CINCINNATI — The Ravens took a lot of gambles for the 2013 season, and they lost most of them.
They gambled that they had a franchise-caliber quarterback and they lost. They thought they had signed several good free agents who could help anchor a defense and they didn't. They counted on some young receivers and some old ones too, and they had little impact as well from an undersized offensive line.
The Ravens were big losers in 2013, almost as big as the loss they suffered to the Cincinnati Bengals, 34-17, on Sunday, knocking them out of the playoff hunt on the season's final day.
It was a rout Bengals style, only kept close by some idiotic play-calling and four Bengals' turnovers.
The Ravens missed out on being the No. 6 seed, but they shouldn't have a final playoff spot in the AFC. The Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers are just as pathetic as the Ravens. The AFC should just have five teams with the No. 1 seed drawing the only bye.
As for the Ravens, they entered the season battling the odds. The previous seven Super Bowl winners had failed to win a playoff game the following year, and the last team to repeat as champions was the 2003 and 2004 New England Patriots.
The Ravens needed a lot of things to come together during the season for them to go deep into the playoffs. They gave Joe Flacco a $120.6 million contract during the offseason in hopes that he could carry a team, and Flacco threw three more interceptions Sunday to finish with a career-high 22.
Boy, they were wrong on that one.
"Everybody in that locker room is used to winning and getting in the playoffs and giving ourselves a shot to win it all," Flacco said. "It's disappointing not to have done that for ourselves, but we didn't play well and at 8-8, we don't serve to be in there."
Flacco was only one of the many problems in 2013. The Ravens thought second-year player Gino Gradkowski could start at center and Bryant McKinnie would have another stellar year at left tackle. Gradkowski was pushed around more than an old shopping cart and McKinnie was traded to the Dolphins in the middle of the season. Combined with injuries to guards Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda, the Ravens failed to get movement at the point of attack in the running game and couldn't handle pass rush pressure up the middle for most of the season.
The Ravens also failed in the experiments to find another steady receiver. Torrey Smith was expected to be the No. 1 receiver, but disappeared in the final quarter of the season. Young players like Marlon Brown, Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson had their moments but weren't steady. Veterans like tight end Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley came and went like thieves in the night.
These were the guys who were supposed to replace Anquan Boldin. But they were no-shows most of the season, especially inside the red zone.
Those were more gambles that didn't pay off.
"I thought that was the issue the week before too and the week before that," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's been an issue down the stretch for us — scoring touchdowns in the red zone — and it got us again in this game."
And so did the Ravens defense.
Before the year started, this group had the potential to carry the team despite the losses of linebacker Ray Lewis and safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed. The defense played well enough to win most games but had one recurring problem of not coming up with key stops in the fourth quarter.
After the Ravens had tied the game 17-17 with 5:19 left in the third quarter, the Bengals answered with a 12 play, 90-yard touchdown drive that lasted 6:44. It wasn't supposed to be that way when the Ravens signed safety Michael Huff, defensive linemen Marcus Spears, Chris Canty and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil during the offseason.
Of that group, only Dumervil has played well and both Huff and Spears were cut in late October. Huff was too soft and Spears never got into shape.
The Ravens lost out again.
"If we're not good enough, we're not good enough," Harbaugh said. "And the fact we were weren't good enough this year to get that done, that's something we have to address and it starts with me. I'm responsible for how the team is. No player needs to take responsibility for that, nobody else. So that's what we'll have to go to work on now going forward and get back to where we want to be."
It's going to take a lot of work. Besides their failed gambles, the Ravens didn't come together as a team. Harbaugh and Flacco had their differences. With the new contract and having been in the league for six years, Flacco wanted to call more of his own plays instead of having limited options.
The Ravens have to make a decision on running back Ray Rice. Was he slowed because of injury or age? The team has to make similar decisions on rush linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
As the season wore on, Suggs was almost a non-factor. He had only 12 tackles and one sack during the last eight games. During several crucial passing situations Sunday, he was on the sideline instead of providing pressure off the corner.
Who is the big pass rusher now? Is it Dumervil or Suggs?
The top priorities have to be improving the offensive line and finding a big, impact receiver. But regardless, the Ravens can't afford many seasons like 2013. They were outplayed, out coached, and made numerous poor decisions.
Most of those came before the season even started.