There was a tangible sense of belief growing in the Baltimore Ravens locker room. After a four-game winning streak which included three close calls, it looked like the Ravens were starting to find themselves. It seemed as though there was a chance Baltimore could replicate its magical 2012 playoff run.
But in one game, everything it had fought for—the confidence, the momentum, the faith—evaporated.
Baltimore can still make the postseason and—as we saw last year—anything can happen in the playoffs, but the Week 16 loss to the New England Patriots was more than an extra tally in the loss column. It was a humiliating 41-7 defeat at the hands of a familiar foe.
In their most important game of the season so far, the Ravens played arguably their worst football of the year—a sentiment shared by linebacker Terrell Suggs:
Terrell Suggs: "I have to watch the tape. Scratch that. Burn the tape."— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 23, 2013
Nothing went right as Baltimore was completely outplayed and outcoached en route to the largest home loss in franchise history. The defense played well on the first possession of the game, but it was all downhill from there.
Penalties were an issue from the start, with a pass interference penalty giving New England the ball on the goal line where LeGarrette Blount punched it into the end zone. By the end of the game, the Ravens had committed nine penalties for 83 yards, seven of which came in the first half alone.
There were penalties that gave the New England offense excellent field position and second chances. There were also penalties that backed up the Baltimore offense and erased decent gains. In addition, there were special teams penalties that helped the Patriots dominate the battle of field position.
The mistakes kept piling on, as the Patriots capitalized on Baltimore miscues to pounce on four turnovers—two of them taken all the way into the end zone to put the finishing touches on the blowout.
Even Justin Tucker, who came into the game with a streak of 33 made field goals, failed to deliver the goods and missed an easy (for him) 37-yard field goal.
With a win, Baltimore would have controlled its own destiny in Week 17. Now, the Ravens need either the Miami Dolphins (who host the New York Jets) or San Diego Chargers (who host a Kansas City Chiefs team with nothing to play for) to lose for a playoff berth to become a reality.
More importantly, the beatdown isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for Baltimore’s chances of accomplishing anything significant in the playoffs if they face the AFC’s best teams:
Against the AFC's current top two seeds -- Denver and New England -- #Ravens are 0-2 this season and have been outscored 76-34.— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) December 23, 2013
The Ravens haven’t done anything the easy way this year, and the tough road to the postseason will continue next week against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The defensive stand against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the last 125 seconds against the Minnesota Vikings and the 61-yard field goal by Tucker to down the Detroit Lions had given the Ravens a sense of hope. Now, the Ravens have to pick up the pieces—and they only have themselves to blame.