For the Ravens, Sunday's loss was a hit to their pride.
Baltimore nemesis Derrick Henry delivered the knockout blow, rumbling 29 yards for the game-winning touchdown in overtime that sealed the Tennessee Titans' 30-24 victory.
Once again, the Titans bullied Baltimore's defense, breaking tackles and imposing their will in the end, similar to last season when they bounced the Ravens from the playoffs.
Offensively, the Ravens also failed during key moments. They put together a nice drive at the end of regulation, but settled for a field goal to force overtime instead of scoring a touchdown that would have won the game. Then in overtime, after winning the coin toss, the Ravens went three-and out. That set up the Titans' game-winning drive, with Henry (28 carries, 133 yards) saving his longest run for last.
It was a brutal loss for Baltimore, not only because the Titans were the more physical team. The Ravens (6-4) have dropped two straight games for the first time this season, and they face a Thanksgiving night matchup in Pittsburgh against the unbeaten Steelers (10-0), who are threatening to run away with the AFC North. In a crowded AFC playoff race, the Ravens are now in third place in their division and a step behind a cluster of other contenders.
Having lost three of their last four games, the Ravens have reached a crossroad. Either they will play better from this point forward, or their season could end much sooner than expected.
"We just can't play 60 minutes together as a football team," defensive lineman Derek Wolfe said. "We'll put a half together. This week we finally put three quarters together. Then in the fourth quarter, I don't know if it's because guys were getting worn down. There's no excuse. We've got to play better football. You've got to tackle."
The signature play of this game happened late in regulation, when wide receiver A.J. Brown barged his way into the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown play that gave Tennessee the lead for good. This wasn't just a score by Brown. It was a statement.
After catching a short pass from Ryan Tannehill, four Ravens had a chance to tackle Brown – Chuck Clark, Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey and Patrick Queen. All of them failed. Brown is a powerful runner, but the Ravens will cringe watching replays of this run. Brown is a powerfully-built wide receiver, but he discarded the Ravens like the biggest kid at elementary school during recess, running through their attempted tackles and busting into the end zone standing up.
"You have to tackle better," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "That's the best run-after-contact team in the league. We did well early, but we didn't finish strong enough."
The Ravens knew this would be a tough matchup, trying to stop Henry with two of their best run stoppers, Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams, injured and out. For three quarters, Baltimore's defense played well and contained Henry.
But the Ravens never put Tennessee away and they paid for it. Baltimore took a 21-10 lead with 9 ½ minutes left in the third quarter when Lamar Jackson found Mark Andrews for a 31-yard touchdown connection. Tennessee responded with a field goal, but the tide turned in the third quarter when Jackson threw a long pass that was intercepted by Amani Hooker at the Titans' 9-yard line. Tennessee drove for another field goal to make the score 21-16, and the Ravens punted again.
That's when the Titans began to dominate. They drove 90 yards on the touchdown drive that was capped by Brown steamrolling into the end zone. Even without Campbell and Williams, the Ravens expect more from themselves than to give up a 90-yard touchdown drive with the game on the line.
Tannehill ran into the end zone untouched for a two-point conversion to give Tennessee a 24-21 lead with 2:18 left in regulation, plenty of time for Jackson to lead a game-winning drive. It almost happened, with the Ravens reaching second-and-6 at Tennessee's 10-yard line with 32 seconds left in regulation.
If the Ravens scored a touchdown in that spot, they still would have won, even after Brown's demolition-ball touchdown. But the offense came up short again. Jackson's pass intended for Willie Snead IV was incomplete, and then Jackson threw the ball away to avoid being sacked, leading to Justin Tucker's field goal that forced overtime. For the third time in the game, the Ravens settled for a field goal and it came back to haunt them.
"We've got to finish drives with touchdowns," Jackson said. "We just have to stop putting [Justin] Tucker out there; we have to punch it in."
Jackson admitted the team was frustrated, and coming off a loss to the New England Patriots, this was not the response he expected.
"It looked like that team wanted it more than us," Jackson said. "They were playing physical. When we went up, I felt like we just took our foot off the gas. But we just have to keep it going for the team."
The Ravens don't have long to get ready for the Steelers, who came-from-behind to beat the Ravens at home last month. That started the downward spin that has seen the Ravens lose three of their last four games. Asked about the team's mindset, Jackson brought up his rookie season in 2018 when he became the starting quarterback when the Ravens were on a three-game losing streak. Baltimore won six of its next seven games to make the playoffs. That's the kind of finish he wants this team to duplicate.
"We were in worse situations my rookie year, and we turned the season around," Jackson said. "People were doubting us then. I feel like people want us to lose, but we just have to bounce back. We're good. It's going to be a rival game come Thursday, and we'll turn up then."