The Ravens have gotten a lesson in the NFL's game of inches so far this season.
Baltimore could very well be 2-0 right now instead of among the handful of talented NFL teams, including the Seahawks, Eagles, Saints and Colts, glaring at a surprising 0-2 hole.
Unlike some of those teams, who have all absorbed at least one loss by 10 or more points, both of the Ravens' defeats have been close – real close. The problem has been finishing.
If the Ravens want to turn their season around, they know they have to close out games and make plays in critical situations – both on offense and defense.
With four out of the last five games against the division-rival Cincinnati Bengals being decided by a touchdown or less, history suggests another close one is in the works for this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
"It's huge, man," outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. "We could be sitting 2-0 if we had finished the games, but we can't take it back. The only thing you can do is learn from it and go out and practice, prepare and really put yourself in those situations mentally again, so next time it comes around, we make sure we're better prepared."
In Week 1, with the Ravens trailing by just three points to Denver, the defense – which had played so well all game long – allowed a 17-play, 81-yard drive that chewed up 10 minutes, 56 seconds of the game clock. The drive resulted in a Broncos field goal to give them a six-point lead and required a game-winning touchdown by the Ravens offense.
The offense nearly delivered, driving down the field on 14 plays, 64 yards, but one pass to the end zone bounced off Steve Smith Sr.'s hands and another down the middle for Crockett Gillmore was intercepted on a good play by Broncos safety Darian Stewart.
In Week 2, the offense had an opportunity to put the Raiders away or at least require overtime. The unit drove just 24 yards on eight plays and an end-zone pass to wide-open Smith didn't leave enough room to get both feet in bounds. Baltimore had to settle for a field goal, leaving the door open for the Raiders to win the game.
That's just what Oakland did, driving 80 yards on nine plays in just one minute, 44 seconds. Safety Will Hill nearly made a game-saving interception, but was flagged for holding instead.
Flacco came back to the field with just 26 seconds left, needing a touchdown, and was picked off on his first throw. It's Flacco's third straight game, dating back to last season's AFC divisional game in New England, in which he's been intercepted on his final pass.
"As far as the ones that we've had, it is just kind of simple execution. It is nothing complicated," Flacco said. "It is just simple stuff and making the most of that play."
In any successful season, there has to be big plays made at the end of games. Take the Super Bowl season, for example. There was a 70-yard drive and game-winning field goal against the Patriots in Week 3. The offense ate up the clock for a 9-6 win in Kansas City. "Hey Diddle Diddle" won the game in San Diego.
There's also got to be a little luck sometimes. The Ravens watched a potential game-winning field goal be missed by the Cowboys in Week 6 that year. Broncos safety Rahim Moore misjudged Flacco's 'Mile High Miracle' in the playoffs.
"The games come down to one or two plays here and there. We understand that," defensive end Chris Canty said. "It's about executing in those key moments that allows you to be successful. Unfortunately, in the first couple weeks, we didn't do that."
So how do the Ravens go about closing out games?
Head Coach John Harbaugh said it's something the Ravens talk about all the time and also drills in practice. Baltimore simulates game-winning situations between the offense and defense every day.
"Game-winning situations are a regular part of what we practice, and in this league – because everybody is about the same, everybody is good – you've got to find a way to win a game," Harbaugh said.
"Sometimes it is one play; it is not always the last play. Sometimes it is a play in the middle of the third quarter that you don't expect to be the play, but that is the play that makes the difference. So, you've got to play every play like that is the game-determining play, and we try to do that."