fore sign­ing as a free agent with the Ravens in 2016.

The game plan is im­por­tant, but min­i­miz­ing er­rors is what re­ally counts.

“I don’t think it’s go­ing to be a big se­cret as to what ev­ery­one is do­ing,” Los An­ge­les coach An­thony Lynn said. “It’s just who­ever ex­e­cutes the best is go­ing to win this game.”

If ex­pe­ri­ence means any­thing at quar­ter­back, the Charg­ers have the edge. The 37-year-old Rivers has been fling­ing the foot­ball in the NFL since 2004 and has started nine play­off games.

Jack­son, a ju­nior at Louisville just a year ago, has been a starter for just un­der two months. The 21-year-old will be the youngest quar­ter­back ever to start in the post­sea­son.

But the Ravens are 6-1 with Jack­son as a starter, and his abil­ity to run has turned Bal­ti­more’s of­fense into a very ef­fi­cient unit.

“There’s no sub­sti­tute for ex­pe­ri­ence,” Ravens of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marty Morn­hin­weg said. But he quickly added: “Now some­times, it’s the qual­ity of ex­pe­ri­ence as well. Man alive, look at all the things he’s done — a very ma­ture young man for that age in many, many ways. And, he’s a very con­fi­dent guy.”

Some other things to know about the first play­off game in­volv­ing the Ravens and Charg­ers:

BEEN A WHILE This is the Charg­ers’ first post­sea­son ap­pear­ance since the 2013 sea­son, and sec­ond since 2010.

“When you’re younger you think this is it; you get a shot ev­ery year,” Rivers said. “Then when you go once in the last nine or 10 years, you re­al­ize how fleet­ing it is and how hard it is to get in.”

Bal­ti­more is com­ing off a three­year play­off ab­sence.

“Com­ing into this league, play­ing these games, this was what you hoped for,” said Ravens line­backer Matthew Judon, who broke into the NFL in 2016.

QUICKER STARTS

The Charg­ers have been outscored 43-14 in the first quar­ter the past six games. Rivers has thrown an in­ter­cep­tion on the open­ing drive the past three games, which has re­sulted in 10 points for the op­po­si­tion. In the first 10 games, Los An­ge­les outscored teams 64-55 over the first 15 min­utes.

“It’s some­thing we’ve talked about and it’s def­i­nitely some­thing that we can’t af­ford to do,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ken Whisen­hunt said of the re­cent poor starts. “That’s what our goal is go­ing into this game.”

ALL ON THE LINE

With the Charg­ers’ lineback­ers un­der­sized be­cause of in­juries, the de­fen­sive line will need an­other good game. Joey Bosa has four sacks in six games since miss­ing the first 10 with a foot in­jury.

The Charg­ers had three sacks in the first meet­ing against Bal­ti­more, but Jack­son also had plenty of plays in which he was able to move up in the pocket to com­plete passes in his lone 200-yard game.

“There is such a thing as a good missed tackle, as long as you go fast with proper lever­age,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Gus Bradley said. “We don’t want missed tack­les, but if they show up with the right lever­age, it’s more of that mind­set with him that we have to play fast with them and try to eat up the grass.”

KEEP AN EYE ON ...

The kick­ers. Bal­ti­more’s Justin Tucker missed only four field goal tries this sea­son — two were blocked — and ranks first in NFL his­tory with a 90.1 ca­reer av­er­age.

Los An­ge­les rookie Michael Bad­g­ley has pro­vided sta­bil­ity, hit­ting 15 of 16 field goals. The Charg­ers have had seven kick­ers the past two sea­sons.

AP PHOTO

Bal­ti­more Ravens quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son passes against the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers dur­ing the first half in an NFL foot­ball game in Car­son, Cal­i­for­nia on Satur­day, Dec. 22.

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