LANDOVER, Md. — Finding a way to win had been the Ravens’ mantra on their way to a 9-2 start this season despite critical injuries, a pedestrian defense, and a schizophrenic offense.
That combination prompted critics to continuously doubt how good the Ravens really were as they appeared ready to cruise to their second straight AFC North title.
But Sunday’s 31-28 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins left the Ravens searching for answers — and themselves — after suffering their second consecutive defeat for the first time in three years. They have never viewed themselves as the type of team that snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, but the Ravens have done just that the last two weeks.
“I don’t want to say we find a way to lose,” safety Ed Reed said. “We damn sure [aren’t] looking for a way to lose. This is the NFL. This is a season we’re going through.”
It’s been quite a season, indeed, as the peaks had been more prevalent than valleys, but this recent slide is territory not visited by the Ravens in recent seasons.
The Ravens don’t lose games at M&T Bank Stadium. Until they did last week against Pittsburgh for the first time in two years.
They bounce back from rare losses, refusing to fall into the pit of a losing streak. But they did just that at FedEx Field on Sunday as Redskins kicker Kai Forbath booted the game-winning 34-yard field goal to officially hand the Ravens a two-game skid.
And despite holding fourth-quarter leads in each of their last two games, the Ravens are now 0-2 in December, the month in which they’ve thrived under coach John Harbaugh. They entered last week’s game with a 14-5 record in December and January over their first four seasons under Harbaugh.
“I don’t want to be known as ‘Yeah, we get them close in the fourth quarter, and the Ravens are going to give it away,'” said running back Ray Rice, who rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. “That’s never been us. That’s not going to be us.”
But it has been them the last two games as they missed their opportunity to not only clinch a playoff spot but would have locked up the division title on Sunday after losses by Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
In reality, my overall opinion of the Ravens hasn’t changed dramatically over the last two weeks. But the results haven’t been the same as we saw over the season’s first 11 games.
Quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense produced 28 points but began the second half with two turnovers and two three-and-outs that caused their 21-14 halftime lead to shrink to 21-20 before their lone touchdown drive of the second half. They then produced another three-and-out in overtime before Richard Crawford’s 64-yard punt return sealed the Ravens’ fate.
The defense allowing 31 points certainly isn’t acceptable, but it was difficult to expect much better from the group with Terrell Suggs joining Dannell Ellerbe and Jimmy Smith on the sideline and Jameel McClain exiting the game in the third quarter. Even so, Dean Pees’ unit settled down after a brutal first quarter to keep the Redskins in check until they marched 85 yards for a touchdown pass, thrown by backup quarterback Kirk Cousins to add insult to injury.
At times, the Ravens looked like they would be good enough to come away with their 10th victory of the season.
But they weren’t and they didn’t. It’s a feeling they’re not used to.
“We are fighting through all the things you fight through at this stage of the season as a football team,” Harbaugh said. “That is why you don’t overreact to these things. It is a tough loss, and it is going to be a fight to the division championship and that is what we are fighting for right now.”
The Ravens lacked a killer instinct in the second half that was epitomized by Flacco, who followed a three-touchdown first half with two critical turnovers. The first was a sack-and-strip suffered by the quarterback for the second straight week after Michael Oher was beaten soundly by Rob Jackson. The second took potential points off the board and came inside the red zone as Flacco failed to react to a Ryan Kerrigan blitz quickly enough and was hit as he threw, leading to a London Fletcher interception.