At the midpoint of their 2009 campaign, the Ravens find themselves mired in a group of teams that are in desperate need to string together a few victories in order to keep playoff hopes alive.
Coming off a resounding 17-7 loss at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore (4-4) has dropped four of the last five contests. And, considering the Bengals' dominance last Sunday, the Ravens know they have a lot to work to do.
Head coach John Harbaugh will begin with himself.
"First of all, it starts with me," he said in his Monday press conference. "It's my job to give our guys every opportunity to play as well as they can play. And I need to find a way to do my job better.
"We're struggling to find a way to win a game right now," he continued. "I think we have a lot of tough, hardnosed guys. We have guys fighting like crazy to try to find a way to win a football game. We're playing very hard; we're trying to be physical. Coaches are coaching as hard as they can, trying to find a way to get it done. But we have come up short, way too many times, and I'd say too many times for the kind of team we are."
Now, the Ravens must escape a pack that could slowly be dropping away from the AFC's four division leaders.
That list includes the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars, both of whom are 4-4, the 5-4 Houston Texans, 5-3 San Diego Chargers, 4-4 New York Jets, and 3-5 Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills.
Any and all of them could potentially catch fire as the season wanes, posing a threat to Baltimore's climb back into the postseason conversation.
As the Bengals game attests, the Ravens have been plagued by penalties, slow starts and lapses in fundamental tackling.
Many of the Ravens NFL-leading 60 penalties have been momentum killers – or drivers.
In the first quarter, Cincinnati opted to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the Ravens' 39-yard line. Wideout Chad Ochocinco drew a pass-interference call on cornerback Fabian Washington that cost 24 yards and kept the march going. The Bengals eventually scored a touchdown.
In the third quarter, offensive tackle Jared Gaither earned a holding flag on third-and-10, moving the Ravens' offense back to third-and-20. Quarterback Joe Flacco then threw a deep ball to Derrick Mason that fell incomplete and led to a punt.
"We haven't done the things we need to do to make a play in a situation to get a first down or to make a stop. I think the penalties are a big part of that," Harbaugh said. "For whatever reason, we've had penalties that have kept drives alive way too often this season – the pass interference, the defensive holding things, whether it's jumping offside, the same things on offense that have put us in a hole and gotten us off schedule."
The slow start against the Bengals remains a concern. The Ravens totaled only 44 total yards and three first downs in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Meanwhile, Cincinnati scored on its opening three possessions. Harbaugh said the reason was broader than one or two simple things.
"We're not sticking to some basic script that we do week in and week out," Harbaugh explained. "The game plan changes from week to week, and we mixed it up. I think it's about making the plays we've got to make – blocking, tackling and running well. Those are the mistakes."
As far as the tackling goes, such as safety Ed Reed's three missed arm tackles in Cincinnati, the Ravens will simply continue to work on their fundamentals.
"There's a lot of coaching points we put in there," said Harbaugh. "We talk about them all the time. We work on them. We don't work on them live too often at this stage, but we do work on them. We expect to be a good-tackling defense."
However the Ravens correct their mistakes, it is imperative to right the ship. As Baltimore begins working on another 1-0 record, the gravity of each upcoming contest is discernable.
"Obviously, every game becomes huge for us," tight end Todd Heap said. "There is always a small margin for error, but when you lose a few games early, that's how you set yourselves up. We know where we're at and what we have to do. We just need to focus on playing up to our capability this week."