For 31 NFL teams, the season ends with a sting.
At that point, it's about evaluating what happened and what needs to change moving forward. There's change every year in the NFL, and there will be in Baltimore too.
Those decisions, at least in Baltimore, aren't made on emotions resulting from that sting, no matter how it happened or how brutal it was.
As Head Coach John Harbaugh said Thursday during his season-review press conference, "In the end, when it is all said and done, you look at your people and the job they did."
The Ravens have missed the playoffs each of the past three years and four of the past five. That's the biggest number that will drive Baltimore this season.
Baltimore had the league's No. 27-ranked offense in yards per game (No. 9 in scoring). The Ravens had the No. 12-ranked defense (first in takeaways), which was good but not as dominant as many people expected after significant resources were poured into it.
But decisions are also made on more than stats, and there are plenty of positive ones too.
The Ravens' season, and the perception of it, flipped in a matter of seconds when Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton found wide receiver Tyler Boyd for a 49-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-12 with 44 seconds left.
Had that pass been broken up, the Ravens would be preparing right now to head to Kansas City for the wild-card round, happy about going to the playoffs for the seventh time in 10 years.
"Your heart is broken," Harbaugh said. "That is football. Nobody writes a script."
But after picking the heart off the floor, the question of how to judge the season and how much change is needed still remains, and it's not an easy one. Harbaugh looks at the bigger picture more than the results from one play at the very end.
"You try to look at it from a lens of every kind of perspective that you possibly can – as a leader – and say, 'Hey, you know what? How did we do in the end?'" Harbaugh said.
"Individually, how did we do? How did we do as a group? How did we work together? How did we compete? How did we handle adversity? How did we respond to triumphs and disasters and all of those different things that happened over the course of a football season or life? I have had a chance to do that, and in the end, I am really proud of our people."
Every team in the NFL faces adversity. It's part of the game. But it could be argued the Ravens had as much, if not more, than any team in the league this season.
The Ravens placed 15 players on injured reserve this season, including All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda, top cornerback Jimmy Smith and other starters such as defensive end Brent Urban, guard Alex Lewis and nickel cornerback Tavon Young. Top pass-catching tight end Dennis Pitta had to retire because of a third major hip injury and guard/center John Urschel retired to pursue math.
Perhaps the biggest hindrance may have been quarterback Joe Flacco's back injury, which held him out of training camp and the preseason and handcuffed the offense throughout the first half of the year as he regained his health.
Despite all that, the offense rallied to be one of the NFL's best in the second half and the Ravens were in the driver's seat to reach the playoffs.
"I am really proud of the organization [and] the way we fought," Harbaugh said. "I feel like our players … There was no drag on anything we did all year from April 15th through till this week.
"We had a bunch of veteran leaders that came to work every day with one thing in mind: to be the very best they can be and to help the people around them be the best they could be. We had a bunch of young guys that did not concern themselves with things that young guys do sometimes, but concerned themselves with being the very best that they could be, take the leadership that the vets were giving them, that the coaches were giving them and try to be the best players they could be for this football team.
"In the end, that is what you ask from people. I am happy with that, I am proud of that, I feel good about our people, and I am excited about where we are going forward."
At the end of Harbaugh's final team meeting of the season Monday morning, he excused the veterans and called the team's young players (those in their first three years) to the front of the auditorium. They are this team's future, he told them.
"To me, we are in a process right now, the process of building a football team that has been taking place since 2015," Harbaugh said.
The Ravens have improved since 2015, even though they don't have the playoff appearances to show for it. They went 5-11 in 2015, 8-8 in 2016 and 9-7 this season.
Harbaugh is sticking to his mantra of always getting "1 percent better" and focusing on "What's Important Now." It's a mentality that he carried through his first five years, which all ended in the playoffs and were capped with a Super Bowl XLVII title, and it's a mentality he's keeping now in the face of hardships.
"Our focus is on tomorrow. Our focus is on, 'Can we be better tomorrow than we were today?' That is just the truth of it," Harbaugh said. "It is not looking back and saying, 'Hey, we did not do this,' or, 'We did do that.' Everybody is full speed ahead to be the best we can be and has been for the last three years. How do you second guess that?"
There will be second-guessing, including about the 4th-and-12 play that knocked the Ravens out. But the Ravens have also made miraculous plays to shock the other team. Remember the "Mile High Miracle?"
"We have made that miracle happen. We have done it this year in games. We are going to do it again," Harbaugh said.
"That is where this team is going, that is what we are building. Because we have heart, we have courage, we have character. We have a bunch of guys that love football. We know what type of guys we want to have here playing for us. We understand our city, we understand our fans. We understand what they respect, and we want nothing more than to get it there where we can have that moment, where we can complete that pass and have the whole city go crazy and be dancing in the streets.
"That is what we are fighting for. I wanted it to happen this year. I wanted it to be the miracle year this year. Maybe we could have done it, and then all of a sudden, it is not to be. OK. Are we going to lament it and look back and beat ourselves up and find reasons that are not there and point fingers? That is not what I am going to do. That is not what leaders do. Let's go to work."
So does Harbaugh have any more urgency after missing the playoffs in three straight seasons?
"Not for me, because it couldn't be any greater," he said. "It couldn't be any greater now than it was last year, or last week, or four years ago, or eight years ago, or 10 years ago or 20 years ago, when I was coaching special teams for the first time in Philadelphia. That sense of urgency is on full blast every single day."