John Harbaugh tried to turn his team's attention to the Cincinnati Bengals immediately after last week's heartbreaking loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Minutes after having their playoff hopes dashed by a late touchdown at Heinz Field, the Ravens head coach said that "all eyes go toward Cincinnati." Several key players echoed that sentiment throughout the week by stressing the desire to finish the season on a high note.
But as the Ravens took the field Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati, they didn't look anything like the group that came within six inches of having control of the AFC North championship. The offense was out of rhythm and the defense allowed the Bengals to march down the field for touchdowns on their first two possessions.
The Bengals were in command the entire afternoon, and the season ended with a disappointing 27-10 loss at Paul Brown Stadium.
"For whatever reason, it's hard to put your finger on it, our emotional level was not where it's been in the past, and I think that has a lot to do with what happened last week," Harbaugh said. "Our guys came back and really worked hard. They didn't sulk, they didn't pout, they came to work.
"But to get to the that level that you need to be at to play at the level that we need to play – and the way we need to play to win football games – we were unable to accomplish that. I felt that a little bit in our football team coming off last week's loss."
Shaking off the sting of the Pittsburgh loss was a tall order. That defeat was perhaps the most deflating since the 2011 AFC championship loss to New England, and the Ravens knew they had nothing on the line in terms of playoff implications in the season finale.
"It's real. We fought, we tried, and we couldn't put our best foot out there like we wanted to in this game," Harbaugh said. "It was definitely our worst game of the year as far as the way we played, and it's just what it was."
The Bengals (6-9-1) were nowhere near full strength for Sunday's matchup – they played without wide receiver A.J. Green, tight end Tyler Eifert, linebacker Vontaze Burfict, and running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard – but they still got the better of Baltimore on both sides of the ball.
The defensive struggles were most surprising. Baltimore's defenders talked about wanting to finish the season on a high note after getting gashed by the Steelers, New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles in the last three games, but they couldn't stop Cincinnati in the first half. Bengals running back Rex Burkhead carried 27 times for 119 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the win.
"We had a great week of practice, but we didn't come out the way we should have come out. That's on the leaders. That's on myself," safety Eric Weddle said. "You could say the emotions, what we went through during the week of having everything come crashing down on you – your goals and aspirations not being fulfilled – it's just hard to overcome. But that comes on us as older guys that we still have to come out there and compete and play together."
The offense, which had all the emotion of Steve Smith Sr.'s final game, came up empty on too many drives. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw an interception in the end zone and the group also failed to come up with points on another trip inside Cincinnati's 10-yard line.
"We came to work this week and really got after it and expected to come in here and play well," Flacco said. "You can't completely discount the way we played last week and leaving it all out there and coming up short. It makes you feel a certain way. … But you just can't use last week's game as an excuse."
The Ravens will now head into the offseason with a sour taste from how this year ended. After leading the division and having one of the league's best defenses for much of the year, they faltered down the stretch. Baltimore lost three of its final four games, and now the Ravens will be watching the playoffs from home for the second year in a row.
"We got to address some issues," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We got to be honest with ourselves and we got to address those issues if we want a chance at success, if we don't want to be on the outside looking in."