From 4th-and-29 to World Champs

RB Ray Rice

How should a San Diego Chargers fan react to a gloating Ravens fan after Baltimore's 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII? Two words: you're welcome.

Let's not take credit away from where it is due. The Ravens played outstanding this season: winning the AFC North, surviving a Divisional Round double-overtime marathon against the Broncos, and of course, holding off a second-half comeback by San Francisco in the Super Bowl.

But if there's one play that could be called the make-or-brake moment in Baltimore's season, it would be Ray Rice's fourth-and-29 conversion against the Chargers back in Week 12.

The Chargers held a three-point lead with 1:37 left in regulation. San Diego, looking to improve to 5-6 and stay in the playoff hunt, had the Ravens exactly where it wanted them.

It was this exact moment, this very play, where the seasons of both teams dangled in the balance. Baltimore was in a fight for first place with the Cincinnati Bengals, while the Chargers faced losing their sixth game in seven weeks as their chances of a wild card berth began to fade. It would be the darkest moment of what was a very bright season for John Pagano's defense.

In the span of 13 seconds, Rice avoided eight Chargers defenders before finally being brought down by Quentin Jammer right at the first-down sticks. Eric Weddle was injured on the play, but that's no excuse for the seven other Chargers who seemed to forget how to tackle.

Was it a fluke? Was it a miscommunication? Was it karma? After watching the replay over and over, the only way to describe the Chargers defense is "lifeless." There was simply no will to tackle.

So what happened? The Chargers balked. The Ravens found a way to win. Each team's season could be summarized by that one play. Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle.

The Ravens and Bengals finished with identical 10-6 records, the tie-breaker belonging to Baltimore. Even if the Ravens had lost to San Diego, a 9-7 record would have still been enough for a wild card spot. But how would the Ravens' road to the Super Bowl have been different?

How would Baltimore have fared against J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans? Those teams met in Houston in Week 7, a game the Ravens lost by 30.

Former coach Norv Turner was frequently criticized because his lack of emotion was reflected in his team's often-disinterested play on the field. With Dean Spanos believing in Mike McCoy the way Gotham City believed in Harvey Dent, the hope is McCoy can reignite this Chargers unit to get rid of such mental lapses next season.

Brian Ducoffe is in his second year of covering San Diego sports. He has been previously published in University Link Magazine and wrote as an NBA columnist for Gacksports.com. Follow Brian on twitter @brianducoffe.

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