With Sunday's outcome and a top billing among the NFL's elite on the line, the Ravens' offense was chugging down the field on the New England Patriots to get in position for a game-winning touchdown.
But in the end, both the Ravens and the footballs fell short, as Baltimore saw a perfect record erased in the teams' first loss of the 2009 season, 27-21, at Gillette Stadium.
The Ravens drove to New England's 14-yard line but wide receiver Mark Clayton dropped a fourth-down pass with 28 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. A completion would have given the Ravens a first down inside the 10-yard line.
"I ran the route, got open, Joe threw a great ball and I dropped it," Clayton said. "I just wasn't able to come up with it, and it cost us the game."
Quarterback Joe Flacco, who connected on 27 of 47 attempts for 264 yards, delivered a perfect ball that hit Clayton in the chest. Previous to that, Flacco watched as receiver Derrick Mason could not haul in a throw that was slightly behind him. And Clayton again had a pass glance off his hand in the end zone on the same critical drive.
"We came up with some catches; we didn't come up with some catches," said head coach John Harbaugh. "Those were all tough catches. Protection has to be there, throws have to be there. That's just all part of it, it all goes together, you can never single out one thing."
After a perfect 4-0 preseason and 3-0 start to the regular season, the Ravens (3-1) still have yet to beat the Patriots in franchise history, now dropping five games to New England (3-1).
Baltimore struggled to keep Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Co. off the field for much of the game. New England possessed the ball for over nine minutes more than the Ravens. The Ravens also hurt themselves and extended drives by committing nine penalties for a combined 85 yards.
Two of those penalties were roughing the passer calls on Brady, who missed nearly all of 2008 with a knee injury in the season opener. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was flagged for grazing Brady's helmet, and linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs earned one when he bumped Brady's knee just after he got rid of the ball.
"I'm not allowed to comment on it," Harbaugh told reporters after the game regarding the penalties. "I think you guys saw it too, and you make those judgments for yourself."
The fact that both of the infractions were on drives that eventually led to touchdowns stung even worse.
"Without totally going off the wall here, it is embarrassing to the game," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Brady is good enough to make his own plays, let him make the play. When you have two great teams that are going at it, let them go at it. Both of their touchdown drives had personal fouls on them that kept the drives alive.
"Did that win or lose the game? No, but it got them 14 points."
Still, the Ravens were given a chance to win when Suggs got a sack in the third quarter, forcing a fumble that rolled into the end zone. When defensive tackle Dwan Edwards pounced on the loose football, it ignited an offense that had been sputtering coming out from the halftime break.
Up until then, the Ravens had punted on five consecutive drives since taking a 7-3 lead on quarterback Flacco's 20-yard touchdown pass to Mason at the 7:04 mark of the first quarter.
Over that span, the Patriots managed two long touchdown drives. One ended with a 1-yard plunge over the goal line by Brady spanned 14 plays and 76 yards. The other, which put New England up 17-7, went 63 yards in only six snaps, but was aided by a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty when Suggs hit Brady's knee in the pocket.
The Ravens were knocking on the door just before the first half ended, but Flacco tossed his first red-zone interception on New England's 9-yard line with just over a minute left.
Baltimore's defense came out of the break pressuring Brady, the same tactic the New York Jets used to defeat the Patriots in Week 2. On New England's first drive, Brady was sacked by linebacker Jarret Johnson, and then Suggs' sack-strip occurred on the second drive.
Edwards' touchdown awakened the offense, so much in fact that a 14-yard scoring pass to Randy Moss did not faze Flacco and the rest of the Ravens' offense.
Baltimore responded with a scoring series of its own. On the back of running back Ray Rice's 50-yard dash up the middle, the Ravens got in range for a 13-yard touchdown pass to Willis McGahee. It was McGahee's seventh score of the season, marking the fifth consecutive game with a touchdown dating back to the 2009 playoffs.
New England managed to add a second field goal from kicker Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth quarter, who split the uprights from 32 and 33 yards, which put the game just out of reach for the Ravens.
Now, the Ravens turn the page to prepare for the 3-1 Cincinnati Bengals next weekend in a contest that will result in the AFC North lead.
A measuring-stick matchup that would have asserted the Ravens as the NFL's class club also showed that Baltimore must simply continue to prove itself.
"Every loss is pretty tough, but we have all lost before," Flacco explained. "The most important thing in the NFL is how you respond to a loss, we just have to go look at the film and see what we can learn and look forward to next week."