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Instant analysis from the Ravens' 31-27 loss to the Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium

How our reporters and editors saw the Ravens’ 31-27 loss to the Bengals on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:

Jeff Zrebiec, reporter: Everything that the Ravens did this offseason was aimed at not having what happened to them in Week 16 last year in Pittsburgh happen again. And it did. A poor first half for the offense should not be forgotten or excused. However, the Ravens had a three-point lead in the final couple of minutes and the defense, which was the team's strength for most of the season, was on the field. The Ravens needed to make just one stop on 4th-and-12 and they were headed up to prepare for a first-round playoff matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. It was a stop that never came and now the Ravens will be forced to digest the most difficult regular-season loss in franchise history over a long offseason.

Mike Preston, columnist: Playing poorly at the beginning of the game is inexcusable for a team that needed a win to get into the playoffs. Also, to give up a long touchdown pass on a fourth and 12 with 44 seconds is unforgivable as well. The Ravens need to make some changes in the coaching staff during the offseason.

Peter Schmuck, columnist: The Ravens let it come down to one play and the season ended on it. Chalk this up to a horrible first half for the supposedly rejuvenated offense, which stalled repeatedly and allowed the Bengals to build a big early lead. To their credit, they battled back to take the lead and seemed ready to head into the postseason, but that was before Andy Dalton pulled one last big play out of his helmet to give Marvin Lewis a victory in what is believed to have been his last game as coach. Now, we're going to find out if this loss reverberates in the offseason. The Ravens' playoff drought has reached three years and to think the supposed projected likelihood of them getting there when the day started was over 90 percent. Fourth and 12 with the game on the line and Dalton threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to break Baltimore's heart. Ouch.

Childs Walker, reporter: The Ravens crept right up to the edge of catastrophe, pulled back and then tumbled right over. They talked all year about finishing strong, then showed up unprepared for the first half of a season finale they had to win. The offense played an especially inept half, with receivers dropping balls left and right and Joe Flacco repeatedly missing his targets. The Ravens’ defense dominated most of the second half, and Flacco mysteriously regained his ability to complete passes. Alex Collins delivered one of the great effort plays of the season with his change-of-direction run. But after the team’s massive offseason investment, the defense couldn’t hold on a 4th down-and-12 that defined the season. They weren’t quite good enough. Give the fans who stayed at a frigid M&T Bank Stadium enormous credit. They created the most raucous atmosphere of the season as they screamed and thumped for the Ravens to rally.

Edward Lee, reporter: The worst possible scenario came to fruition, and the Ravens have no one to blame but themselves. The offense was a no-show in the first half, and the defense was a sieve over the same span. Not even a spirited comeback in the second half could help as the much-hyped defense gave up a 49-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd with 44 seconds left. The Ravens will sit at home for the third consecutive year, and this one will sting for a long time.

Ron Fritz, sports editor: The Ravens’ defense came up small again at a critical point in the game. It’s a stunning loss for a team that fought back from a pitiful first-half performance to control the game. But the defense needed one more stop and it couldn’t do it. You simply can’t give up a touchdown there. You can’t. Joe Flacco constant threw low and behind receivers. On the final offensive play, he throws to a check-down receiver on fourth-and-14. That’s the season in a nutshell right there. This has to be considered the worst loss of the John Harbaugh era.

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