GREEN BAY, WIS. — Maybe it's appropriate that the Ravens decided to put their playoff hopes on thin ice at frigid Lambeau Field.
With a lethargic performance by their offense and a penalty-filled one by their defense, the Ravens fell to the Green Bay Packers, 27-14, before a national television audience.
A vulnerable secondary - safety Ed Reed (hip and ankle) was scratched about an hour before the game and cornerback Fabian Washington is on injured reserve - committed four pass-interference penalties and allowed Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to throw for three touchdowns.
A struggling Ravens offense was just as cold as the Green Bay weather (a wind chill index of 15 degrees), turning the ball over twice in the red zone. Running back Ray Rice fumbled inside the 20-yard line in the first quarter, and quarterback Joe Flacco threw a season-worst three interceptions, including a costly one in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
"It was a stupid decision and an even worse throw," Flacco said.
The result: The Ravens' playoff chances are falling faster than another penalty flag (there were a combined nine pass-interference penalties in the game). With four weeks remaining in the regular season, the Ravens (6-6) drop one game back of the Jacksonville Jaguars (7-5) for the final AFC wild-card spot and find themselves in a logjam with three other 6-6 teams in the AFC: the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers.
"We're fighting for our lives right now, but we are still breathing. We are still alive," coach John Harbaugh said.
The Packers (8-4) took a 17-0 halftime lead and held on for their fourth straight win.
The Ravens played from behind from the start. After winning the toss, the Packers chose to put the ball in the hands of their offense instead of deferring to the second half.
Jordy Nelson returned the opening kickoff 38 yards, and Rodgers put the defense on its heels by completing six of eight passes for 43 yards. But Ray Lewis and Jarret Johnson batted down a third-down pass at the Ravens' 7-yard line, and Green Bay settled for a 28-yard field goal by Mason Crosby to go ahead 3-0.
Neither team looked like one battling for a wild-card spot in its conference, turning the ball over on three straight series in the first quarter. Rice fumbled for the first time this season (on his 233rd touch), Rodgers had a deep pass intercepted by Tom Zbikowski (who replaced the injured Reed) and Flacco was picked off when he forced a throw into an area that had four Packers.
Another mistake by the Ravens - a 28-yard pass-interference penalty on Frank Walker - jump-started a Green Bay surge to end the second quarter. After the Ravens' 10th pass-interference penalty (most in the NFL), Rodgers hit tight end Jermichael Finley for a 29-yard pass to move the Packers into the red zone.
"The penalties have to improve. There were too many penalties," Harbaugh said. "Obviously it was a two-way deal. The game was called a certain way."
Finley caught a 14-yard pass to convert a third-and-7 before capitalizing on a mismatch. Split wide against Zbikowski, the 6-foot-5 Finley out-jumped the 5-11 safety, catching the 2-yard touchdown pass over Zbikowski's helmet to put Green Bay up 10-0 with 4:35 left in the second quarter.
After a three-and-out by the struggling Ravens offense, Green Bay was back deep in Ravens territory on a 13-yard pass-interference penalty by rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb and a 23-yard run up the middle of the field by Rodgers.
On first-and-goal, Packers wide receiver Donald Driver caught a quick pass on the left sideline, sidestepped Domonique Foxworth at the 4-yard line and dived across the goal line. Driver's 8-yard touchdown staked Green Bay to a 17-0 lead with 32 seconds left in the first half.
The 17-point deficit tied the Ravens' largest of the season.
The Ravens quickly jumped back into the game on two Green Bay turnovers late in the third quarter.
A fumble by Driver led to a 12-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Kelley Washington. One play after that, a pass went off Driver's leg and into Johnson's arms.
Not only did Green Bay help the Ravens with that interception, but cornerback Tramon Williams also was called for pass interference on a deep pass in the end zone. Two plays later, Willis McGahee scored a 1-yard touchdown.
Two Ravens touchdowns in 30 seconds cut a 17-point deficit to 17-14.
The momentum briefly stayed on the Ravens' side to start the fourth quarter, when Crosby sliced a 38-yard field-goal attempt wide right.