Eventually, someone needs to coin a nickname for the annals that this play is sure to go down in.
I have my theory on why it worked. We know that Flacco was not running a designed play; he checked down. The Ravens came out in the Shotgun, 3-wide look where Pitta was standing in the left TE slot, flanked by Boldin, who did a ditty motion (back and forth) to help Flacc read the D. Rice remained in the backfield (perfectly obscured by Flacc in this shot.). Yes, I call him "Flacc" sometimes. Flacc attack, baby. Ride with 5!!
The wideouts all ran basic fly patterns, while Pitta ran a loose in-and-up. As you see, the Chargers were in a nickel, with four down linemen and two backers. They were placing a lot of trust in the linemen to generate pressure and also demonstrated confidence in their athletic-if-not-over-the-hill linebackers.
Rice stayed in for a good four beats to help with protection and then circled to the line of scrimmage. He was a "gimme" for the D, a concession. Yet, perhaps they should have strategized on how to actually stop him in a long to-go situation. As you can see here, the nearest defender was about 26 yards away from Rice when he jumped a bit to bring in the pass. (Math wizards will understand why Gilchrist, at the bottom of the picture, is not closer.)
Do you see how they are moving along direct lines towards Rice? No contain at all, and why should there be? I did alter the red arrow because the camera on this Coach's Film zooms in. I think, at this point, the Gridiron Radar in Rice's brain was finalizing its' plan of attack.
Boldin wipes. Him. OUT. The collision alters Rice's path, and he loses sure footing. Notice Quentin Jammer, immediately "above" Rice in this photo, who has wisely cut across the field to stop him. Cason is not attacking at this point, he is frozen in his boots. Look at all of the space Boldin created with his stonewall. Lots of players are coached against blocking against the grain of a free runner (block downfield, not upfield), but this was teamwork at its' best.
And Ray bashes into the defenders for the first down. I tried hard to freeze the screen right when his knees hit the ground. It is impossible to really tell, but the ball is well over the 34 here. Well over it.
Viola, we now have it: a masterful display of will and determination by Rice and his teammates. Watch the video again and look at the reactions of the players on the sidelines surrounding Coach Harbaugh. Talk about fired up!!
Thus, I say, a season is pivoted. We're already good. This play, this game, showed us that we are exceptional. Too many mental hurdles--no, mountains--were overcome in getting this victory to just see it as normal. The Ravens are special in 2012. We'll see how special soon.
Houston, you have a problem.