The new face of the franchise revealed that the Ravens' 17-15 loss to the undefeated Indianapolis Colts was the ultimate gut-wrencher in a season filled with frustrating defeats.
The announced sellout crowd of 71,320 at M&T; Bank Stadium could only watch in disgust as the Ravens imploded in their worst fourth quarter of the season. There were so many people to blame that it could fill a Mayflower truck - from the offense's futility at the goal line to Flacco's interception to a coaching blunder to Ed Reed's out-of-control lateral.
In the end, it was enough to drop the Ravens to 0-4 in games decided by four points or fewer and even lead Joe Cool to come unglued.
"It's a game that we thought we could have won," Flacco said. "You come up short, and it was because of a dumb play. It's definitely going to be a little frustrating."
The frustration level was heightened because the weakest parts of the team - the secondary and field-goal kicking - played well enough to win. The secondary helped hold Peyton Manning and the Colts' offense to their lowest point total since the season opener, and new kicker Billy Cundiff tied a Ravens record with five field goals.
But the Ravens (5-5) still found ways to lose for the fifth time in seven games. While there are just three teams ahead of the Ravens for the two wild-card spots - the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4), Denver Broncos (6-4) and Houston Texans (5-4) - the players realize what they need to accomplish in the final six games.
Said wide receiver Derrick Mason: "We know the road ahead of us - we have to win every game from here on out. Point blank. However you cut it, dice it. Anyone that thinks differently is lying to themselves. If you want to call it pressure, then it's pressure."
When the Ravens faced the pressure Sunday, they folded in excruciating fashion to the Colts (10-0). With the Ravens trailing 14-12, here's how the final 12 minutes played out:
* The Ravens failed to score a touchdown with three shots from the Indianapolis 1-yard line. Flacco was stopped on a quarterback sneak on first down, and running back Willis McGahee was stuffed on second and third downs.
"They made good plays. That's all I can say," McGahee said. "Still, it was my job to get it in, and I didn't get it in. You can't blame nobody but myself."
McGahee, though, had little room to run because of the blocking breakdowns. "But still, who are we really going to blame?" said McGahee, tapping his chest and smiling.
Asked why the Ravens didn't give the ball once to 260-pound fullback Le'Ron McClain, coach John Harbaugh said, "I don't think it would have made a difference who was carrying the ball in that situation the way it played out."
Instead of scoring a touchdown, the Ravens settled for a 20-yard field goal to take the lead at 15-14 with 10:12 remaining.
* After the Colts went ahead again, 17-15, on a field goal by Matt Stover, Flacco forced a third-down throw in heavy coverage to Ray Rice and was intercepted in the red zone. If he had thrown the ball away, the Ravens would have had a chance to go back in front with a 31-yard field goal.
"It was a bad job going to Ray in that situation," said Flacco, who had the NFL's fourth-best quarterback rating in the fourth quarter entering the game. "I didn't see the guy."
The guy Flacco didn't see was middle linebacker Gary Brackett, who was supposed to blitz but dropped back when he saw Rice coming over the middle. Rice said the play was designed for him to draw double coverage, which would clear the underneath route for tight end Todd Heap.
But Flacco went to Rice, as he had done nine other times during the game.
"That's a play we can execute," Rice said. "If I take two [defenders], somebody is going to be open. That's the moral of the game."
The Ravens ended the game without reaching the end zone in four red-zone trips.
"We did some great things on offense but weren't able to score touchdowns," said offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, whose offense totaled 354 yards. "That's the story of that game. I think everyone knows it and everyone saw it."
* On the ensuing Colts series, Harbaugh made a mistake by calling a timeout before throwing out the red flag to challenge the spot of the ball on Reggie Wayne's short catch. When referee John Parry didn't overturn the play, the Ravens lost their final two timeouts with 2:19 left in the game.
"I was trying to flip the timeout into a challenge," Harbaugh said. "They wouldn't let me do it. They were right in not letting me do it. I tried to get too much done in that situation. That was a bad job by me."
* After the Ravens' defense stopped the Colts for the sixth time in nine drives, Reed ran back the punt 4 yards before trying to lateral the ball to rookie Lardarius Webb. The haphazard toss was recovered by Indianapolis' Freddy Keiaho at the Ravens' 40.
The Ravens would have needed to go 32 yards in 28 seconds for a long field goal if Reed had signaled a fair catch. His turnover allowed the Colts to seal their seventh straight win over the Ravens with a kneel-down by Manning.
Harbaugh didn't talk to Reed after the game and didn't want to comment on it to reporters. "I don't have any thoughts on it right now," he said.
Reed, who has lateraled the ball several times throughout his career, declined to comment in the locker room.
"I was surprised," Webb said of the lateral to him. "I thought he was going down. He likes to make the big play. That wasn't the play that lost the game."
The Ravens' second straight home loss - the first time that has happened since the end of the 2007 season - was a team effort. Now, the Ravens have to fix everything before playing the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers on Sunday night.
"We got to make sure we do what we need to do from here on out to win football games," Mason said. "No more excuses. That's what it boils down to."
Baltimore Sun reporters Kevin Van Valkenburg and Edward Lee contributed to this article.
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