Eisenberg: Let's Be Clear: Ravens Didn't Blow Shot At Playoffs


Let's be clear about what the Ravens lost, and didn't lose, by failing to finish off the San Diego Chargers Sunday.

They did NOT lose their shot at making the playoffs. Please. Have you checked the standings? Even after the loss, they're in a pack of 7-5 teams tied for the AFC's second wild-card spot. It's not clear what needs to happen in the final month of the season, but as Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday, the Ravens are certainly still alive.

In fact, if you compare their schedule with those of the other contenders, the Ravens have a better-than-average shot. They have the easiest schedule. Their toughest matchup, at least on paper, is Sunday's game against the Dolphins in Miami.

Shoot, even though first-place Cincinnati is now a game-and-a-half up on Baltimore in the AFC North, the Bengals are weird enough and their schedule is tough enough that it's a mistake to declare the division race over. The Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers still have to play twice. And with bizarre results so commonplace now, it's pointless to predict what the division standings will look like in a month.

Bottom line, while the Ravens slipped badly Sunday by letting a crucial win morph into a gut-grabbing loss, they still have solid playoff hopes and plenty to play for.

The loss DID cost them the chance to control their own destiny in the wild-card race. Even if they win out, they're almost surely going to need help.

They also lost all but a sliver of their margin of error. Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said they now need to "run the table," go 4-0 in December, and he might be right. But none of the wild-card contenders are dominant, so it's possible a 10-6 record could net the second wild-card spot, giving the Ravens one more loss to play with. That's it, though.

If they lose Sunday in Miami, the Ravens are really ramping up their degree-of-difficulty. Losses to fellow contenders tend to hurt you in a playoff race, and the Ravens would have lost to both the Chargers and Dolphins, teams already ahead of them.

On the other hand, a win in Miami would brighten the Ravens' prospects. At the very least, it would demonstrate they can beat quality opponents. To this point, they're 0-4 against teams that would make the AFC playoffs if the postseason began now. Two of those losses were against the Bengals, the others against the Chargers and Indianapolis Colts. Yes, the Ravens held fourth-quarter leads in three of those four losses, so they're close. But a loss is a loss is a loss.

I'm sure some fans feel Sunday's defeat was the most devastating. The Ravens never trailed until the final minute. But it was no more devastating than the season-opener, in which the Ravens came from 15 points down to take a late lead, only to succumb to a strike by the Bengals. And it was no worse than the Oct. 28 loss in Cincinnati, in which the Ravens pulled off a piece of game-winning magic, only to see it negated by an official's flag. (For the record, it seemed to me that Harbaugh was madder after that latter defeat than any in memory, even in the playoffs.)

No matter what happens, the Ravens seem to be able to move on. They're 3-1 following a defeat in 2014 and 14-6 following a defeat since 2011. For that reason, I'm dubious of a theory I've heard and read in the past 24 hours, that Sunday's loss will linger and haunt, serve as a fateful turning point. Hmm. The NFL doesn't really work that way anymore. Few things linger from any week to any week. The biggest mistake you can make is basing this week's predictions on last week's results.

I'm not saying the Ravens will definitely bounce back and prevail in Miami. It's going to be a challenge, on the road against a team that put a 37-0 licking on the Chargers a month ago. It looks like the Ravens will be able to run the ball, but can they stop the pass? That's hardly assured.

Regardless, the Ravens won't be haunted by what happened last Sunday. This is pro football. Everyone moves on, a lot faster than you think. And the Ravens have too much to gain to wallow in what they lost.

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