How will the Ravens respond to another gut-wrenching loss in December? The answer to that question will define their season.
The Ravens took a punch Sunday, dropping a 27-24 overtime decision to the Kansas City Chiefs, losing for the first time since November 4 after slugging it out with one of the NFL's heavyweights for more than 60 minutes.
Baltimore seemed on the verge of winning four consecutive games for the first time since 2013, but Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes wouldn't allow that to happen. He made a remarkable play with less than two minutes left in regulation, running to his right, throwing across his body and connecting with Tyreek Hill for a 48-yard gain on fourth-and-9 that kept the Chiefs alive to score the game-tying touchdown.
It was reminiscent of other heartbreaking December losses in recent years that have kept the Ravens from making the playoffs. But this one didn't. With three games left, the Ravens (7-6) are still in the playoff picture, with a chance to win their last three games and get to 10 wins.
The locker room was quiet afterward, but there was more than dejection. There was determination, the feeling that this game only proved to the Ravens they can play with any team, anywhere.
"We didn't come here for no moral victory," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We're going to respond really well. We're going to look at the tape, look at our miscues, get them corrected and get ready for Tampa on our home field.
"We're disappointed, a lot of guys are [ticked] off. That's a good thing. It's good to be [ticked] off in December. We're going to take that, channel it into our preparation for Tampa Bay."
There was plenty for the Ravens to like about their performance. They nearly became the first team to pin a home loss on the Chiefs (11-2), who are 6-0 at Arrowhead Stadium. Until Mahomes' touchdown pass to Damien Williams with 53 seconds left in regulation, Baltimore had shut out the Chiefs in the second half, who came into this game averaging 37 points per game.
Having won three straight heading into this game, the Ravens are confident they can win three straight again, that Sunday cost them a game, not a season.
"They have a heck of a team, that was like a playoff game on the road," Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "We saw the things we need to work on. I don't think we're discouraged at all. Nobody should walk out of this locker room with their heads down. Special teams did a great job keeping field position. Offense did a great job in the second half, getting points on the board, managing the clock. We got pressure on the quarterback. We got it into overtime. We know where we're at regarding the playoffs. The most important thing is to get ready for Tampa Bay."
Winning at Arrowhead Stadium would have made a loud statement to the NFL. But while the Ravens left without a victory, they didn't leave feeling any differently about their ability to reach the postseason. The Ravens fell just short (198 yards rushing) of topping 200 yards rushing for the fourth consecutive week.
With the league's No. 1-ranked defense and a running game that nobody has been able to contain since Jackson became quarterback, the Ravens have an offensive identity and a defense that took the high-powered Chiefs out of their comfort zone. Mahomes (35 of 53, 377 yards, two touchdowns) had to be the playmaker he is to lift the Chiefs to this win. But the Ravens sacked Mahomes three times and pressured him into the Ravens' first interception since Week 5 when Chuck Clark caught Mahomes' overthrown pass.
"I'm proud of our guys," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "I thought our guys brought it, played super-hard. That's how they play. They bring it, they compete in coverage, they compete against the run. I'd like to see us come out at the end with a victory, because that's what they tally up when it's all said and done."
The Ravens are not done, but they have little margin for error. The Titans, Colts and Dolphins all won in Week 14, meaning they all have 7-6 records just like the Ravens'. Baltimore's one-game lead in the wild-card picture is gone.
Being in must-win situations is nothing new for the Ravens. That's how they will approach the last three games.
"We've still got work to do," Suggs said. "In spite of everything that we did well, it still wasn't good enough. They made a few more plays than us. Hey, it's December football. We're up for the task."