The Ravens came into Sunday controlling their destiny with a chance to take a strong step to returning to the playoffs.
Instead, nothing went right.
They suffered their most crushing loss of the season by falling to the New England Patriots 41-7 at M&T Bank Stadium. It was the largest home deficit the Ravens have ever suffered under Head Coach John Harbaugh.
"[Stuff] happens. [Stuff] happens," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "That's all I can say."
The offense struggled mightily and the Patriots took advantage of their missed opportunities and turnovers. It was a sloppy game from the start, as quarterback Joe Flacco was out of rhythm and did not seem like himself playing on an injured left knee. The two teams combined for 16 penalties. Even kicker Justin Tucker missed a field goal.
"It's disappointing," Flacco said. "We're used to going out there and playing well when we need to when playoffs are on the line. We came out today hungry and ready to go get ourselves into the playoffs or make that next step towards it, and we just didn't do it."
The loss drops the Ravens to 8-7 on the season, and eliminates them from contention for the AFC North title. It also puts them in the position of needing help in the final week of the regular season to make the playoffs for the sixth-straight year.
The Ravens will travel to Cincinnati next week in a game that they must win to make the playoffs. They also need help from Miami or San Diego to make the playoffs as the AFC's No. 6 seed.
"It's not really a great feeling when you know you're going to need help," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "It's tough. We played and we are where we are because we earned it."
Sunday's struggles were largely rooted in the offense's inability to move the ball and put up points. Flacco was off the mark for much of the game, and finished 23-of-40 for 262 yards, zero touchdown passes and two interceptions. He was also sacked four times.
He badly underthrew a wide open Smith down the sidelines on the opening drive which could have gone for a touchdown. Then he was off target on a pass to Jacoby Jones the next possession, which ended up getting tipped and intercepted.
Flacco also appeared to mis-read the defense at times. He threw a long fourth-down pass to Jones in double coverage when tight end Dennis Pitta and Smith were both open underneath to move the chains.
While Flacco had trouble getting the offense moving, he insisted that the knee injury had nothing to do with his performance. Head Coach John Harbaugh also said that there was "no consideration" of switching quarterbacks because of Flacco's knee.
"It didn't affect me," he said. "I would have liked to play better, but the brace had nothing to do with anything."
The Ravens offense could not have started much worse.
After their first four possessions, the Ravens had punted three times, thrown one interception and picked up just 41 yards. At the end of the first half, the Ravens had nearly as many penalty yards (65) as offensive yards (71).
"We just weren't on the same page," Smith said.
As the Ravens offense struggled, the Patriots capitalized.
The Patriots jumped out to a 17-0 first-half lead after a 1-yard touchdown plunge by running back LeGarrette Blount, a 4-yard catch by running back Shane Vereen and a 45-yard field goal by kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
"We got down quick, a couple of bam-bam plays and we were in a hole," Harbaugh said. "We tried to dig our way out of it and just couldn't do it against a good team that was playing well."
Once the Patriots built up a big lead, they turned to the running game in the second half to move the football and run the clock down. The Ravens defense kept New England at bay for much of the second half, forcing them to punt on four of their first five possessions. The Patriots finished with just 300 total yards of offense.
As the defense kept it close, the Ravens got aggressive in the second half to try to chip away at the lead. Baltimore went for it on three separate fourth-down plays, and came up short each time.
They did end up mounting a late comeback effort, cutting the score to 20-7 in the fourth quarter before the Patriots rattled off 21 straight points. Two of those Patriots touchdowns came on defensive scores under two minutes when the game was out of reach and Tyrod Taylor took over at quarterback.
"Even at the end there, we put seven on the board and it's 20-7, and we're driving back down," Flacco said. "If we put the ball in the end zone there, who knows what happens? That didn't happen and then a lot happened afterwards. We didn't play good enough. We got beat."
Now the Ravens find themselves in the unfamiliar predicament of needing help to get back to the playoffs. They must beat the Bengals to advance, and the message from Harbaugh and the players after the game was to quickly move forward and put the focus on Cincinnati.
"We have to go in there and win," Harbaugh said. "That was pretty much going to be the case no matter what, so that's what we've got to do. We've got to play a lot better than we did today to go in there and win."