It looked like the Ravens were set to pull off an improbable comeback.
After falling behind the Pittsburgh Steelers 14-0 Sunday at Heinz Field, the Ravens offense broke out for its best performance of the season. Led by a dominant rushing attack and a strong performance from quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens gave themselves a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.
But that's when the Steelers seem to be at their best, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger marched his unit down the field for scoring drives on two-straight possessions to drive a dagger into the Ravens' heart.
"This is going to sting for a while," safety Eric Weddle said after the 39-38 defeat.
The defense couldn't slow down Roethlisberger or his top target Antonio Brown, and Baltimore's offense went three-and-out on a critical possession with three minutes, 29 seconds remaining. The unit could have put the game away, but drained just a little over a minute off the clock.
In many ways, the game felt like Déjà vu to last year's Christmas day loss at Heinz Field.
"This one hurts," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "You lose to them the same way you did last year. This one sucks. But we have to get over it."
In both cases, Baltimore's defense squandered the lead on the Steelers' final drive of the game. Brown bested the Ravens both times, and the Ravens secondary struggled mightily without their top cornerback Jimmy Smith.
And for the second year in a row, the Ravens had to see Pittsburgh celebrate winning the AFC North championship in dramatic fashion.
Brown went off for 213 receiving yards and Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards, his most-ever against the Ravens in his 14-year career. The Ravens gave up 545 total yards and the defense couldn't protect a lead on a day where the offense was humming.
Running back Alex Collins ran for 120 yards and a score, and Flacco passed for 269 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. The offense played well for the second-week in a row.
"These are tough games. Definitely a similar feeling to [last year]," Flacco said. "It is what it is. It's another one. We have three left now. I think we have pretty short memories around here, and I think we do a good job of that and we better do it quickly."
The big difference between the games is that last year's loss knocked the Ravens out of playoff contention. This year's group is still very much alive in the playoff race, and they still control their own destiny to the postseason.
If the Ravens finish out the season with wins over the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals, then they will return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. Team leaders stressed that message in the locker room following Sunday's loss.
"Listen, regardless of whether we won or lost this game, we were going to have to come back here [in Pittsburgh] anyway if we handle our business," Weddle said. "Our confidence is high and hopefully we make it back here."
"This one is going to hurt, but it's best for us to have a short memory on this one because if we win out, there's a good chance we'll be in," Suggs added.
As much as the Ravens would have relished beating their rivals in a hostile environment Sunday, players didn't express concern that the loss would linger. The Ravens have bounced back from tough losses already this season, and playing the Steelers so tight was a sign they can compete with the league's best.
"We didn't get the result that we wanted. Being in this environment, Sunday night, playing in a rivalry, for a lot of the guys, that's probably the closest they've felt to a playoff game, since we haven't been in a while," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "If anything, it should be a morale boost, I would say. We just have to make those minor adjustments so we can finish close games like that."
The Ravens (7-6) are now tied with the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers, but those teams have much tougher schedules ahead of them. The Ravens have their sights set on returning to the postseason, and stressed that they can't afford to dwell on the disappointment of the loss.
"This one sucks, we just can't let it put a damper on our season," Suggs said. "We knew it was going to be tough to come here and win. It's the simple fact that we were leading in the fourth quarter again is why it sucks.
"I think we all just have to be better. You just have to look at yourself. We all have to be better."
Check out all the best photos from Heinz Field as the Ravens battle the Steelers on Sunday Night Football.