Baltimore's locker room was virtually silent as players packed their bags Sunday evening.
Veteran receiver Steve Smith Sr. sat in his full uniform about 30 minutes after the game had ended. Linebacker Terrell Suggs stared into his locker long after most of his teammates had showered and left. Few players even whispered to one another as they digested the significance of the 31-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The loss eliminated Baltimore from the playoffs and surrendering the lead in the final seconds left the Ravens to deal with one of the most crushing regular-season losses in team history.
"It's just a tough feeling right now knowing everything you worked for and you don't reach your goal," safety Eric Weddle said. "We're just somber. It's down."
The Ravens were well aware of the standings coming into Sunday's Christmas showdown at Heinz Field. A loss meant their playoff hopes were over, but a win would have put them back in first place in the AFC North and in the driver's seat for a division title.
They traded barbs with the Steelers in a raucous road environment, and quarterback Joe Flacco orchestrated a 14-play touchdown drive to give Baltimore a 27-24 lead with just 78 seconds left to play.
Baltimore's defense, which has been one of the league's best all season, couldn't stop quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense. He marched Pittsburgh down the field before hitting wide receiver Antonio Brown on a 4-yard touchdown to give the Steelers the win.
"It sucks. It's very disappointing, especially with how our offense played," Suggs said. "We have to take our hats off to our offense. They showed up to play. They showed up to play, and they gave us 27 points. Usually when our offense gives us 27 points and we're winning in the fourth quarter, it works out in our favor. It's very disappointing in that fashion, but you have to respect the Steelers."
The Ravens have lost some heartbreaking games over the years – 2008 and 2011 AFC championship losses were tough to swallow – but Sunday's defeat was one of the worst.
Not only did the Ravens have their playoff bid ended by their rivals, but they dropped the game after it looked like they had mounted a memorable comeback.
"I thought we put it on the defense to win the game. But Big Ben did what he does," safety Lardarius Webb said. "We worked our butts off all year to be at this point and have a chance. It hurts. We fought hard, but we just came up short in the end."
The Ravens have played in plenty of big games since Head Coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco arrived. Baltimore made the postseason and won the Super Bowl during the first five years, but the Ravens have now missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons.
"Obviously, this was a very disappointing and bitter loss," Harbaugh said. "We work really hard at what we do I'm proud of our guys. I love our guys. I think our guys are great competitors, and our guys want to do really well. I think we're very close to being a great football team. We can be a great football team, but we're not there yet. We haven't gotten there yet this year."
As Harbaugh and the veteran players tried to look for the teachable moment in the loss, a common theme stressed was that they aren't far from being a team that can win a game like the one they had just loss.
"Hopefully guys can look at this moment and know how close we are, and it just drives them in the offseason," Weddle said.
Suggs told reporters "we'll be back," and he scoffed at a question about whether the game made him want to return for another season. The 14-year veteran said he's always planned to return for 2017, and the loss he just endured would certainly be fresh on his mind when the Ravens go into the offseason.
"I'm gonna live with this. I remember all of these games," Suggs said. "They wanted it a little bit more than we did this time, and it showed by their play."