Ray Lewis often prays that he becomes better at dealing with losing.
But this past Sunday's game, a 17-15 heartbreaker to the Colts, really tested him.
"It gets no harder for me than Sunday," Lewis said Wednesday. "I don't like losing fricking close games, I don't like losing nothing. I like to finish games out 60 minutes – whether it's players, coaches' decisions, whatever it is. And when you've got a team like that on the ropes, finish it."
This season has been especially trying for the Ravens' leader considering his team has been defined by gut-wrenching defeats in the final minutes all year.
Point blank, if the Ravens made even one or two plays -- or avoided one or two mistakes – their season would have an entirely different outlook heading into Sunday's grudge match with the rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
But shoulda, coulda, wouldas don't win football games. And thus, the Ravens find themselves in a precarious playoff position after a torrid start to the year, with the biggest game of the season coming to M&T Bank Stadium Sunday.
"Now, you start a new season – a six-game season," Lewis said. "And the bottom line is if you can get that to turn a little bit, where we do start winning those close games, then everything we're talking about now is a myth and we keep on moving on."
The mistakes play out like an NFL horror movie for Ravens fans:
- Week 4 at New England: Mark Clayton drops a fourth-down pass inside the 10-yard line with 28 seconds left. Patriots win, 27-21.
- Week 5 vs. Cincinnati: With a 14-10 lead and the ball, Joe Flacco overthrows an open Clayton on a deep pass that would have essentially sealed the game. The Ravens punt to Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who leads an 80-yard drive –aided by three Baltimore defensive penalties – capped by a game-winning pass with 27 seconds remaining. Bengals win, 17-14.
- Week 6 at Minnesota: Former kicker Steve Hauschka misses a 44-yard game-winning field goal attempt. Vikings win, 33-31.
- Week 11 vs. Indianaplis: Flacco throws an interception from the 14-yard line with the Ravens in range of a field goal that could have given them the lead. Ed Reed fumbles away any chance for a last-second comeback. Colts win, 17-15.
"You can go to each one of those games and you can point to one play and say, 'For that number of plays you'd have won each one of those games,'" head coach John Harbaugh said. "But, that's how it is in football. Our guys understand that."
The Ravens are 1-4 in games decided by less than a touchdown this season and their five losses have been by a combined 4.6 points. They are 5-5 despite outscoring their opponents by an average of 6.6 points per game.
Winning close games hasn't been a problem just this season. Last year, the Ravens played five games decided by less than a touchdown. They went 2-3 in those games, including two regular-season losses to the Steelers by a combined seven points.
"Yeah, we played some close games, great exciting games, but the bottom line right now is we have to finish games," said Lewis, who can be credited for closing out the Ravens' win over San Diego in Week 2. "It's simple mathematics with us – finish games."
It's easy to say the Ravens need to finish, but getting that accomplished is another task. The game plan does not change at the end of games, nor do the Ravens lack a "killer instinct." It's a simple fact that they haven't made plays in the most critical moments.
To fix that, Harbaugh feels his team has to try not to push too hard, yet focus on the detail of the moment.
"Our guys are good players, and they'll come up with those plays," Harbaugh said. "I know they will. They have in the past and they will in the future."
The problem is, there won't be much "future" this season if those plays don't start being made quickly.
As running back Ray Rice said, the Ravens are confident that they have a good team – a team better than its 5-5 record. But they must get over the late-game hump if they are going to prove it.
"It's a mental thing you get over, and in this league you'll learn that you've got to get over things real fast," Rice said. "If you get stuck with a bad mental thought, that's when bad things happen. As far as the team, we're in a great mental state right now. Who couldn't be? The Pittsburgh Steelers are up next."