The Ravens' 27-14 loss to the Packers Monday night didn't literally knock them out of the AFC wild card race. Not even close. The Jacksonville Jaguars currently hold the last available slot with a 7-5 record, and the Ravens are 6-6.
Yes, even after a slide that now stands at six losses in their past nine games, they're still just one back with a month of Sundays to go.
"We are every bit in it," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. "We're fighting for our lives. But we're still breathing. We're still alive."
True enough. But after a losing performance that featured four turnovers, 12 penalties and a 27.2 rating for quarterback Joe Flacco, it's time to roll out the infamous Jim Mora meltdown speech:
"Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs. You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game."
That quote from the hilarious rant Mora delivered in 1996 -- after his Saints lost a midseason game to the Panthers – is right on point after the Ravens' own meltdown in chilly Green Bay. And here's more from Mora's speech that sounds appropriate today:
"I don't care who you play, whether it's a high school team, a junior college team, a college team, much less an NFL team, when you turn the ball over five times…you ain't gonna beat anybody. That was a disgraceful performance. We threw that game. We gave it away. We gave them the friggin' game. In my opinion, that sucked."
The Packers, hardly in championship form themselves, tried to give the game to the Ravens, offering their own bountiful platter of turnovers (three), penalties (11 for 175 yards) and missed scoring chances, including a 38-yard field goal. But the Ravens couldn't capitalize, encapsulating their 2009 frustrations as millions across the country watched on "Monday Night Football."
Some of the lowlights, which are all too familiar by now:
- A bad start. For the third time in a dozen games, the Ravens fell behind 17-0, looking lost right through the halftime whistle.
- Self-inflicted wounds. Their season total now stands at 80 penalties (third-highest in the league) for 868 yards (second-highest). "It's not (a lack of) discipline. That word rankles me. It's too easy," Harbaugh said. But neither is it just a case of healthy aggressiveness gone slightly overboard. Sorry, that's a copout. This is something the coaches badly need to fix – not now (too late) but as a top offseason priority.
- Red zone inefficiency. For the second time in three weeks, at a key juncture, they failed to reach the end zone from first-and-goal at the one. Inexplicably, LeRon McClain, a 260-pound Pro Bowl fullback, never touched the ball in either series. I'm thinking the Packers didn't mind.
- A Flacco gaffe. His late interception against the Colts denied the Ravens a shot at a game-winning field goal. Last night's scrambling fourth-quarter pass that resulted in an end zone interception was, he said, "a stupid decision and an even worse throw." It's a bit surprising because he was so superb at avoiding mistakes as a careful rookie in 2008. His "judgment slump" is becoming devastating.
On top of those familiar problems, the Ravens threw some new ones into the mix last night. Ray Rice lost a fumble for just the second time in his pro career. And the offensive line was manhandled at times, especially in the first half, when Packer rushers swarmed Flacco and the running game went nowhere. That's not supposed to happen to a team that drafts offensive linemen in the first round as often as the Ravens have recently (2007 and 2009).
To their credit, they hung in and rallied, as they almost always do, before their troubles just piled too high. Even though Packer mistakes fueled their comeback, "we gave ourselves a chance to go ahead and win the game," Flacco said. Not bad on a night neither Terrell Suggs nor Ed Reed were in uniform.
But they didn't win, and in the wake of such a sloppy, mistake-filled performance, it just seems silly to get out the microscope, crunch the schedules of the other wild card contenders and go to the trouble of trying to conjure legitimate scenarios in which the Ravens qualify. They aren't a playoff-caliber team right now, despite what the standings suggest. And they have a lot of work to do before anyone thinks otherwise.
John Eisenberg worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.