Ravens Insider Mike Preston talks about the Ravens' 16-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and what they need for next season. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

The one problem the Ravens couldn't solve at the beginning of the season haunted them in the season finale Sunday.

The Ravens improved throughout the season, but they couldn't overcome their lack of playmakers and speed, especially against the best teams in the NFL. If they want to be serious contenders again they have to find some playmakers during the offseason.

New England has some, and so does Pittsburgh. Cincinnati has quite a few and they made the difference in the Bengals' 24-16 win against the Ravens.

And what about the Ravens? Well, what about them?

"In this game what we needed to be able to do was make some plays," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We were going to need to make some big plays in the passing game. We had tried to game-plan it up to create a few of those. We were close. Obviously, we needed touchdowns when he had the opportunity in the first half, and we got field goals. I think that's the big thing."

Instead, the Ravens scored one touchdown and settled for field goals of 28, 50 and 49 yards from Justin Tucker. They were just as physical as the Bengals and the Ravens would win these types of games if they were playing against St. Louis or Cleveland.

But to beat a team like Cincinnati, the opposition has to have big plays. The Bengals have wide receivers like A.J. Green and Marvin Jones. It was Green who turned the momentum of the game with two clutch catches to open the third quarter, one a nifty 5-yard touchdown grab in the back corner of the end zone.

It was Bengals running back Jeremy Hill who scored on a 38-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 with 6:55 left in the third quarter. After he got through the line of scrimmage, Hill outran Ravens safety Lardarius Webb to the end zone.

Besides Hill, the Bengals have another home-run hitter at running back in Giovani Bernard. The Ravens have two good running backs in Buck Allen and Terrance West, but they are both grinders. They can't change the course of a game in a few seconds.

The Ravens' coaching staff has done a good job of working with the talent it has. Receiver Kamar Aiken has exceeded most expectations this season, and the Ravens have gotten occasional contributions from others like Chris Matthews, Jeremy Butler and tight end Maxx Williams.

But Williams, Butler and Matthews dropped key third-down passes Sunday. When the Ravens got inside the red zone, they didn't have a go-to receiver like Green. They went to fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

So, the Bengals didn't really have to come up with an exotic game plan Sunday. All they had to do was crowd the line of scrimmage and take away the running game, which they did, holding the Ravens to 59 yards rushing on 21 carries. The Ravens didn't help themselves by going away from the run so early in the game, either.

Ravens quarterback Ryan Mallett threw 56 times, completing 30. The Ravens aren't winning when he throws that much. When that happens, he also throws interceptions, and he had two passes picked off against the Bengals.

Some teams can win games without their starting quarterback because of the supporting cast around him. The Ravens have struggled with and without Joe Flacco because they don't have impact players.

The Bengals pressed up on the Ravens receivers Sunday, which didn't allow for much separation on the outside. There were receptions across the middle on crossing routes and pick plays, but Bengals cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones shut down those comeback routes and back-shoulder throws, which had worked in the previous weeks against Kansas City and Pittsburgh.

"Any time you can't run the ball, you've got to throw," Mallett said. "It's a 50-50 chance when the ball is in the air when nobody is holding on to it. We've got to run the ball better. There were plenty of plays to be made out there; there were plenty of plays I could have made out there. They are a really good football team."

The Bengals are a complete team, the most talented in the NFL. Another area where they have an advantage over the Ravens is in the secondary. The Bengals have a good cornerback in Jones, and the Ravens are still trying to find that elusive shutdown cornerback.

The Ravens held the Bengals to 292 yards of total offense, and Cincinnati was 0-for-9 in third-down situations. But the Ravens would not have fared as well against Bengals starting quarterback Andy Dalton.

After the game Sunday, Harbaugh was positive about his team in 2015, and that was to be expected. You can't come out and be negative about the players who fought hard for the entire season.

He also said the Ravens were missing some pieces and some of them can be filled by some of the guys on the current roster. That's a stretch. The Ravens have a complementary group of receivers, but no game-breakers on the roster except for rookie Breshad Perriman, who has yet to play because of a knee injury.

The secondary got better, but not to the point where it can be trusted in big games. There are no up-and-coming cornerbacks on the roster, so the Ravens have to find impact players, either in the draft or through free agency.

After this season, no one really cares where they come from. The Ravens just need to find a few.

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