The Ravens were eliminated from the playoffs with a 31-27 loss to the AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
Below are eight takeaways from the game.
1) Cruel Way To Lose In Ravens-Steelers Christmas Classic
The best rivalry in football didn't disappoint its Christmas national audience.
While the back-and-forth fourth quarter was still being played, it was already being dubbed the best game of the 2016 regular season. It will be remembered as a classic for the NFL history books. It was a game – and season – decided by a few inches, which is partly why it was so gut-wrenching for Baltimore.
The Ravens had the win, and first place in the division, clutched in their hands. They had a 10-point fourth-quarter lead.
If only the botched field goal didn't happen. If only tight end Darren Waller held onto the touchdown pass. If only Jeremy Zuttah's holding penalty didn't kill a grinding rushing drive that had the Steelers on their heels. If only fullback Kyle Juszczyk stopped just shy of the goal line AND the Ravens scored a few plays later after killing precious seconds off the clock. If only the defense that was ranked No. 1 two weeks ago could have stopped just one of Pittsburgh's three fourth-quarter drives. (More on all of that below.)
If only safety Eric Weddle, cornerback Jerraud Powers or linebacker C.J. Mosley could have wrapped up Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown's arms so that he couldn't stretch forward a few inches.
If only …
"It was almost cruel that some team would lose here," wrote TheMMQB.com's Peter King. "The Ravens were so close to such an improbable win. And whoever lost would have that guts-ripped-out feel.
"Glee in Pittsburgh. Third seed in the AFC tournament. Ravens go home for the winter. Down the hall in Heinz Field, one of the toughest locker rooms Ravens observers had seen. 'You could hear a pin drop,' one guy in there said. Another: 'Most crushed locker room I've ever seen.' It makes for great theater but soul-crushing moments. Pittsburgh, on the right day in January, will be a tough out for the best teams in the league. Baltimore could have been too. That's Week 16 football. Exciting to watch. Great to win. Horrible to lose."
2) Ravens Will Do Some 'Soul Searching' After Defense Collapses At Absolute Worst Time
Juszczyk said it best.
After he scored the go-ahead touchdown with a bulldozing run and dive into the end zone with 78 seconds left, he thought the game was over.
"In my mind, we have the best defense in the league. It's a wrap," he said.
Of course that's the thought. After all, some would say the Ravens were only in playoff contention to begin with because the defense had carried the team there. As one of the top-ranked units for the majority of the season, Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees' squad was even being compared to some of the greatest units in franchise history.
"In this season, in which the Ravens defense has carried them for much of the way, the group collapsed at the absolute worst time," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "But a playoff-caliber defense absolutely cannot surrender three fourth-quarter touchdowns."
Even more puzzling was how the run defense went from being a concrete wall to a leaky unit that surrendered 95, 169 and 127 net rushing yards in the past three games. It held running back Le'Veon Bell to a season-low 32 yards in Week 9, and then allowed 39 yards to Bell on the first drive alone Sunday.
"[T]here will be some soul searching about the late-season struggles of their once-stout run defense," wrote The Sun's Peter Schmuck.
"The ease with which the opposition has run the ball recently is a surprise and a mystery to the players who seemed to have such a great handle on the running game just a few weeks ago."
3) Sometimes You Just Have To Tip Your Hat; Ravens Looking For Playmakers Like Steelers'
There's a reason Pittsburgh has one of the league's best offenses.
The Steelers' three B's – quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown – are outstanding. And as easy as it would be to just put the blame on the Ravens defense, sometimes you just have to tip your hat.
"At the end of the day, Le'Veon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are really good. What else can you say?" asked The Sun's Childs Walker. "Bell and Brown reminded us of one of the ruling theories in professional sports: Sometimes, truly great players cannot be stopped."
In the end, watching the Steelers' dangerous targets reminded several media members that the Ravens simply don't have the playmakers to keep up. And, the search for said playmakers will continue this offseason.
"The Ravens wish they had that array of playmakers, but they don't," wrote CSNMidAtlantic.com's Clifton Brown. "And unless the Ravens find a way to become a more explosive team offensively, the Steelers could continue to be the team to beat in the AFC North for the next several years.
4) Should Juszczyk Have Fallen Short Of Goal Line On Purpose? NOOOOO
Can't fault anyone who at least thought about it.
You wouldn't be alone if in mid-celebratory cheer of Juszczyk's amazing effort to get across the goal line, you were already wondering if the Ravens left too much time on the clock for the Steelers to mount a comeback.
Turns out, there was too much time. The Steelers won with nine seconds remaining. But that doesn't mean Juszczyk should have fallen short of the end zone to milk the clock. That would have been stupid, right? There's no guarantee the Ravens could have scored after that play.
Former Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick probably epitomized the stream of thought we all had as the final two drives unfolded.
5) Waller Revived Memories Of Lee Evans
Baltimore would prefer to forget the potential game-winning touchdown pass that Lee Evans couldn't hold onto in the 2011 AFC championship game against the New England Patriots.
Unfortunately, Waller's missed touchdown last night is resurfacing those painful memories.
"Darren Waller evoked memories of Lee Evans, and not in a good way," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Edward Lee.
Waller appeared to score with both feet in bounds, but Steelers rookie safety Sean Davis was able to knock it loose as Waller fell to the ground. It seemed just like when Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore stripped Evans of his touchdown.
Of course the big difference is that Waller's touchdown would have put the Ravens up by 14 points with 14 minutes remaining, while Evans' drop occurred with 22 seconds left and he likely would have sealed the win had he held on.
"That's a huge play," Waller said after the game. "The point swing alone on that one play was huge for us and could have propelled us into who-knows-what. So yeah, that's a huge turn of events."
And while we're conjuring up painful memories, Brown's game-winning touchdown reminded us of another one that we'd all like to erase from our minds.
6) Suggs Hurts After Loss, But Adamant About Playing In 2017
Maybe nobody will take this loss harder than outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
The Ravens defensive leader even chose not to speak to the media leading into it because he was so focused and didn't want to make the game about himself, but he faced journalists after the bitter end and was honest and transparent.
"I can't remember the Steelers knocking us out," Suggs said. "Fourteen years around this game, I never remember our rival ... but they've beaten us in some big games. They beat us in the AFC championship and beat us in the playoffs. To knock us off to go to the next round, I don't think that ever happened. I'm going to live with this one. I remember all of these games."
As hurt as Suggs was by how his 14th season ended, he almost seemed offended by a reporter's question about whether he'll return in 2017.
"I don't know what you heard -- what the [f---] is wrong with him? -- I was always planning to come back and doing this another year," Suggs said, per ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
Despite coming off a surgically repaired Achilles and playing through a torn biceps this season, Suggs still leads the Ravens with eight sacks.
"He is signed through the 2018 season and scheduled to make $4 million next season," wrote Hensley. "It's unlikely Baltimore will cut Suggs, because he would only give them $1 million in cap savings, while counting $5.9 million in dead money (or $2.95 million in dead money if cut after June 1)."
7) Offseason Priority? Pass Rush, Pass Rush, Pass Rush
Even with Suggs returning for his 15th season, it doesn't mean the Ravens can't bolster the pass rush with some young players around him.
The lack of pressure was painfully evident against Roethlisberger. The Ravens didn't notch a single sack and only managed three quarterback hits. Even without top cornerback Jimmy Smith playing, the coverage held up for most of the night, but Big Ben did his damage in the final quarter with a mostly clean pocket.
"Top offseason need for the Ravens? Pass rushers," wrote Pro Football Focus's Gordon McGuinness.
"One thing that was abundantly clear during this game, and something which has been noticeable throughout the year, was that the Ravens go into the offseason with pass rush being their primary need. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are aging, and they haven't found success in the draft there in recent years, with the jury still out on Kamalei Correa and Matt Judon. In this game, the Ravens pressured Ben Roethlisberger on just four of his 33 dropbacks, and finished the game with just two quarterback hits, and no sacks. With a stacked draft class looming, Ravens fans can begin looking ahead and hoping a player like Auburn's Carl Lawson or Alabama's Tim Williams is there when they pick in the draft."
8) Take A Moment To Appreciate Ravens' 'Honorable' Performance In A Great Game
One final thought before we move on from this game …
We will have all offseason to analyze what went wrong in 2016 for the Ravens to miss the playoffs for the third time in four years. That will probably start happening around the web before the last game of the season is even played in Cincinnati.
But before we get to all of that, Walker urges everyone to reflect and appreciate what we just observed on Christmas.
"Just because the Steelers brought an agonizing end to the Ravens' playoff chances, we should not forget that it was an honorable performance in a great game," Walker wrote. "[W]e should not casually rush forward from the exquisite tension created by the Ravens and Steelers on Christmas afternoon. Such games are the best gifts sports give us, and it would be a sin to pull immediately out to the big picture.
"There will be plenty of time over the next week to discuss where the Ravens go from here. With veteran stars such as Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith Sr. perhaps nearing the end and another class of talented free agents poised to hit the open market, is it time to start over with a radically redesigned roster? If a reset is the move, does Steve Bisciotti believe Harbaugh is the man to lead it? Has Flacco gone from the man who brought Baltimore a Lombardi Trophy to a hugely expensive, mediocre albatross? These are all valid questions. … For now though, I'd rather remember Kenneth Dixon fighting like a demon for first downs, Le'Veon Bell's artistry on the other side and the spectacle of pro football's fiercest rivals trading body blows in a de facto playoff game. Stirring stuff."