When Head Coach John Harbaugh looks at the Ravens' six losses this season, he notices a trend.
The Ravens have not been able to finish off victories, making too many mistakes down the stretch that kept them from winning tight contests.
"The thing that we talked about today was the fact that we create too many opportunities for our opponent," Harbaugh said during his Monday press conference. "That's what we've done too much this year. And I think that's the biggest difference from other years when we've won these close games."
The Ravens have lost four of their six games this season by three points or less, and the six-point loss to the Browns in Week 9 came after a late fourth quarter touchdown by Cleveland. The Ravens have been in every game this season – they were even leading the Denver Broncos at halftime of the opener – but they have been unable to put teams away in close games.
The specific issues have varied from game-to-game, but late miscues have been the theme. In Sunday's loss to the Bears, the Ravens had an errant snap on a crucial play at the end of regulation, dropped a pass in overtime and then allowed a 43-yard completion in overtime to set up Chicago's game-winning field goal.
"In the end, it comes down to winning a tight game and doing the things you have to do to win a game and a tight game in tough conditions, making the plays you need to make and not giving them opportunities that they don't need to have," Harbaugh said. "That's what we have to continue to work on doing a better job of because we haven't done a good enough job in close games of getting that done."
Part of the issue for the Ravens has been turnovers, both committing them and the inability to force them. The Ravens currently have a -5 turnover margin this year, which ranks 23rd in the NFL.
But turnovers haven't been the only problem.
Earlier in the season, the defense struggled to get off the field in critical late-game situations. The offense has also failed to come up with game-winning drives against the Bills and Bears when they had opportunities.
"This is has been the Achilles heel all season, that we get to the close games and we have to make plays to win," safety James Ihedigbo said. "So it is what it is."
Losing tight games is a new trend for the Ravens, as they won plenty of close games in their run to the Super Bowl last year.
They beat the Patriots on a last-second field goal by Justin Tucker that barely squeaked through the uprights and then took down the Dallas Cowboys after Dan Bailey missed a field goal as time expired. There was also the "Hey Diddle, Diddle" 4th-and-29 completion against San Diego and the Mile High Miracle in the playoffs.
The Ravens found ways to win those games, but they have not been as fortunate this season.
"What it goes to show you is how close it is, and what a razor thin margin it is in the National Football League," Harbaugh said. "And that's what makes the National Football League great."
As the Ravens now head into a critical three-game home stretch where they may have to win all three games to put themselves in good position for the playoff hunt, the message from Harbaugh to his players was that they have to eliminate the extra opportunities for their opponents. That has been the difference in close games this year, and the Ravens hope to flip the script in the final six games of the regular season.
"They are going to make enough plays on their own without creating opportunities for them or plays for them. And that's where we have to be better," Harbaugh said. "We've got to do a better job of that starting right now. That's got to be job one."