One week, the Ravens looked spectacular, but the next, everything came crashing back to Earth.
The Ravens' 2009 playoff run officially came to an end with a 20-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
It was a single game that contained a microcosm of Baltimore's entire season.
Six days after the Ravens pounded the New England Patriots into submission with a 33-14 victory in Foxboro, Mass., a completely different story played out in Indianapolis.
At times, the Ravens were dominant, such as an initial march that spanned 15 plays and 7:47 – their longest of the year – and culminated in a 25-yard field goal by kicker Billy Cundiff.
After that, there wasn't much else to brag about.
Again, the Ravens were strafed by an elite quarterback. For yet another game, penalties cost the Ravens in key situations.
And when they needed it the most, the Ravens committed three fourth-quarter turnovers that made a comeback near impossible.
"I just thought it was a heck of an effort by them," head coach John Harbaugh said of the Colts. "The kind of game you've got to play to win a game like this; so, congratulations to them. Obviously, we're disappointed at the fact we didn't win this game- we didn't play well enough to win. We didn't play well enough to win this game, on this day, against this team."
Led by a stellar performance by reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning, the Colts came out firing. Manning, who completed 30-of-44 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns, seemed to have his way with a Ravens defense that has previously had trouble with dangerous passing attacks.
Still, the Ravens made Manning look human at least for a quarter, as the Colts were held to a 44-yard field goal on their first drive of the game. Baltimore followed that by forcing two Indianapolis punts.
But Manning was just getting warmed up. Midway through the second quarter, Manning went 8-of-9 on a 75-yard touchdown drive, finding wideout Austin Collie in the end zone behind cornerback Domonique Foxworth to take a 10-3 lead.
Baltimore's ensuing three-and-out gave Manning just enough time (1:26) to extend that margin, especially with some help from the Ravens, who were docked an NFL-high 1,094 penalty yards during the regular season.
Foxworth was penalized for defensive pass interference, which moved the ball into the red zone, and linebacker Ray Lewis's unnecessary roughness flag, which occurred when he connected with Collie in the end zone for a helmet-to-helmet blow, gave Manning a fresh set of downs at the 7-yard line.
Manning easily threw a dart to Reggie Wayne at the goal line, and Wayne reached across it.
In the final 2:03 of the first half, the Colts effectively seized control of the game. The Ravens didn't do much in the second to change that.
"Those drives at the end of the half, at the end of the game, sometimes are the most crucial part of the game," said quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw two interceptions. "I think that's been proven through the year this year that that's the way it has been. They did a good job in doing that. We didn't make plays when we needed to the rest of the game."
Baltimore continued to be its worst enemy.
The Ravens had a flash of promise when safety Ed Reed picked Manning off and then returned it 38 yards into Colts territory, but speedy receiver Pierre Garcon chased him down and punched the ball out from behind. Tight end Dallas Clark pounced on the fumble.
There was another glimmer when Reed snared another interception on less than three minutes later, but that was negated by a pass-interference call on backup corner Corey Ivy.
"You got to protect the ball," Reed explained. "We have to be smarter with the ball and make better decisions. Make better decisions as far as clock management. It happens every time we play them. We try to be smart about it. You can't give up points, especially against a good team. Field position is definitely key. I'm pretty sure they won that battle."
Despite a second field goal from Colts kicker Matt Stover in the fourth quarter, the Ravens were still in contention, but a fumble by running back Ray Rice following a 20-yad run into Colts territory was lost, and then Flacco tossed two interceptions to seal the defeat.
In all, the Ravens were bitten by familiar issues. A top-tier quarterback. Penalties. Turnovers.
At time this year, those issues have been too much to overcome.
But, the Ravens do believe they can continue to build on two consecutive playoff appearances and look to the future.
"Obviously, we're not where we want to be right now," Harbaugh said. "We want to [get to] the point where we can win the divisional playoff game, we can win the AFC championship game and we can win the Super Bowl. We tried like crazy to be good enough to do that. We're not good enough yet. We have to find a way to make our team better."