Having stuck it out all game on a frigid New Year’s Eve — with the Ravens all but assured of a playoff spot, either by winning or by another team’s loss — the crowd at M&T Bank Stadium instead watched the season end before midnight.
Somer Feeheley, who watched the game at the stadium with friends, said the loss didn’t ruin her New Year’s Eve. But the 23-year-old Bishopville woman couldn’t keep the disappointment out of her voice.
“We stood out in the cold for how long, just to be let down by that?” she asked. “It was worth waiting it out, but it’s definitely a huge letdown, knowing we were going to the playoffs and now we can’t go.”
While the swaths of empty seats that have plagued the Ravens’ home games this season were still noticeable on Sunday, those in attendance made themselves heard. They hammered on the seats and hollered “Seven Nation Army,” the unofficial team anthem, as the Ravens turned a lackluster first half around to pull ahead by a field goal in the fourth quarter.
Fans clutched their hand-warmers and hot chocolate as the Bengals lined up for a fourth-and-12 on their own 49, out of timeouts with less than a minute to go in the game.
With the defense looking dominant and most of the field in front of the Bengals, the game seemed in hand.
Then on one 49-yard Bengals touchdown pass, the game fell apart.
The season, which the Ravens started by losing five of their first seven games, and which was marked by a polarizing debate over players kneeling for the national anthem, was over.
“It was awesome until the end,” Patrick Samad, 12, said of the game. He hung around in the stands of the lower bowl with his father after the game.
The Ravens fans made the nine-hour drive to Baltimore from Union, Ky., about 25 minutes outside Cincinnati. Even with the season over, they didn’t seem to want to leave.
Beth Webster, bundled in several layers and a lined Carhartt suit, watched from her seat in the uppermost row of Section 503.
The freezing cold, the empty seats in front of her, even the Ravens’ inconsistent play didn’t bother Webster. The stage-three cancer patient hasn’t been able to make many games this year because they conflicted with her chemotherapy.
Webster, 43, of Glen Arm, was excited to be to be attending Sunday’s game, regardless of the outcome of the game or the season.
“It’s fantastic — it’s up and down, it’s a roller coaster,” she said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
For Brian Seymour, 51, of Millersville, the freezing temperature made the day more memorable. He attended the game with friend Eric Huston, 58, of Crownsville, and his family.
“My awesome friends invited me to spend New Year’s Eve with them,” he said. “What better way? If it was warm and nice, we wouldn’t remember it as much. It’s all about creating memories.”
Seymour, whose son lives in Omaha, Neb., said he had been considering making the trip to see the Ravens play in their wild-card game against the AFC West Champion Kansas City Chiefs next weekend.
“I almost bought tickets a couple of days ago, but I didn’t want to jinx them,” Seymour said.
Luckily for him, he held off.
Madison O’Malley of Ocean City was disappointed by the outcome, but pointed out that the game kept the fans excited until the bitter end.
“It was awesome to see us make a comeback in the second half,” the 22-year-old said. “I really just love our Ravens.”
At Mother’s Federal Hill Grille, fans were making the game part of their New Year’s Eve.
“This was our plan,” said Anita Casey, a Baltimore native who now lives outside New York City.
Decked in a Ravens ski hat and jersey, Casey said she was excited to be able to watch the game surrounded by other fans while she and her husband, John, were in town visiting relatives for the holidays.
Kate Hutson drove up from Northern Virginia to watch the game on Ravens turf. She paced beneath a television at Mother’s with her hands balled up against her mouth.
A fan of the team from growing up in Baltimore, Hutson wore her Torrey Smith jersey for the former University of Maryland wide receiver who was drafted by the Ravens in 2011. Smith is now on the Eagles.
Hutson said she understands that the players’ protests have irked some fans, but said she’s disappointed that it’s affected game attendance.
“The management and ownership, I really appreciate their commitment to believing in the team,” Hutson said.
As wild as this season was, Seymour said, it was classic Ravens.
“It’s a typical Ravens season — up and down,” he said. “They’re always one or two plays away from cruising into the playoffs.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Gantz contributed to this article.