Biggest takeaway: Ravens defense unleashes its dangerous side

CARSON, Calif. -- For 15 weeks, the Baltimore Ravens have proved they're the best defense in the NFL, leading the league in fewest yards and points allowed.

The coaches and players just felt this defense could get better. The Ravens repeatedly didn't give up much to the likes of Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes, but they weren't taking anything away.

In Saturday's 22-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore went from being the league's stingiest defense to a much more dangerous one. The Ravens forced Philip Rivers and the Chargers into three turnovers, sealing one of the franchise's biggest regular-season wins with Tavon Young's 62-yard fumble return for a touchdown and Marlon Humphrey's interception in the end zone.

"That's the final piece to our defense," coach John Harbaugh said.

The Ravens have held their own against some of the top offenses this season before slipping at the end. Baltimore lacked the finishing touch, allowing 17 fourth-quarter points to the New Orleans Saints and giving up a 48-yard completion on fourth-and-9 to the Kansas City Chiefs.

This time, the Ravens owned the last 10 minutes of regulation. On the Chargers' final 15 plays, the Ravens sacked Rivers twice and produced two turnovers.

With Baltimore leading 16-10, Los Angeles started a drive in Ravens territory and Rivers completed an 11-yard pass to Antonio Gates to get the Chargers to the 38-yard line. That's when linebacker Patrick Onwuasor punched the ball away from Gates, and Young raced to the end zone.

One drive later, Rivers moved Los Angeles past midfield again before launching a throw to the end zone, where Humphrey wrestled the potential touchdown pass from Travis Benjamin.

"We've played a lot of these playoff-caliber, high-caliber offense teams that everybody says is supposed to be good, and we haven't turned that corner and finished the games out," said cornerback Brandon Carr, who intercepted Rivers on the first play of scrimmage to set the tone. "And we know that. We've been right in the thick of things and just couldn't finish it. And this today was just us taking it into our own hands, taking control of the game, just figuring out a way to win this football game."

The Ravens led the NFL last season with 34 takeaways, and they returned every starter. The only change was at defensive coordinator, where Wink Martindale replaced Dean Pees.

Given Martindale's aggressive playcalling, some thought Baltimore would generate more turnovers. Instead, the Ravens struggled to make game-changing plays. In the first 12 games, Baltimore recorded nine turnovers. Only the San Francisco 49ers produced fewer.

The Ravens intercepted a pass in each of the previous two games, a sign that a breakout was close. On Saturday, Baltimore delivered its first multiple-turnover game since Sept. 30.

"The way we play defense, I think turnovers should complement our defense," Harbaugh said. "We were surprised we weren't getting them, but were practicing for them."

The Ravens are one game away from finishing No. 1 in defense for only the second time in the franchise's 23-year history. The last time it happened was 2006.

Baltimore has slowed down some of the top passing attacks with a relentless pass rush and tight coverage in the secondary. The Ravens attack quarterbacks in waves with Terrell Suggs, Matthew Judon and Za'Darius Smith. Baltimore is equally deep at cornerback with Humphrey, Carr, Young and Jimmy Smith.

The result has been averages of an NFL-best 284.1 yards allowed per game and 17.5 points. On Saturday, the Chargers were held to their fewest yards since 2014 (198 total yards) and Rivers was limited to his fewest passing yards since 2016 (181).

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, a Ravens defender got within 2 yards of Rivers on 43 percent of his dropbacks, his highest rate of the season. Rivers was also 1-of-6 for 9 yards and two interceptions throwing into tight windows.

"This whole week we've been talking about shutting them out," Young said. "That's our goal every week. We have high standards over here and we try to live by those every week."