Some losses are simply disappointing, while others feel like a punch in the stomach.
The Ravens felt sick after this one. They squandered a golden opportunity Sunday during a 17-10 loss at Pittsburgh that left both teams at 3-2 through five games, as the AFC North race remains a dogfight.
It was a game the Ravens never trailed until the final two minutes, but they failed to seize control when they had the chance. They jumped to a 10-0 lead in the second quarter and should have led by more. But they were shut out in the second half and made mental and physical mistakes that led to their demise.
Here are my five thoughts from the game:
Critical mistakes keep costing the Ravens games they can win.
The Ravens could be 5-0 instead of 3-2 if they did not squander so many opportunities when they have leads, didn't turn the ball over so much, and did a better job of closing out games in the fourth quarter.
They made another costly gaffe just before halftime when they snapped the ball on fourth-and-2 with 19 seconds to play instead of sending Justin Tucker on to attempt an almost certain field goal.
Center Tyler Linderbaum said the plan was to let the clock run down before calling timeout to kick the field goal. But Linderbaum snapped the ball when he thought he saw a Steeler jump into the neutral zone, which would've given the Ravens a free first down. Instead, no penalty was called, and the ball was snapped to a surprised Lamar Jackson, who tried to improvise but threw an incomplete pass that ended the drive with no points.
Finishing games was a major problem for the Ravens last season, and they lost another fourth-quarter lead Sunday after leaving the door open for the Steelers all game. Sometimes it almost seems like the Ravens deal with adversity better than prosperity. If the Ravens are going to become a championship team, they must get better at putting teams away.
"It's the same old story every time," inside linebacker Patrick Queen said when asked about squandering opportunities and losing close games. "I'm pretty sick of it."
Dropped passes were contagious.
Had the Ravens eliminated some dropped passes, the outcome would've been different.
Heading into Week 5, the Ravens had one of only two wide receiver groups that had not dropped a pass all season, according to Pro Football Focus.
That ended on Sunday. The Ravens had drops in big spots that could've made this a much easier game. The drops started on the opening drive when Zay Flowers muffed a throw by Jackson with the Ravens on the move at Pittsburgh's 41-yard line. The drive stalled and Baltimore elected not to have Justin Tucker attempt a 58-yard field goal. Flowers has been good this season, but that drop probably cost Baltimore at least three points.
In the second quarter, Rashod Bateman made a more critical mistake when he dropped what should've been a touchdown pass on third-and-goal from the four. Jackson even made the play easier by taking some velocity off the ball, but Bateman still couldn't haul it in, and banged his hands on the turf in frustration afterward.
On the play before Bateman's drop, Mark Andrews couldn't corral a high pass from Jackson that would've been a difficult catch, but the kind Andrews is more than capable of making.
Instead of taking a 14-0 lead, and possibly taking control of the game, the Ravens settled for a short field goal that made the score 10-0 and kept the Steelers alive.
Then in the third quarter, Jackson threw a beautiful deep pass to Nelson Agholor that slipped through his hands, which would've put Baltimore in field goal range. It was the Ravens' fifth drop to that point.
Special teams issues are concerning.
Miles Killebrew blocked Jordan Stout's punt early in the fourth quarter for a safety, and it was nearly recovered for a touchdown by Pittsburgh before it rolled out of the back of the end zone. The two points pulled Pittsburgh to within 10-5 and sent the crowd into a frenzy, totally changing the game's momentum. After the ensuing free kick, the Steelers put together their best drive of the game, which led to a Chris Boswell field goal that pulled them to within 10-8.
Through five games, the Ravens have given up a blocked punt, and an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown in Week 2. In Week 3, Flowers made an ill-advised fair catch after a safety against Indianapolis that kept precious seconds on the clock, giving the Colts more time to kick a game-tying field goal in regulation before they won the game in overtime.
Baltimore is usually among the NFL's best at special teams, but not this year so far.
The Ravens almost won the game on a positive special teams play when a forced fumble by Jeremiah Moon in the fourth quarter was recovered by Kevon Seymour, who returned the ball to Pittsburgh's 7-yard line. However, Jackson threw an interception three plays later and the Ravens came away with nothing, still leading 10-8 and keeping the door open for the Steelers to make their late-game comeback.
The red zone isn't automatic anymore.
Baltimore entered this game with the best red zone offense in the NFL, scoring 13 times on its first 16 trips to the end zone after Justice Hill scored on a 14-yard run to open the scoring. However, Bateman's drop in the end zone was a missed opportunity for more points, then in the fourth quarter with the Ravens still leading 10-8, Jackson was intercepted by Joey Porter Jr., who had tight coverage on Odell Beckham Jr.
Throwing an interception in that spot is the one thing Jackson (22 for 38, 236 yards, one interception) couldn't afford to do. Receivers let Jackson down with drops, but his attempted throw to Beckham in the end zone is one that Jackson would like to have back.
"I just tried to give my boy a shot," Jackson said. "We just got to get in sync, that's all. He made a great play (on the) interception."
It was the first game back for Beckham (two catches, 13 yards) since his ankle sprain in Week 2, and he went to the locker room for a while before returning in the second half. Beckham missed all of last season and the Ravens must hope he can stay healthy so that he and Jackson can build on the chemistry they had worked to establish during training camp.
1. Bad luck with injuries at offensive tackle continued. Starting right tackle Morgan Moses (shoulder) saw his 134-game consecutive game streak end today, then his replacement, Patrick Mekari (chest) left the game in the third quarter. That forced second-year tackle Daniel Faalele into the action, with the difficult assignment of blocking All-Pro T.J. Watt, who entered the game with six sacks. Watt had two more sacks in this game and became more dominant down the stretch. Though left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee) returned to this game for his first action since Week 2, the Ravens will hope that either Moses or Mekari is healthy enough to play next weekend in London against the Titans.
2. This defeat dropped Lamar Jackson's career record to 1-3 as a starter against the Steelers. They continue to be the AFC North team that gives him the most issues.
3. Marlon Humphrey played his first game after foot surgery, but was disappointed he was beaten by George Pickens for a 41-yard touchdown that gave the Steelers a 14-10 lead late in the game. "You get beat sometimes when you blitz the house," Humphrey said. "Obviously you don't want to get beat on a game-winner but sometimes it happens as a cornerback. I felt great. It felt good to be back."
4. The Ravens didn't score in the second half, as their offense continued to be inconsistent. The 10 points was Baltimore's lowest output of the season.
5. The Steelers have now won six of the last seven against the Ravens. The Ravens will have another shot at Pittsburgh in the regular-season finale at M&T Bank Stadium.