SAN DIEGO-- --Players and coaches have to think and talk one game at a time, so yesterday in their cramped quarters at Qualcomm Stadium, the Ravens could only look far enough ahead to next Monday night, when the New England Patriots come to town. That's horrifying enough.
What comes two weeks after that, though, is even more horrifying. After five losses in a row and with their season sunk, the one breather they had in the murderer's row of a second-half schedule no longer looks like an obvious breather.
Can the Ravens win in Miami on Dec. 16? And should the Dolphins - still on track for the never-before-seen 0-16 season - be circling them on the calendar, instead of vice versa?
At this point, you can't rule anything out with the Ravens. They're that bad.
Every week they find out how few teams are clearly worse than they are. This morning, off their perfunctory 32-14 drubbing by the San Diego Chargers, they are the de facto cellar dwellers in the AFC North, sharing Cincinnati's 4-7 record but having fallen to the Bengals twice.
Yesterday, they proved that no matter how underachieving and disjointed the then-.500 Chargers were - and yesterday's Union-Tribune detailed how, among their other problems, they have no defined locker-room leader - the Ravens weren't good enough to even stay close to them. The Ravens led 7-3 with a tick under 10 minutes left in the first half and got handled in every phase of the game the rest of the way.
So, no, let's not delude ourselves. Barring catastrophic injuries to several Patriots players this week, and a bunch more to the Indianapolis Colts (to add to the absences they already have) before they come to town in two weeks, the Ravens' next window for a win is against the Dolphins.
It won't be fun looking ahead to that. But it's the only reasonable chance they have to avoid 10 consecutive losses to end the season and a 4-12 record.
You could barely distinguish consecutive loss No. 5 from the first four, or even from the six games before that, including the four wins. When coach Brian Billick talked about figuring out how to "break this cycle we're in," he was dead-on.
The Ravens couldn't hold onto the ball. They couldn't protect the quarterback. The offense got stuck in neutral, or gave the defense short fields to defend. The defense buckled when it couldn't afford to, and with this offense it never can afford to. Every chance the Ravens had to keep the game close, they squandered.
They missed their injured players desperately - Todd Heap, Chris McAlister and the rest, joined this day by Trevor Pryce and Adam Terry - and their replacements couldn't hold up their end. They dug another big halftime hole, this time 22-7, making it a combined 85-21 during the skid.
Same game, different week.
There was a lot of talk in the locker room about not quitting and keeping their heads up, a sure sign that the train has completely derailed. It helps not at all that as much as you search for signs, big or small, that the Ravens have given up, you can't really find them. The truth is harder to swallow: They're just not good.
The reason the Ravens were undone by LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, Philip Rivers, Shawne Merriman and Jamal Williams wasn't because they weren't trying. It's because those players are premier talents at the top of their games that the Ravens couldn't match. All the Ravens can hope for each week now is that the superior players they'll face aren't on top of their games.
So, one game into the highly anticipated three-game gauntlet, the Ravens are grasping.
"We just have to look at the last five games, especially the next two, and have them be our Super Bowl," Samari Rolle said. "That's all we can do. It's hard to believe we were 13-3 last year. But that tells you, you can't take winning for granted."
As he gingerly pulled his socks over his still-painful toe - and surely carrying the pain Merriman inflicted on him and the entire line - Jonathan Ogden agreed with Rolle. "You can still go out there and play hard for pride," he said. "Maybe go out there and mess up the Patriots, screw their season up.
"Hey," he added, with a grim chuckle, "ours is already screwed up. Might as well screw up theirs. That's motivation for me."
At this rate, the motivation might be to avoid being the first victim of a winless team.