CINCINNATI — In the end, the Ravens still weren't good enough.
If they were, they would have walked out of Paul Brown Stadium Sunday with a win against the Cincinnati Bengals. Instead, they lost to another team that appeared in the postseason a year ago.
Of their three losses this season, the Ravens have been swept by the Bengals and lost to the Indianapolis Colts. What do they have in common? Both were playoff teams last season.
That's why the Ravens aren't there yet. In fact, here is exactly what the Ravens are: They are just another average team in the AFC, and good enough to beat up on AFC and NFC South teams, which should get them 10 victories this season.
"Out of all the guys, I'm proud of every single player," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Let it [the loss] define us -- you know what I mean? If this is who we are as a football team, I'm fine with that. We'll take who we are and we'll go a long way."
Maybe, but that's probably not far enough. This was another defining moment in the Ravens' 2014 season where they could have taken control of the AFC North before going to Pittsburgh for another major big game next Sunday night against the Steelers.
Instead, they lost. They were beaten by a team that had lost two of their last three and was on the verge of losing its fan base. The Bengals didn't have their best player in receiver A.J. Green, and they were missing two other stars in tight end Tyler Eifert and linebacker Rey Maualuga.
And the Ravens still lost.
The Ravens had their share of injuries Sunday, too. They had to shuffle offensive linemen and receivers, but that's not an excuse. And neither was the official nullifying receiver Steve Smith's apparent game-winning 80-yard touchdown reception with 32 seconds remaining.
It was the correct call. NFL officials have been pretty consistent in making those ticky-tack calls all season, and that policy didn't change Sunday.
"I'm not allowed to answer that question," Harbaugh said when asked about his thoughts on the call.
That's a good thing because one play doesn't decide a game. There are about a dozen which can turn the momentum, and the Ravens didn't make more than the Bengals.
Why not? Because they aren't a good team yet.
Good teams stop the opposition on the last possession instead of giving up an 80-yard game-winning drive. Good teams don't give up a 53-yard reception on a third-and-10 at the 20 with 3:48 left in the game.
Once the Bengals started giving offensive tackle Andre Smith some help, the Ravens couldn't cover Cincinnati's receivers. Without injured cornerback Jimmy Smith, the Ravens couldn't press the Bengals at the line of scrimmage, and quarterback Andy Dalton was successful in working the flats and the middle of the field against the soft coverage.
For the past two weeks we've heard about the improved play of outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs against teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons, but they combined for five tackles and one sack against Cincinnati.
These two need to play well in big games against good teams.
But the problems just weren't on defense. The Ravens were stopped at the Bengals' 1-yard line on fourth down on their first possession of the game. That's a recurring problem.
For the first time this season, opposing cornerbacks like Terence Newman, Leon Hall and Adam Jones got physical with the Ravens receivers for the entire game. That didn't happen against Atlanta or Tampa Bay.
The Ravens could get away inserting rookies John Urschel and James Hurst on the offensive line in those games, but not against the Bengals.
The Bengals forced quarterback Joe Flacco out of the pocket numerous times. But it wasn't just the pressure that got to Flacco. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis owns Flacco -- forcing him to throw 18 interceptions during this series, including the two he had Sunday that resulted in 10 Cincinnati points.
"There were plenty of other things that happened throughout the course of the game -- opening up in the second half with those two turnovers, obviously, those were big," said Flacco, downplaying the big pass to Steve Smith. "You can't do that. It's another game where we get down there on the 1-yard line and can't score.
"That's another thing to go along with the turnovers. We had the turnovers and then we gave up seven points there, or at least three points there."
Basically, the Ravens are a product of parity in the NFL. They didn't make the playoffs last season and were rewarded with a very favorable schedule.
They could have won Sunday, especially with the gift Dalton gave them with his fumble in the fourth quarter.