Late For Work 12/22: This One Stings, But Playoffs Still In Sight For Ravens

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This One Stings, But Playoffs Still In Sight

All the Ravens want for Christmas is a little help for a playoff berth.

That's because Sunday's 25-13 clunker not only pushed the Ravens out of contention for the AFC North title, but they no longer control their playoff fate.

"This one will sting the Ravens for a long, long time," wrote NFL.com's Conor Orr.

Baltimore could have been the master of its destiny by beating Case Keenum and Johnny Manziel/Brian Hoyer, but instead it put up one of its worst offensive performances in Houston and the season now hangs in the balance.

Three interceptions, errant throws, dropped passes, no semblance of a running game and beat up in the trenches – the Texans defense simply dominated the Ravens.

"To have that wretched of a performance with so much on the line spurs so many questions about the makeup and talent on the team, along with the coaching," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec.

"All the strides that Joe Flacco and Gary Kubiak's offense have made this season now seem rather insignificant. Given the circumstances, it truly was one of the worst performances during John Harbaugh's tenure, and the Ravens are going to have a long time to lament it unless they get some help over the next week and make it to the postseason."

Now, the Ravens dive into a tortuous pool of scenarios.

Here's what they need to advance, with each scenario requiring a win over Cleveland in the season finale:

Win & San Diego loss (in Kansas City)

OR

Win & 2 Cincinnati losses ( vs. Denver tonight, in Pittsburgh next week)

If both those scenarios play out, the Ravens will be the No. 5 seed. If only one plays out, they will be the No. 6 seed. And if neither comes to pass, the Ravens are out.

The Steelers became the first AFC North team to clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Chiefs yesterday. And with (an excruciating) comeback win over the 49ers Saturday night, the Chargers are now tied with the Ravens in the wild-card race at 9-6. San Diego owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Wide receiver Torrey Smith said it's a "sick feeling" to know his team lost control over its fate. But he knows it's the reality of the situation, and as Terrell Suggs said, the Ravens will "fight like hell" next week to give themselves a chance.

"It's certainly not comfortable for the Ravens to need help to get into the postseason," wrote Zrebiec. "But they have no other choice but to accept it and move on."

'James Flacco' Picks Worst Time To Have Worst Game

It didn't take long for the James Flacco cracks to start flying.

President Barack Obama accidently flubbed actor James FRANCO's name in a press conference, calling him James Flacco, and Twitter nearly broke with endless jokes (even from Flacco's account).

So* *when the real Flacco turned in a career-worst half – a 0.0 quarterback rating at halftime and his 16.7 completion rate was also the worst in a half of any quarterback this season – the jokes quickly began.

As Flacco always does, he faced the media after his nightmare performance and didn't try to sugar coat it (final numbers: 21-of-50, 195 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions).  "We got our [butt] kicked. It's really simple," he said.

After throwing just one pick in five games, it certainly was a bad time to have a horrible day with the postseason on the line.

"This was Flacco's worst game at the worst possible time," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "This is the time of year where quarterbacks carry their teams to the postseason, especially ones with $100 million contracts. 

"What did the Ravens get under center? Flacco resembled Kyle Boller more than a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. He was inaccurate, impatient and uncharacteristically gun shy. In the end, Flacco lost to a fourth-string quarterback in Case Keenum, who was on a practice squad the previous week." 

Hensley pointed to what other teams got from their starting quarterback: the Cowboys' Tony Romo threw four touchdowns to clinch a playoff berth, the Packers' Aaron Rodgers played with the flu and an injury and threw for 300 yards for a ticket to the postseason, and the Chargers' Philip Rivers guided his team to a comeback victory to keep pace, despite having a bulging disc in his back.

Based on how well Flacco had played the past four games, it looked as if he would also carry his team to the postseason promise land.

"[T]his clunker stunned the Ravens," wrote Hensley. "He was having a career year in his first season under offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, and he had a four-game streak with a passer rating of 99 or higher. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said there was no hint of such a flop, saying one pass hit the ground on the final two practices of the week." 

Starting Offensive Tackles In Walking Boots
* *Perhaps the biggest factor in Flacco's ability to perform at a high level was the offensive line's inability to keep him upright.

The unit has done that for the majority of the season – with 3/5 of the line getting Pro Bowl buzz – but then this "bloody" guy came into the picture:

Bloody JJ Watt is back pic.twitter.com/9cJDIXFwn3 — The Cauldron (@TheCauldron) December 21, 2014

J.J. Watt is already an animal, but then the Ravens lost their key blocker to hold him off. Right tackle Rick Wagner left the game with a foot injury, then starting left tackle Eugene Monroe followed with his own foot injury.

Their status heading into the season finale is huge as Flacco tries to get back on track.

According to The Sun's Aaron Wilson, both tackles were in walking boots as they left the locker room after the game. Wagner apparently had crutches with him, but wasn't using them.

"Wagner hasn't been ruled out for the Ravens' regular-season finale next week against the Cleveland Browns, and there's still a chance that he will play depending on how the foot responds to treatment, according to a source," wrote Wilson.

As for Monroe, he too was limping after the game, per Wilson, but he didn't disclose any information on the severity of the injury.

"I'm not talking about that," Monroe told reporters.

Run Game Quietly Regressing

There's no overstating how important the Ravens' rushing attack is to the offense.

But lost in the Flacco bashing was the 33-yard combined total from all three running backs.

"The Ravens have quietly regressed in the running game, and without their desired balance, they looked a lot like the 2013 team in this crucial loss," wrote The Sun's Childs Walker.

Forsett injured his ankle and didn't carry the ball in the final nine minutes of the game as the offense had to turn to the passing game to attempt a comeback. He told reporters after the game that the injury did not affect him.

The Texans held Forsett to a season-low 19 yards on 10 carries, and he's been held under 3 yards per carry for two consecutive games.

"It makes you wonder whether his career-high carry totals in previous weeks are beginning to wear him down," wrote Hensley.

Steve Smith Sounds Off

Nobody was more frustrated with Baltimore's loss than Steve Smith Sr.

The Ravens wide receiver admitted his team got its butt kicked, but that doesn't mean he wants to hear it from his critics.

"We expect and understand and anticipate all of the negative feedback and all of the fat, lazy, sorry couch quarterbacks are going to come out," Smith said. "We expect that and understand that. We're not going to pay attention to it."

When asked what the level of concern is for the offense, Smith said: "Won't you write it and then I can tell you how much [BS] it is. All right? OK?"

Quick Hits

  • Will it be Johnny Manziel or Brian Hoyer next week? Manziel left Sunday's loss against the Carolina Panthers with a hamstring injury and never returned. Also, opposing quarterback Cam Newton thought fans were 'classless' for celebrating his injury. [FoxSports.com].
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I played like trash today..our offense didn't play to well..slipped and caused a int...not a good day...gotta win and see what happens — Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) December 21, 2014

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