The Ravens' resolve was admirable Sunday, but the result was more agony.
Sunday's 20-19 loss to the Los Angeles Rams left the Ravens (8-8) in serious danger of missing the playoffs after five straight defeats. It's the longest losing streak in Head Coach John Harbaugh's 14 seasons, with three of the losses coming by one point and another coming by two.
The Ravens have been hit by an unfathomable array of injuries, yet they fought Sunday as they have done all season, outplaying a healthier and talented Rams (12-4) team that won its fifth straight game. However, the frustration of losing close games is mounting. The Ravens see an opportunity to accomplish something special this season slipping away, and it hurts.
"We don't do this thing for moral victories," said tight end Mark Andrews, who broke the franchise single-season receiving record in Sunday's game. "A loss is a loss, that stuff still just burns. It sucks. We're trying to win. This is the Ravens, and that's what we do. We win games, and we're going to get back on track."
In some ways, the losing streak would be easier for the Ravens to deal with if they weren't coming so close to winning. They never trailed in Sunday's game until Odell Beckham's game-winning touchdown catch from Matthew Stafford with 57 seconds left to play.
For 59 minutes, the Ravens outplayed Los Angeles, their defense forced three turnovers and they held one of the NFL's most potent offenses largely in check. But their inablity to put the Rams away, failing to score an offensive touchdown on three time-consuming drives that resulted in field goals, came back to haunt Baltimore. Andrews knew the Ravens were in danger after they settled for a field goal to lead 19-14 in the fourth quarter after they had 2nd-and-goal from the two.
"That's super frustrating," Andrews said. "I knew that was big."
Sunday's game was a bad matchup on paper for the Ravens, playing without cornerback Anthony Averett (ribs) and top corners Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, who had already been lost for the season. Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (six catches, 95 yards, one touchdown) leads the NFL in receiving yards, receptions and touchdown catches and few receivers have more talent than Beckham.
Yet, cornerbacks Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith and Kevon Seymour battled the Rams' receivers all day. Young led the team with nine tackles, and perhaps playing one of the last games of his career, Smith (four tackles) made a brilliant play late in the game, tackling Sony Michel for a 4-yard loss to set up 4th-and-5 from the Ravens' 12-yard line with 1:08 left to play.
The defense was one play away from getting off the field and preserving the victory. But on fourth down, Stafford found Beckham, who made a superb catch with Young draped all over him to barely make the first down. Young didn't believe he could have defended the play much better.
"It was simply just a good pass [and a] good catch," Young said. "There's nothing to talk about. I had good coverage."
On the next play, Beckham got open for the go-ahead, 7-yard touchdown pass, and the Ravens ran out of time on their final possession.
This was the Ravens' third straight game without quarterback Lamar Jackson, who led them to three come-from-behind wins in the first half of the season. Tyler Huntley also led them to a come-from-behind win in Chicago, but during their losing streak, the Ravens have been just a play or two short, finding new ways to experience disappointment.
The players aren't making excuses, but Young admitted this year has been unusually stressful. Eleven of Baltimore's 16 games have been decided by six points or less.
"Man, I don't think I've been a part of a season with this many close games ever in my life," Young said. "All those overtime games, the last-drive games – it's been crazy. But like I said, we're going to fight regardless, no matter the outcome. You're always going to see us flying around."
The Ravens are fighters, but know they could be running out of time. Andrews said they won't give into the frustration, as they prepare for the regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"We have our division rival coming into our house, so it's going to be a big game," Andrews said. "This team doesn't quit. We're not going to stop. It's all hands on deck; we're going to be ready to go."