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Commentary: Loss could haunt Ravens

There's no shame in losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Except maybe this time.

Playing a Triple-A version of the Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens squandered a 10-point lead, looked lost on offense in the fourth quarter and made an elderly third-stringer look like Tom Brady, eventually falling 23-20.

"If we'd have executed, it wouldn't have been a close game," Ravens receiver Torrey Smith said.

True.

"This one is hard to explain," Ravens center Matt Birk said.

Very true.

"It really didn't cost us much," Ravens safety Ed Reed said.

Not true.

While it probably only delays an AFC North title celebration, the Ravens were on track for the No. 2 seed in the AFC, which brings with it a first-round playoff bye. With a brutal schedule over the final quarter of the season, Sunday's loss could well wind up dropping them down to the third or fourth seed.

No question, the Ravens have won a few they probably shouldn't have this year. This one went the opposite way.

At home. Against a team they'd just beaten two weeks ago. That was coming off an embarrassing loss in Cleveland that included eight turnovers. That was playing without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who just may be more valuable to Pittsburgh than any other NFL player is to his team.

The Steelers aren't the Steelers without Big Ben, as the Ravens well know. Baltimore went into Sunday's game 6-0 against Pittsburgh since 2004 in games Roethlisberger missed. Meanwhile, the Ravens are just 4-9 when he plays.

Obviously, the Ravens have their own injury problems. But the Steelers weren't only missing Roethlisberger. They were also without top pass rusher LaMarr Woodley. And running back Rashard Mendenhall. And they lost top cover corner Ike Taylor in the game's opening minutes.

None of that mattered, though, because Joe Flacco had a lousy game and the Ravens put little pressure on the immobile, nearly 38-year-old Batch, who had his best game in 11 years.

The Ravens also did stupid things.

They heavily penalized team was flagged for eight more, the final one a roughing penalty on Paul Kruger that put Pittsburgh into field goal range. They burned a timeout early in the third quarter and wasted another challenging a play that had zero chance of being overturned. And they got Ray Rice exactly 13 touches.

Flacco completed just 16 of 34 passes for 188 yards with one touchdown and one interception, his 61.9 passer rating well below Batch's 89.6. Flacco missed several open receivers, notably not being on the same page with deep threat Smith, and also lost a fumble that led to Pittsburgh's tying touchdown.

Baltimore's final possession was fairly typical of the game. After a 12-yard completion to Vonta Leach - six of Flacco's 16 completions were dump-offs to running backs - Flacco missed Smith on a deep ball, threw well behind Tandon Doss on second down, and then got hit as he was throwing on third down. The Ravens punted with 6:14 remaining. They never got the ball back.

"We put ourselves in some situations that weren't good," Flacco said. "Too many third-and-longs. It's not very easy to convert some of those. We also had some incompletions.

"I think we missed a couple of opportunities early in the game to take a better hold of the game."

Indeed. And teams don't win every single close game, even if it seems that way this year in Baltimore considering the Orioles almost never lost a one-run game and the Ravens own five wins by a field goal or less.

They were fortunate to beat New England and Dallas, beneficiaries of late kicks that barely went on the proper side of the uprights for their cause. They were fortunate to win at Kansas City, their worst blunders erased by the officials. They were fortunate to win at Pittsburgh without scoring an offensive touchdown. They were fortunate to win at San Diego, getting a "miracle" 30-yard catch-and-run from Rice on fourth-and-29.

All of the above had them set up to be 10-2 with a great shot at a playoff bye if only they could take care of a beaten-up, struggling Pittsburgh team. Instead, they're 9-3 with no easy wins the rest of the way.

As Reed did, coach John Harbaugh and many other Ravens tried not to attach too much significance to this loss.

"This game is not going to make or break our season," said Rice.

True enough.

But it makes things more difficult. And it should never have happened.

"Big-time loss," Kruger said. "To lose at home, in front of our home fans, to our rivals ... it's real disappointing."

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