OWINGS MILLS -- Lee Evans' dropped touchdown pass and a flubbed field goal try by kicker Billy Cundiff during the AFC championship game were the primary obstacles that prevented the Baltimore Ravens from reaching today's Super Bowl.
Evans was unable to maintain control of an accurate Joe Flacco pass in the end zone as New England Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore ripped it out of his hands. And a seemingly hurried Cundiff managed to sail a 32-yard chip shot wide left in the final seconds of a 23-20 loss at Gillette Stadium.
Despite the costly miscues, Ravens team owner Steve Bisciotti isn't holding a grudge.
"This is like watching your kids in high school play basketball," Bisciotti said. "You don't scream at your neighbor's kid because he's not passing it enough. They become like sons to you, so you feel for them. You can't get mad. This business is about managing your mistakes and managing your failures. Inopportune things like that kill these guys, and I die with them.
"I don't lash out. You end up caring for these guys. You know how much time and effort they put in. It breaks your heart that somebody has got to be the goat, but if we had lost 35-10, then there'd be a lot of goats. It would be easier to spread the blame and the arrows wouldn't be pointing in one direction or another."
Evans remains haunted by the last-minute sequence.
After grimly handling interviews after the game, a saddened Evans buried his face in his hands at his locker.
"The most disappointing part of all of this is that I feel personally that I let everybody down," Evans said. "It's hard to sit here and accept how or why things happened. It was a great pass by Joe, and it was just a pass that was not completed by me. Nobody else can take the fall for that."
One day after the crushing defeat, Evans made it a point to seek advice from Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.
Evans grew up in the Cleveland suburbs and is well-aware of what former Browns running back Earnest Byner endured after "The Fumble" in the AFC championship game against the Denver Broncos.
And Newsome is a Hall of Fame tight end who was Byner's teammate on that Browns squad that went through the pain of "The Drive," engineered by Broncos quarterback John Elway.
"Lee came and sought me out on Monday after the game because of that experience," Evans said. "He sought me out just for some counseling, and I was able to talk with him. I was able to see Earnest Byner two days later down at the Senior Bowl and talk with him. Time heals. The thing that now, not only for Lee but for us, that you have to come to realize is how hard it is just to get back to that point - to get back to the AFC Championship game.
"To get back to the opportunity to have a chance to win it is really, really hard. You cannot underestimate how hard it is to get to that point and how much energy it will take for us just to get to that point where we can hopefully finish it off. That's what I'll be able to carry from those disappointments that I had in those years, is that you just can't turn the page and say, 'OK, we're going to be in the AFC Championship next year.' It's not going to happen. We have to roll up our sleeves and go to work."
Barring a significant reduction in pay, Evans is regarded as unlikely to be a part of the Ravens' bid to make the Super Bowl next season.
He carries a $5.607 million salary-cap figure that includes a $3.275 million base salary. He's due a $1 million roster bonus on March 18.
After being hampered by an ankle injury that kept him off the field for nearly half the season, Evans caught only four passes for 74 yards during the regular season.
"I think we will still build at the receiver spot," said Newsome without referring directly to Evans. "I think we'll work there."
After signing a five-year, $15 million contract a year ago when he made the Pro Bowl, Cundiff went 1 for 6 from 50 yards and beyond last season.
He made only 28 of 37 field goals during the regular season, suffering a left calf injury that affected his kicking greatly in December.
He made only 55 percent of his kicks outside of Baltimore.
The miss against New England was from a distance where Cundiff is routinely successful.
"There's really no excuse for it," Cundiff said after the game. "I get paid to make field goals. I don't get paid to miss field goals. You know that Ray Lewis has poured his heart out, and you don't know how many years he has left. To let him down is pretty tough. To be honest with you, I don't think they want to hear an apology."
Although the Ravens seem to be comfortable with bringing back Cundiff as their kicker for next season, he's expected to face competition at training camp this year after going unchallenged heading into last season.
Following the Ravens' state of the team press conference last week, Newsome indicated that he won't judge Cundiff on one isolated, pivotal play.
"You can't think of one play," Newsome said. "It's the whole body of work that we'll use."
And Bisciotti is convinced that the Ravens will build off of the pain of coming up short, fueling their motivation for the next opportunity.
"This is a business," Bisciotti said. "If it wasn't the elation that you get from winning, nobody would subject themselves to this kind of pain and suffering,. You might think I lay on the beach all day with this tan, but I don't. You come home from losses some nights and you're thinking, 'Why are you putting yourself through this?' Then, you experience those wins and you remind yourself that with the good comes the bad."