Shaking their heads in disgust, the Ravens trudged off the field late Sunday afternoon after being manhandled by the Houston Texans. The emotions in their quiet locker room ran the gamut from subdued to shocked.
There was no confusion about the primary reasons behind the Ravens' 25-13 defeat at NRG Stadium. The Ravens did nothing on offense and did not have an effective game plan for containing dominant defensive end J.J. Watt.
"I mean we got our [butt] kicked," quarterback Joe Flacco said after being hit 10 times. "It's really simple. We did a lot of things not very well."
The Ravens' offense couldn't protect the football, run it or throw with any degree of success during a loss that severely damages their playoff chances. Because the Ravens couldn't control the Texans' defense, they've now lost control of their playoff destiny.
If the Ravens had won Sunday and then beat the Cleveland Browns next week, they would have made the playoffs. That's no longer the case. Now, the Ravens have relinquished their hold on the sixth AFC playoff spot heading into the final game of the regular season next Sunday against the Browns.
"The thing that we lost was control of our destiny. That's tough because when you've got control, when you can win out and make the playoffs, that's a valuable thing," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We have an opportunity to win next week. That's the opportunity we need to take and seize. I told the guys, 'When we leave this locker room, anything we don't need stays here. We're only taking back with us what we can use to go play, compete and beat the Cleveland Browns, period.'
"We can look back at this game and say, 'What went wrong?' and point fingers, but we're not going to do that. We just don't have time. We have to leave everything here that's baggage."
The Ravens (9-6) can still qualify for the playoffs with a win over the Browns, but they also need the San Diego Chargers to lose to the Kansas City Chiefs.
"It's make-or-break, and it says everything," wide receiver Steve Smith said of next week's game. "We don't really have a choice to sit around and analyze it and woe is me and come up with excuses."
Flacco was visibly uncomfortable and awkward in the pocket as he absorbed several punishing hits from the Texans' pass rushers. His passes were errant and arrived late.
Flacco threw a season-high three interceptions and completed just 21 of 50 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns for a 41.7 quarterback rating.
"We never really got anything going and couldn't get into a groove of any kind," said Flacco, who was sacked twice. "We couldn't move the ball, couldn't make any first downs. We couldn't get ourselves going, and it just wasn't good. Our defense played well. Our special teams played well, and we didn't do a single thing on offense. We just got beat up and whipped."
The Ravens converted just four of 15 third downs. They generated just 5 yards of total offense in the first quarter and finished with a season-low 211 yards of total offense on 68 plays. They averaged 3.1 yards per play.
The Texans set a franchise defensive record by allowing just 31 yards of total offense in the first half. The Ravens were outgained 211-31 in yardage before halftime.
The Texans' defense was spearheaded by Watt, the frontrunner for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. He had eight tackles, one sack, three tackles for losses and four quarterback hits.
"Hand it to their defense, they dominated the game," Harbaugh said. "That's the story of the game. They dominated the game really from the beginning to the end. That doesn't mean that our guys didn't fight, compete and try like crazy, but we couldn't get anything going offensively."
The Ravens displayed some signs of life in the third quarter when Jacoby Jones dashed up the right sideline on a 45-yard punt return. That set up the Ravens' first score of the game, an 8-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Torrey Smith. Smith was left wide open on the play.
They added a late touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 20-yard pass from Flacco to Torrey Smith to close the Texans' lead to 25-13. However, the subsquent two-point conversion attempt failed when Watt tackled Flacco.
Those were a few of the only moments when the Ravens cut into the Texans' lead, though. The Ravens didn't capitalize on the momentum.
After scoring in the third quarter, Flacco was intercepted on the next possession by cornerback Kareem Jackson for the second time when Torrey Smith slipped and fell. That turnover led to a 28-yard field goal by Texans kicker Randy Bullock, who connected on six field goals.
"Our defense played one [heck] of a game, special teams as well," Torrey Smith said. "We blew this one on offense."
At one point in the first half after Flacco got shaken up, backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor started warming up and throwing passes on the sideline. Although Flacco remained in the game, little changed. He was adamant that he wasn't hurt.
Flacco completed just three of 18 passes for 27 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions by halftime for a career-low zero quarterback rating. Flacco's previous career-worst mark in a half was a 2.8 during a 2009 wild-card playoff win over the New England Patriots when he was dealing with a hip injury.
The Ravens trailed, 16-0, by halftime as they had just two first downs and 31 yards on 28 plays. They converted none of their seven third-down opportunities. With Flacco struggling, the running game didn't provide an alternative.
"Sputtered is an understatement," said Ravens tight end Owen Daniels, who was cut by the Texans during the offseason. "We turned the ball over obviously in our own territory a couple of times. We couldn't get in sync doing anything."
Running back Justin Forsett, who entered Sunday with 1,128 rushing yards, finished with a season-low 19 yards on 10 carries, an average of 1.9 per carry.
"It was a playoff-type game, and we didn't put our best foot forward on offense," Forsett said. "We have to take ownership of that."
Now, the Ravens have to move on from this game quickly and concentrate on beating the Browns for the second time this season.
"It's terrible, it's a must-win game," Torrey Smith said. "You can say this one was, but I mean we have no control. We have to win and hope folks lose. It's not a real good feeling. We have to pull it off and hope we get a good Christmas present."