The Ravens had plenty of opportunities.
They had as much as a 10-point lead in the game and a seven-point advantage in the fourth quarter. They were playing at M&T Bank Stadium, where they had not lost in more than two years. They were facing a banged-up Pittsburgh Steelers team that had third-string quarterback Charlie Batch under center instead of All-Pro Ben Roethlisberger.
But they couldn't put the Steelers away, and a 42-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham as time expired finished off the Steelers' 23-20 comeback victory, dropping the Ravens to 9-3 on the season.
"We've got to seal the deal," safety Bernard Pollard said. "We had them where we wanted them and we just didn't step on their throats."
Batch orchestrated a 12-play, game-winning drive in the final minutes to set up the winning field goal and snap the Ravens' three-game winning streak over Pittsburgh.
The drive was also aided by a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on outside linebacker Paul Kruger, which moved the Steelers into field-goal range. Also, the Ravens didn't have timeouts to stop the clock after Head Coach John Harbaugh lost a third-quarter challenge and they burned one earlier in the half when the offense looked confused before a play. The third timeout was used on the final drive when Chykie Brown got hurt under the two-minute mark, which requires by rule that the team use a timeout.
That drive came after the Ravens offense stalled in the second half, committed a costly turnover that led to game-tying touchdown and the defense couldn't get the Steelers off the field late in the game.
"A very disappointing loss, a very tough loss," Harbaugh said. "I'm very disappointed. There's a lot of things we could have done better."
"We felt like we left plays out there," wide receiver Anquan Boldin added. "We felt like we could have put them away early. We missed opportunities here and there."
The Ravens offense showed promise and moved the football for the early part of the game against the NFL's top-ranked defense. Quarterback Joe Flacco had 134 passing yards and a touchdown, and Boldin had 75 receiving yards and a score in the first half.
But the group got into a rut in the second half and put up just 97 yards of total offense in the third and fourth quarters.
"It's always tough, we had an opportunity," Flacco said. "We just didn't capitalize on the opportunities."
The momentum-shifting play came with the Ravens leading by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, when Flacco fumbled at the Ravens' 27-yard line on a sack/strip by James Harrison. Pittsburgh capitalized on the mistake and tight end Heath Miller scored a touchdown four plays later to tie the game at 20-20.
The Ravens got the ball back after the turnover, but they could only muster one first down before being forced to punt, which set up the Steelers' game-winning drive.
"We had the ball back with a chance so we still could have went ahead and took care of business," running back Ray Rice said about the offense responding after the turnover.
Overall it was a frustrating day for Flacco, who finished 16-of-34 for 188 yards with a touchdown and interception.
"We put ourselves in some situations that weren't good," Flacco said. "I felt like we could have moved the ball today and we didn't do what we needed to do to have it happen that way."
Rice had a light workload despite being productive on the few touches he received. He finished with 12 rushes for 78 yards and a touchdown. The Pro Bowl running back chalked up his number of carries to the flow of the game.
"My touches go with the game flow," Rice said. "Obviously, I turned up a huge bunch of yards today, and we could have ran the ball a little bit more. But you know what? Situational football came into play. We put ourselves in the best situation to try and win the game."
Like the offense, the Ravens defense also struggled in the second half. After allowing just 93 yards of total offense and 57 passing yards in the first half, the Ravens had a tough time getting the Steelers off the field late in the game.
Batch threw for 219 yards in the second half and the running game was also able to find holes. Miller finished the day with five catches for 97 yards and a score. Running backs Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman combined for 92 rushing yards and a touchdown.
"They made plays," safety Ed Reed said about the second half. "They made adjustments to certain things we were running. They made the plays, and we just have to play with better eyes, better composure and be smarter with the ball. You can't turn the ball over, and you have to get off the field on third down. I don't think we did either one."
Dropping Sunday's game cost the Ravens an early opportunity to clinch a playoff spot for the fifth-straight season, and drops the Ravens' lead in the AFC North to two games with four weeks to play.
The Ravens are still up by a comfortable margin over the Steelers (7-5) and Bengals (7-5) in the division, although Sunday's loss makes it a closer race.
"Obviously there's a little bit of comfort in [the standings], but right now we don't care about that," Flacco said. "We didn't do what we wanted to do today and that's really all that we're thinking about."
After the game, the message from Harbaugh and a number of players in the locker room was that the Ravens wouldn't allow the loss to derail their season.
They hit the road next week to take on the Washington Redskins, and with a month left to play, their goals are still very much within reach.
"One loss does not define any football team," Harbaugh said. "It certainly does not define this football team and we will learn from it – all of us, every single one of us, starting with me – and we will move forward."