BALTIMORE — It’s been the same message in each of the last three weeks as the Ravens licked their wounds in the locker room following a loss.
The words have become a broken record, however, for a team in the midst of its first three-game losing streak since Oct. 2009 after a humiliating 34-17 defeat at the hands of the Denver Broncos. It was the Ravens’ worst loss at M&T Bank Stadium in over five years, and it leaves Baltimore in the same position it’s held since the beginning of December.
“Every goal that we have, starting with our first goal — which is to win the AFC North — is in front of us,” Harbaugh said. “It’s still there, and every dream that we have, which is the ultimate dream is still available to us. And that’s what you keep in mind. It’s a tough league for tough guys, and you have to find a way to put it behind you, improve, address the issues, own them and move on.”
Yes, their goals are still right in front of them – and a Pittsburgh loss to Dallas officially punched their fifth consecutive trip to the postseason Sunday evening — but it’s become painfully apparent the Ravens are backpedaling instead of moving forward. The dismissal of Cam Cameron and promotion of offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell were supposed to pump new life into the Ravens offense, but Joe Flacco and the unit responded by scoring just 17 points, their lowest output at home all season.
An overwhelmingly undermanned defense put forth a respectable first-half effort of only 10 points allowed before Denver’s Chris Harris returned a Joe Flacco interception 98 yards for a touchdown just seconds before halftime to make it a 17-0 deficit at intermission. The Baltimore defense wilted in the second half, allowing 14 points in the first half of the third quarter that put the game out of reach.
Most players echoed Harbaugh’s words about their goals still being within reach — even if their body language and tone didn’t exactly inspire confidence — but safety Ed Reed expressed the sentiment most fans felt as M&T Bank Stadium emptied early in the fourth quarter with the Ravens trailing 31-3 entering the final 15 minutes. The 34-year-old included his own performance in describing what was an unacceptable effort in front of the home fans.
“I am embarrassed as a player to come out and perform the way we have,” Reed said. “You have weeks like that. We’re not the only team that lost today, and we still have two more games. But, as a Ravens nation, as a player, I am embarrassed for our city.”
Sunday was supposed to be the first game in a new era of football for Flacco after his turbulent relationship with Cameron was finally laid to rest. Instead, the quarterback turned in one of the worst moments of his career with a second of hesitation before throwing an inexplicable out route intended for Anquan Boldin that was jumped by Harris. It turned what should have been a one-possession game into a 17-point deficit.
No one knows if the Ravens would have mustered a better fight had the defensive score never taken place, but it’s difficult to envision this one turning into the most lopsided home loss of the Harbaugh era with such ease.
Just like his team, Flacco is moving in reverse when he needs to be at his best after committing two turnovers that led to 10 points. It was the fifth-year quarterback’s third straight game with two giveaways, and he’s fumbled once in each of them.
“We’ve just got to keep moving forward, keep our eye on the prize,” Flacco said. “Everything in this league is ‘what have you done for me lately,’ and we’ve got to continue to move forward and stay confident because nobody’s going to be too high on us except ourselves. We’ve got to go out there and seize whatever opportunities we have ahead of us.”
Even with the Ravens now guaranteed a playoff spot and still holding a one-game advantage over Cincinnati in the AFC North, it’s nearly impossible to feel encouraged by their chances as it pertains to the postseason. Five of the Ravens’ seven inactives on Sunday were starters and that’s not counting linebacker Ray Lewis, who remains on the injured reserve-designated to return list with a right triceps injury.
More names were added to the infirmary report on Sunday as wide receiver Torrey Smith and running back Bernard Pierce sustained concussions, wide receiver Tandon Doss twisted his ankle, and linebacker Albert McClellan pushed his way through a hamstring injury. Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs played against the Broncos, but his impact was minimal as you continue to wonder what exactly he’ll bring to the table the rest of the way with a torn right biceps.
Just a few weeks ago, we labeled the Ravens resilient because of their ability to overcome their health woes, but you just wonder if they’ve finally hit the brick wall, especially with the loss of their best offensive lineman Marshal Yanda as the unit struggled immensely once again on Sunday.
“You have to do whatever you can to overcome it, and that’s what we’ve been doing,” Harbaugh said. “Getting healthy is going to be important for us. That’s something that I think we are getting closer to doing. If we can get healthy and get strong down the stretch here, that will help us.”
Maybe the return of Lewis will spark a Ravens team that appeared flat and even disinterested at times on Sunday. Perhaps Suggs — who employed an unconventional four-point stance to keep his body weight off his right arm — will see more explosion return from his surgically-repaired Achilles tendon, even if now playing with only one good arm.
And maybe the light comes on for the Ravens offense with another week of adjusting to Caldwell at the helm.
None of those possibilities feel very likely right now as the Ravens continue to see their goals staring them in the face. They keep moving in the wrong direction instead of seizing what they feel is rightfully theirs.
They’re running out of time to avoid any outcome other than backing into the playoffs as a once-promising season continues to look like it’s slipping away. And it appears they don’t have a clue how to make things right as they were embarrassed on their home turf by an impressive Broncos team.
The Ravens look stuck in reverse as they see a division title still staring right at them, but they’re unable to grab it.
“All we need to do is get one win,” running back Ray Rice said. “There is no sugarcoating. We’re banged up a bunch. It’s late in the year. It’s not getting any easier. We either put it on our shoulders, get it fixed, or we’ll weed ourselves out like the other teams in the league.”