The Los Angeles Chargers game plan was simply to stop Lamar Jackson at all costs, they did that and kept a perfect (8-0) road record outside of California.
The Chargers ended up sacking Jackson seven times, forcing three fumbles and an interception in route to a 23-17 AFC wild-card victory over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
Rookie kicker Michael Badgley set a new franchise record with five made field goals, connecting from 21, 53, 40, 34 and 47 yards.
“As long as we won the game, it doesn’t really mean that much,” said Badgley. “I’m excited to go and continue in this playoff run we’re making. It’ll be fun Foxborough next week.”
“They made a big difference in this game,” said Chargers coach Anthony Lynn on the made field goals. “I have a lot of confidence in that young man because he has a lot of confidence in himself.”
Los Angeles (13-4) will next take on the second-seeded New England Patriots (11-5) at Gillette Stadium next Sunday, a place where Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has won in the Tom Brady era.
“Is this special to go to New England against a Hall of Fame coach and arguably the best quarterback ever to play and get another shot at them?” Rivers said. “Heck, yeah. It is special.”
On the day, Rivers finished 22 of 32 for 160 yards and constantly kept Los Angeles within field goal range.
Leading 12-0 at the half, the Ravens finally got on the board with a field goal of their own and cut their deficit to nine, (12-3) with eight minutes remaining in the third quarter.
However, after a 10-play 60-yard drive, Los Angeles running back Melvin Gordon punched in a one-yard score to go up 18-3.
Moments later, the Chargers went for a two-point conversion and succeeded, as Rivers lobbed a wide-open ball to Mike Williams.
Badgley then sent in his fifth field goal of game, to give Los Angeles its largest lead of the game, 23-3 with nine minutes left in fourth quarter.
After being harassed and hounded all afternoon, Jackson finally was able get some rhythm through the air and scored 14 unanswered points in just under five minutes.
Jackson connected with wide receiver Michael Crabtree for a 31-yard score, followed by another seven-yard touchdown to Crabtree to give the Ravens life at the two-minute warning, 23-17.
Baltimore then forced Los Angeles to punt the ball back to Jackson and the Ravens, allowing one final offensive possession.
With 28 seconds remaining, rookie linebacker Uchenna Nwosu sacked Jackson, and forced the fourth fumble of the game with defensive end Melvin Ingram scooping the game-winning recovery.
“I just saw Lamar holding the ball out,” Nwosu said. “My eyes got big, like looking at candy when you’re first born. I just swiped for it.
Chargers Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley featured seven defensive backs on the field for majority of the game and forced the 21-year-old quarterback to go 14 of 29 for 194 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
“We didn’t know if it was going to work,” Lynn said of the defensive adjustment. “We wanted to take a look at it.”
The Chargers are now two victories away from reaching Super Bowl LIII, but a showdown with the New England Patriots stands firmly in their way.
“The first one down in the books,” Gordon said. “I’m happy, man. But we got two more to go.”
Kickoff from Gillette Stadium is on Sunday, Jan. 13, at 10:05 a.m. Pacific.