After 34-17 loss to Bengals, Ravens miss playoffs for first time since 2007

CINCINNATI BENGALS 34, RAVENS 17

With 8-8 record, Ravens fail to make postseason for first time under John Harbaugh

December 30, 2013|Jeff Zrebiec | The Baltimore Sun

CINCINNATI — Joe Flacco walked slowly off the field, his hands resting on his hips and his head down. He didn’t even give a cursory glance at the Cincinnati Bengals celebrating in the end zone.

When he finally got to the sideline following Dre Kirkpatrick’s 21-yard interception return for a touchdown, Flacco pulled off his helmet and tossed it to the ground, creating a defining image for a Ravens season that was just minutes away from ending.

Whether that was the moment when it had finally set in for Flacco and the rest of his teammates is unclear, but they’ll have plenty of time to digest the reality now.

The Ravens are not going to the playoffs, their title defense officially coming to an end Sunday. A 34-17 loss to the AFC North champion Bengals in front of an announced 62,406 at Paul Brown Stadium sealed the Ravens’ fate and ended their NFL-best five-year postseason run.

“It’s tough. It’s disappointing,” Flacco said. “But we’re an 8-8 football team — we don’t deserve to be there. It just is what it is. Everybody in that locker room is used to winning and getting in the playoffs and giving ourselves a shot to win it all. It’s disappointing not to have done that for ourselves, but we didn’t play well and at 8-8, we don’t deserve to be in there.”

Flacco’s comments were reiterated throughout a quiet locker room. Nobody made excuses or shifted blame. To a man, the Ravens admitted that they simply weren’t good enough to earn the right to keep playing, not just on Sunday, when they allowed Cincinnati to score the game’s final 17 points, but all season.

“We have no choice but to accept it,” Ravens strong-side linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. “We have a talented group of guys and coaching staff, so it’s very disappointing. We worked hard all season and did a lot of good things this year, but it wasn’t good enough to make it to the playoffs.”

It had all set up perfectly for the Ravens, too. They needed a victory and a loss by either the Miami Dolphins against the New York Jets or the San Diego Chargers versus the playoff-bound Kansas City Chiefs to qualify for the postseason. Just as the Ravens were getting back into their game, the Jets were taking control against the Dolphins en route to a 20-7 victory.

But the Ravens couldn’t take advantage and the beneficiary was the Chargers who beat the Chiefs, 27-24, in overtime to capture the second and final wild-card spot. The Ravens’ hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, would have gone to the playoffs if the Chargers lost.

“It’s obviously a very difficult, disappointing loss,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who was seeking to join Bill Cowher as the only NFL coach to reach the playoffs in the first six seasons to start an NFL head-coaching career. “That’s it, that ends it. That stings.”

Their final loss might as well serve as a microcosm of their season. The Ravens persevered through a slew of offensive miscues and defensive breakdowns to come back from an 11-point halftime deficit and tie the game late in the third quarter.

But their defense couldn’t get off the field and maintain the momentum, allowing a 90-yard scoring drive that ended on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s 1-yard touchdown run that gave Cincinnati a 24-17 lead with 13:29 to play.

Of the Ravens’ final five possessions, three of them ended on Flacco interceptions, one of them on a Sam Koch punt and another when they were stopped on downs in the game’s final seconds. The Bengals, who watched Dalton throw four interceptions, kept giving the visitors opportunities to stay in the game but the Ravens kept handing them right back.

“That’s usually the case when you’re not sharp enough,” said Flacco, whose three interceptions give him 22 for the season, three more than any quarterback in Ravens’ history. “Usually, the same problems keep presenting themselves, even at the end of the game. They gave us an easy touchdown there and we can’t get it. It’s just you’re that much off and when you’re that much off over the course of 16 games, you’re not going to be special enough to win football games. That’s just kind of where we are.”

All of the Ravens’ flaws throughout the year reared on the regular season’s final day. When he wasn’t throwing interceptions, Flacco was running for his life on his sore left knee. The offensive line struggled and the running game was again nonexistent with starter Ray Rice watching much of the game from the sideline because of what Harbaugh cited as a decision made by the offensive coaches with Rice’s quad injury in mind.

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