It's far too late to save the season, and any talk about salvaging it with two victories was met with dismissive shrugs in the Ravens locker room.
There, however, is still some temporary satisfaction to be had, and some statements to be made. On an unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon and in the last NFL game to be played in Baltimore for nearly nine months, the Ravens interrupted arguably their most disappointing season in franchise history with one of their more unlikely regular-season victories in several years.
The Ravens' 20-17 win over the suddenly mistake-prone Pittsburgh Steelers in front of announced 71,261 at M&T Bank Stadium was like one big redemption story, starring the quarterback who nobody wanted, the running back that had just been benched, and the defense that has been shredded for much of the season.
With contributions from many others, the Ravens (5-10) finalized just their third regular-season sweep of the Steelers (9-6) in franchise history and dealt a damaging blow to Pittsburgh's postseason hopes.
"When you have failure in life, sometimes woven into the failure are great successes and great wins," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Woven into our season are pretty amazing successes and wins that our players have had [with] the way they have stuck together, the way they've practiced, the way they've improved, even with the injuries. We improved as a football team throughout the course of the season. It's not showing up in the record, but it showed up in that performance today."
Just 12 days after he was signed by the Ravens following nearly two months of being unemployed, quarterback Ryan Mallett passed for a career-high 274 yards, threw a touchdown pass and didn't turn the ball over.
Seven days after he was benched following his second lost fumble in as many weeks, rookie running back Buck Allen had 114 yards of total offense, took care of the ball on his 23 touches and scored the game's decisive points on a 3-yard touchdown run with 10:35 left in the game.
And during a season in which they've made precious few positive plays late in games, the Ravens defense held the Steelers, who had scored 30 points or more in six straight games, to 17 points and 303 yards of total offense. Roethlisberger, who is having one of the finest seasons of his prolific career, threw for just 215 yards and tossed two interceptions and no touchdowns.
"This is not even to sound brash, but we believed the whole time that we were going to beat them," said Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith, who had one interception and returned another one for a potentially game-securing 101-yard touchdown, but it was called back because of a blatant offside penalty on Courtney Upshaw. "It's Pittsburgh. So records, scoring, doesn't matter how good they were playing come in. Nothing matters when you play Pittsburgh. Obviously, on paper, it didn't look like we were going to win today."
How improbable was the Ravens' victory? The Steelers were favored by 10 ½ points, the first time the Ravens were double-digit underdogs in this matchup in a decade. Pittsburgh had won three straight games coming in and had outscored their opponents by a combined 112-57. The Ravens had lost three straight, and had dropped back-to-back home games by a combined 69-20.
But in a season of slow starts and unpredictable endings, the Ravens set the tone on the game's first two drives. On defense, they stopped DeAngelo Williams on fourth-and-1 in Ravens territory. On offense, Mallett directed a 15-play, 75-yard, seven-plus minute drive that ended with the quarterback lofting an 8-yard pass to fellow Ravens newcomer Chris Matthews in the back of the end zone.
The Ravens, who hadn't led in almost a month, never trailed in the game,. They led 13-3 at halftime and 20-10 early in the fourth quarter before the defense – yes, the defense – put the game away.
"I give those guys credit," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "They did what was necessary to win today."
Two plays after Smith's interception and 101-yard touchdown return was nullified by Upshaw's gaffe, Williams scored his second touchdown of the day to cut the Ravens' lead to 20-17.
Still trailing by three, the Steelers got the ball back on their own 20 with just under three minutes to play, but Upshaw sacked Roethlisberger on first down, and the Steelers quarterback threw deep incompletions on third and fourth down.
Pittsburgh got the ball again with four seconds left, but C.J. Mosley tackled Williams after a series of laterals with no time on the clock.
"It definitely feels special today - keeping them out of the playoffs, and just being able to sweep them this year," said Ravens wide receiver Kamar Aiken, who had a game-high eight catches for 66 yards. "It's always good when you beat Pittsburgh."
The Steelers have not been eliminated from playoff contention. They'll need to beat the Cleveland Browns next week and have the New York Jets, overtime winners against the New England Patriots Sunday, lose to the Buffalo Bills in order to qualify for the postseason.
But that's a matter of semantics to the Ravens. For many of the players, the victory went beyond a win over a hated rival. That showed on the face of Mallett, who made good on a second chance after he was released by the Houston Texans in late-October for a pattern of unprofessional behavior.
Several Ravens said Mallett had total command of the huddle and acted as if he had been with the team all season. Harbaugh praised him for being at the team facility nearly "24/7" since his signing.
"Just being here, I don't even know what to say right now," said Mallett, who hugged everyone from teammates to coaches to team officials as he walked off the field. "It's an emotional time, but it's fun."
Then, there was Allen, clutching the football to his chest and rewarding Harbaugh's decision to go back to him with every fourth-quarter yard.
"Last week, it hurt me to the core to know that the play I made a mistake on changed the momentum of the game," Allen said after gaining 79 rushing yards and 35 receiving yards. "I knew I had to come out and redeem myself. That's what I did."
That's also what the Ravens defense did. During a season in which nothing has really gone according to plan, the Ravens executed defensive coordinator Dean Pees' game plan to near perfection.
"It means a lot to this team, to this defense, the way we ended the game on defense," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "Just to let them know, the defense, we are still here."