There was no attempt to sugarcoat things, no far-reaching search for a silver lining. The Ravens didn't bother.
Instead, their 28-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in front of an announced 70,970 at M&T Bank Stadium prompted quarterback Joe Flacco to question whether the team believes that they can win and left cornerback Jimmy Smith too emotional to speak. Three weeks into the season, the Ravens seem powerless to stop their season from completely unraveling.
Two times in less than three minutes in the fourth quarter Sunday, the Ravens scored the go-ahead points against the Bengals. Yet each time, the Ravens defense allowed Cincinnati to answer right back.
Andy Dalton's 7-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green with just over two minutes remaining finally sunk the Ravens, who lost to the Bengals for the fourth straight time and fell to 0-3 for the first time in franchise history. Since 1990, just three teams — the 1992 San Diego Chargers, the 1995 Detroit Lions and the 1998 Buffalo Bills — have made the playoffs after starting with losses in their first three games.
But forget about the postseason — the Ravens just need to find a way to win a game. They are the only winless team in the AFC.
The Ravens will get another chance against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night. The Steelers lost starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a knee injury Sunday, but after watching the Oakland Raiders' Derek Carr and the Bengals' Dalton take apart the Ravens defense, it's fair to ask if it even matters that the Ravens likely will be facing Michael Vick and not Roethlisberger.
"Right now, it probably comes down to the fact that we're not believing in ourselves enough, and we're not envisioning winning those football games," said Flacco, who completed 32 of 49 passes for 362 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. "We've got to turn that around and makes sure we can do that."
Where do they even start? The offense got a superb performance from the ageless Steve Smith Sr. (13 catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns), but it again couldn't run the football, committed way too many penalties and played so poorly early that Flacco said that the Ravens "kind of just wasted … a whole first half."
The defensive problems run far deeper. The unit gave up 458 yards of total offense and surrendered three touchdown passes. And a week after they allowed Carr and a lightly-regarded Raiders offense to drive 80 yards and score the winning touchdown with just over two minutes remaining, the Ravens extended the Bengals the same courtesy with just as little resistance.
"I could sit here and think of big words and tell you what all the leaders said … but at the end of the day, we've got to win games," Ravens outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw said. "They brought us in here to win games, we've just got to do that."
Green's go-ahead touchdown, his second in a 4-minute, 27-second span of the final quarter, capped an 80-yard scoring drive in which the Bengals (3-0) needed just six plays to find the end zone.
In all three games, the Ravens have had a lead late in the third quarter or later and gave it up, continuing a disturbing trend. The Ravens have lost eight of their past 11 games decided by eight points or fewer.
"It's happened too much lately, so it's on us," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Way too many penalties. A lot of tremendous effort, a lot of individual efforts, and guys made plays. I don't question the heart and the competitiveness. I do question the execution at times. I do question the penalties. I do question letting them run down the field two or three times in the fourth quarter."
Ironically, it was the Ravens defense that finally made a play to get the home team its first lead of the afternoon. On a third-and-6 from the Bengals 44, Elvis Dumervil beat tight end Tyler Eifert around the edge and strip-sacked Dalton of the ball. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley scooped it up and ran 41 yards for a touchdown. After Justin Tucker's extra point, the Ravens led 17-14.
Instead of riding the momentum, the defense needed only one play to give it away. On the very next play from scrimmage, Dalton stood in the face of a Ravens blitz and threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Green, who broke a series of tackles on his way to the end zone. The Bengals took advantage of a zone defense that allowed safety Kendrick Lewis to be matched up with Green in the slot.
"Miscommunication — things we've got to get straightened out," Lewis said. "We've got to get better, man. It's evident. We've got to get better, as a secondary, as a defense. We've got to know how to put the fire out, how to stop people when the game's on the line, especially. We did a poor job of doing that these last two weeks."
The Ravens defense got another opportunity after Flacco finished a nine-play, 79-yard drive by hitting Steve Smith for a 16-yard touchdown. That gave the Ravens a 24-21 lead with just under four minutes to play.
But Dalton hit Giovani Bernard for 23 yards, Mohamed Sanu for 19 and Marvin Jones for 31. In about 90 seconds, the Bengals went from their 20 to the Ravens 7-yard line. Dalton then found Green, who beat Jimmy Smith easily, in the back of the end zone.
"One of these days, we'll figure out how to cover A.J. Green," Harbaugh said. "It be nice if we did that one time before he retires."
Green, who was being shadowed throughout by Jimmy Smith, finished the game with 10 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns. marked the third-highest single game receiving total in franchise history. Green now has 28 catches for 570 yards and five touchdowns in his past four games against the Ravens.
After getting dressed at his locker, Smith told a large throng of reporters that he was too emotional to speak and he would talk later this week. Other Ravens defensive players tried to explain what has become of the team's season.
"Once we go and watch film, maybe we'll have to change some things up, maybe some guys will just have to do some soul searching, and figure out what we need to do to win these games, whether it's at the end of game or blow teams out and not let them get in the end zone," Mosley said. "Either way it goes, we're always going to put it on the defense. Always put it on us."