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"They made big plays and got the ball in the endzone," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. "Obviously that was the difference in the game." (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

1.) Just because the Steelers brought an agonizing end to the Ravens' playoff chances, we should not forget that it was an honorable performance in a great game.

I suppose this game will be a Rorschach test for Ravens fans as they decide what to make of the 2016 season.

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Do you honor the fact the Ravens fought back from an early punch in the mouth and a violent fourth-quarter momentum shift to give us a classic Christmas game against the Steelers?

Or do you bemoan their tendency  to leave points on the field because of avoidable mistakes, both in this game and in worse losses early in the season?

Do you appreciate John Harbaugh's continued ability to draw spirited efforts from his team and Joe Flacco's poise throughout a do-or-die game in the boiling cauldron known as Heinz Field?

Or do you say the Ravens have stagnated under their ninth-year head coach and that they'll never reach their potential with an erratic quarterback eating up so much cap space?

Do you look at this year's record (8-7) and mark the improvement from 2015? Or do you dwell on the Ravens missing the playoffs for a third time in four years?

I would not begrudge either point of view. But we should not casually rush forward from the exquisite tension created by the Ravens and Steelers on Christmas afternoon. Such games are the best gifts sports give us, and it would be a sin to pull immediately out to the big picture.

There will be plenty of time over the next week to discuss where the Ravens go from here. With veteran stars such as Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith Sr. perhaps nearing the end and another class of talented free agents poised to hit the open market, is it time to start over with a radically redesigned roster? If a reset is the move, does Steve Bisciotti believe Harbaugh is the man to lead it? Has Flacco gone from the man who brought Baltimore a Lombardi Trophy to a hugely expensive, mediocre albatross?

These are all valid questions. My knee-jerk sense is that the Ravens are headed for a rebuild and that it would be foolish to dump Harbaugh hastily, given the team has never quit on him, no matter what's going on behind the scenes.

For now though, I'd rather remember Kenneth Dixon fighting like a demon for first downs, Le'Veon Bell's artistry on the other side and the spectacle of pro football's fiercest rivals trading body blows in a de facto playoff game. Stirring stuff.

2.) The Steelers' great players made great plays, and we have to tip our hats.

When an opposing offensive player lights up the Ravens, we tend to think in terms of what the defense did wrong.

But sometimes, the guy on the other side of the ball is just a great player operating at the peak of his powers. That was my thought two weeks ago, watching Tom Brady carve up the Ravens. And it was my thought Sunday as I watched Bell pick his way to 122 yards with his indelible hesitation moves.

Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees talked Thursday about the importance of matching Bell's patience. In other words, the Ravens knew exactly what they needed to do against Bell. They've done it before, including earlier this season in Baltimore.

He was simply better this time. As Pees said, I'm not sure we've ever seen a back so adept at loping along for a few seconds and then exploding with a power move to catch the defense off guard.

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PITTSBURGH — One-by-one, the Ravens' defensive players stood in front of their lockers and tried to as

The Steelers made a point of going to Bell right away, handing him the ball six times for 39 yards on their opening touchdown drive.

The Ravens actually did a good job of handling him in the second and third quarters, partially because their offense controlled the ball. But Bell was back in full force in the fourth quarter.

We saw a similar story with Pittsburgh's brilliant wide receiver, Antonio Brown, who was stifled for most of the game but ended the Ravens' playoff chances with a terrific flash of awareness in the waning seconds. Brown appeared to be wrapped in Eric Weddle's arms, and if he had gone down short of the goal line, the clock might have run out with the Ravens ahead by three. Instead, Brown reached out with the ball as he fought to stay on his feet and just broke the goal line.

Bell and Brown reminded us of one of the ruling theories in professional sports: Sometimes, truly great players cannot be stopped.

3.) The Ravens will be haunted by opportunities they did not seize.

It was easy to feel like it did not matter when they went up two scores early in the fourth quarter. But the Ravens squandered wonderful opportunities to take a lead much earlier in the game.

They reached the Steelers' side of the field on each of their first five possessions and ended up with just six points to show for it. The Ravens controlled the ball for longer, gained more yards and made more first downs in the first half. And yet they went into the locker room trailing by a point.

As they have all season, they hurt themselves with ill-timed and inexcusable mistakes.

A high snap by Morgan Cox cost them a field goal early in second quarter. Missed blocks by Kenneth Dixon and Kyle Juszczyk led to big-yardage sacks on Flacco.

Missed opportunities bit the Ravens again in the transformative early minutes of the fourth quarter.

Tight end Darren Waller lost his grip on a potential touchdown pass from Flacco that would have put the Ravens up 24-10 in the fourth quarter. Flacco made an excellent throw, and the second-year tight end has to complete plays like that if he's going to earn more snaps.

On the very next series, cornerback Tavon Young grabbed rookie wide receiver Demarcus Ayers on a 35-yard pass interference call that set up the Steelers for an easy touchdown. Ayers gained a step on Young, but the Ravens rookie panicked instead of trying to play the ball.

Two mistakes and the Ravens led by three rather than 14 — a spurt of self-destruction that summed up much of what ailed their season.

4.) We saw the best and the worst of the Ravens' running backs in Pittsburgh.

When it comes to worthy memories from the Christmas classic, it's hard to beat Dixon's two fantastic power runs to gain first downs on a 12-play scoring drive that devoured eight minutes of the third quarter.

Unless you're partial to Juszczyk's push into the end zone to give the Ravens a 27-24 lead. If the defense had held against Pittsburgh's last drive, we might remember that as one of the greatest plays in team history.

Dixon became one of my favorite players to watch over the second half of the season, because he's so hard to knock down. He didn't establish himself as a breakaway runner, but man, that guy gets what he can out of a carry.

On the other hand, Dixon missed another key pass block, something we've seen too often from him in his rookie year. It has became clear the Ravens do not trust him or Terrance West to block in obvious passing situations. Instead, they've leaned heavily on Juszczyk on third down.

Dixon is too talented a runner not to be part of the Ravens' future. But he's not a complete enough back that they can just toss him the keys and worry about other areas. Expect the position to be a source of intrigue yet again next summer.

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5.) As we begin to look ahead, the offensive line is a building block, and the pass rush a point of concern.

The Ravens have to feel satisfied with their offensive line's performance after Marshal Yanda returned from injury to play on the unfamiliar left side. With line-up stability and relative health, the unit transformed from a weakness to a strength.

Yanda made another Pro Bowl, and there's no apparent end in sight to his excellence. But more importantly for the team's future, first-round pick Ronnie Stanley matured into a quality left tackle. Stanley endured a nightmare performance against Steelers linebacker James Harrison in early November. But he was a different player Sunday, avoiding penalties and keeping Harrison off of Flacco, even though the Pittsburgh veteran played a strong game against the run.

The Ravens might be forced to bid farewell to right tackle Rick Wagner in free agency, but we saw enough from rookie Alex Lewis early in the year to think he might be able to fill that spot.

With Yanda and Stanley as the centerpieces, this should be a very good group in 2017.

On the other side of the ball, however, the Ravens  failed to put sustained pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, and he eventually made them pay dearly.

Suggs has played valiantly this year after recovering from a second torn Achilles and suffering a torn biceps midway through the season. He long ago secured his legacy as an all-time great Raven. Dumervil, too, showed powerful resolve coming back from a foot injury.

But those two could not produce game-changing plays against the Steelers, and they cannot be the team's future. If Za'Darius Smith or Matt Judon are the answers, we have not seen the evidence. Timmy Jernigan was missing in action in Pittsburgh, and he seems to have fallen dramatically out of favor in recent weeks.

Who's the man to pick up Suggs' mantle? At this moment, we have no idea.

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