It’s so sudden.
The Ravens were on a roll. They looked like a team who could make a playoff run.
And then … fourth-and-12.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver Tyler Boyd ripped the Ravens’ hearts and playoff bid out of their chests with a 49-yard touchdown with 44 seconds left.
Just like that, it was over. And the Ravens locker room was shocked.
The Ravens made the playoffs in five consecutive years at the start of the Head Coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco era in 2008, culminating with the Super Bowl XLVII title. Since then, they’ve now failed to reach the postseason four of the past five seasons.
“Fifteen years as a Raven. I would have to say this one is the most devastating [regular-season losses],” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said.
In many ways, Baltimore’s 31-27 loss at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday night was a microcosm of their season, but without the fairytale ending players and fans all hoped was coming around the corner.
The Ravens kept fighting after a barrage of early-season injuries. They rallied after having a losing record more than midway through the year. They were on the brink of punching a playoff ticket.
On Sunday evening, the Ravens fell behind, 17-3, in the first half behind a sluggish defensive performance and dreadful offensive showing. They survived a potential dagger when the Bengals returned a juggling interception 89 yards for a touchdown. But they rallied to take the lead midway through the fourth quarter.
And then … fourth-and-12.
“It’s like a bad dream. You can’t believe it happened to us like this,” Suggs said.
The odds were in the Ravens’ favor. They needed to beat the Bengals (7-9), who were out of the playoffs, to get in. The Ravens were in their home stadium.
Even if they didn’t win, the Ravens could still advance to the postseason with a loss by either the Buffalo Bills or Tennessee Titans. Neither team trailed in their games, making it clearer as the night went on that the Ravens would need to handle their own business.
When the Ravens took their first lead on Mike Wallace’s 6-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, and with a defense that had dominated throughout the second half, it looked like Baltimore was ready to push themselves over the finish line.
All season, the mantra has been to finish. Last year’s playoff hopes ended in heartbreaking fashion in Week 16 with Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown stretching the football over the goal line. This year, the Ravens talked all offseason and season about making sure they didn’t suffer the same fate.
“It takes us right back to last year,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “It’s just another year for us to hear it all year until next season.”
The Ravens will spend all offseason thinking about yet another devastating loss.
What makes the sting even worse is the Ravens thought they had finally gotten over the hump. After struggling for the first half of the season, the offense and quarterback Joe Flacco were cooking, matching the defense and special teams.
The Ravens had won five of their last six games entering Sunday night. The one loss in Pittsburgh by one point proved they could go toe-to-toe with any of the AFC’s big dogs.
Asked if he felt the Ravens were capable of making a playoff run, Suggs said, “Absolutely.”
“Especially after the way we fought in the second half,” Suggs said. “I don’t give a [darn] about a moral victory. We are out. We are out. We needed six of seven.”
“We know what kind of team we are and what we are capable of,” Mosley added. “Every game that we won, we saw what our potential was, so this is a tough one to take.”
Head Coach John Harbaugh rallied an emotional locker room and gave hugs to players torn up by the loss. The Ravens will lick their wounds for a while after Sunday’s loss.
“This is a great bunch of guys,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more impressed with a bunch of men – players and coaches – than I have with this team all year. I have never enjoyed coaching a team more, as a head coach or an assistant. I’ve never had a bunch of guys that didn’t turn from adversity like these guys.”
Just as they did all season, the Ravens must move on and keep working to get back into the playoffs. They were one step closer this season, but not close enough.
“You look at yourself, see what you could have done better,” safety Eric Weddle said. “And it will be the driving force come the offseason.”