The reality smacked the Ravens in the face like one of Joe Flacco's passes that got batted back toward the line of scrimmage by a swarming Houston Texans defense.
Over 60 frustrating minutes Sunday, all the Ravens' flaws through the first six games came to the surface. Flacco struggled, running back Ray Rice never was established and the Ravens' offense wilted again on the road. On defense, not even the successful return of linebacker Terrell Suggs could save a group that struggles to tackle, get pressure on the quarterback and provide adequate coverage.
A motivated Texans team turned the showdown between the AFC's only two winning teams into a 43-13 beatdown of the Ravens in front of an announced 71,708, the biggest crowd ever at Reliant Stadium.
The biggest loss of the John Harbaugh era sends the Ravens (5-2) limping into the bye week with so many questions about where they go from here.
"There's no sugarcoating it. Call a spade a spade. They whooped our [butt]," said Suggs, who had four tackles and a sack while playing just 5 1/2 months following surgery to repair a torn right Achilles.
If only the Ravens' issues were that easy to diagnose and correct, or that simple. Aside from the remarkable performance by Suggs given the circumstances, a couple of nice kickoff returns from Jacoby Jones and two long field goals by rookie Justin Tucker, there were no positives for the Ravens to take away from their afternoon in the Lone Star State.
They were outgained 420 to 176. They lost the time of possession battle, 38:16 to 21:44. Flacco completed just 21 of 43 passes, threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown, and compiled a 45.4 quarterback rating.
Rice carried the ball just nine times and had only 54 yards of total offense. His counterpart, Arian Foster, had little trouble gouging the Ravens' defense for 98 yards and two touchdowns, while Houston quarterback Matt Schaub threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns.
"Hell yeah, it's embarrassing," said linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who started in place of the injured Ray Lewis. Neither Ellerbe nor cornerback Jimmy Smith, who replaced an injured Lardarius Webb, fared particularly well versus Houston. "We gave up 40 some points. It seemed like everything was going in their favor today."
After taking a 3-0 lead following their first drive, the Ravens were outscored 29-0 for the rest of the first half, and outgained 413 to 131 the rest of the game. Nine of those points were delivered by the Texans' defense, as Connor Barwin came in untouched and sacked Flacco in the end zone for a safety, and Johnathan Joseph caught a batted ball off the hand of J.J. Watt and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown.
The Joseph touchdown made the score 16-3, and the rout was on from there. In beating the Ravens for the first time in seven all-time tries, the Texans set a franchise-high in points. The Ravens, meanwhile, allowed their most points since surrendering 44 to the Indianapolis Colts in December 2007.
"I'm concerned about everything," Harbaugh said. "You can talk about pretty much everything today. What aren't you concerned about? Sometimes you get tossed out of the bar. We came in with hype, with good intentions and ready to do battle. I thought our guys fought. We kept running back in and they kept throwing us back out. … We'll have to regroup and play a lot better in the future."
The good news is that the banged-up Ravens have a bye next weekend, giving Harbaugh and his staff more time to figure out to how to rectify the team's myriad issues that have been masked at times because of their ability to pull out games in the fourth quarter.
The first order of business will undoubtedly be how to fix a defense that continues to offer little resistance. After looking stout on the first three Texans drives, the Ravens allowed points on six of Houston's next eight drives. When Foster or Ben Tate weren't finding holes, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter were running free in the Ravens' secondary.
"It's like we're two different teams on the road and at home — we can't be that," said Ravens safety Ed Reed. "We can't come here and make mistakes like we made and expect to be in the game. I looked up one time and we gave up 12 first downs in the first half and we had three first downs on offense. You can't win like that. You cannot come out and perform like that and expect to be in the game."
While the defense has been pretty consistent with its struggles, the offense has been plagued by inconsistency. In four home games this year — all victories — the Ravens have totaled 129 points (32 per game) and averaged 422 total yards (314 passing and 108 running) per game while turning the ball over just twice.
In three road games — two of them losses — the Ravens have scored 45 total points (15 per game) and averaged 266 yards per game (166 pass, 100 rush) while committing six turnovers.
"I don't have an explanation for it," said wide receiver Torrey Smith, who caught four balls for 41 yards. Smith and Anquan Boldin were targeted 21 total times and finished with seven catches. "If I did, we'd fix it. I don't know. We're calling the same stuff, running the same stuff. But for whatever reason, we haven't been executing on the road well."
Flacco has been particularly poor on the road. At home this season, he's completed 94 of 140 (67.1 percent) passes for 1,271 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions. On the road this year, he's 56 of 112 (50 percent) for 566 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
Flacco's 15-yard touchdown strike to Tandon Doss early in the third quarter was Doss' first career touchdown and gave the Ravens' offense its first score on the road in 132 minutes, 56 seconds. It was also just about all the offense accomplished Sunday.
At halftime, Flacco, who repeatedly got balls batted in his face, had completed just 7 of 20 passes for 52 yards and two interceptions, good for a quarterback rating of 4.2. Things got a little better from there, but not by much.
"They played well, we didn't," Flacco said. "They are a good defense. They play physical, they play fast, and we just weren't able to stand up to it today and give it a good fight."