Preston: If the Ravens narrowly miss the playoffs again, they'll rue Sunday's loss to the Browns

Ravens coach John Harbaugh and his staff began preparations Monday for the game Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, but it will be hard to put away last weekend’s 12-9 overtime loss to the Cleveland Browns.

It probably won’t be dismissed until the end of the 2018 regular season. By then, it will be determined whether the Ravens make the NFL playoffs. If they miss out by one game, the loss to the Browns will be revisited as the one that got away.

Playoff-caliber teams are supposed to beat up on weak opponents such as the Browns, Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals. Some will point out that the Patriots lost to the Detroit Lions earlier this season and that the Steelers tied the Browns, but New England and Pittsburgh seem to go to the playoffs every year.

It’s almost a certainty, like death and taxes.

The Ravens have been to the playoffs only once in five years, with the most recent visit in 2014. In the past two seasons, you can point out two plays that made the difference, the first being wide receiver Antonio Brown’s 4-yard touchdown catch in a 31-27 loss to Pittsburgh in Game 15 of the 2016 season.

The second was Andy Dalton’s 49-yard touchdown pass to Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd in the final game of 2017.

But there were tough-to-swallow losses as well. At least the setbacks to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were against good quarterbacks and tough rivals.

The Ravens lost to Cleveland on Sunday. Ughh. The dreaded Browns. The Browns, who came out early in Halloween costumes that might be the worst home uniforms in professional sports.

These are the kinds of losses that come back and haunt teams. In 2016, when the Ravens finished 8-8, they had two straight losses at MetLife Stadium to the New York Giants and then the New York Jets.

The Ravens entered the first of those games 3-2 and the Giants 2-3. With 1:24 left, New York’s Odell Beckham turned a short pass into a 66-yard game-winning touchdown.

A week later the Jets, who entered 1-5, scored 10 unanswered points in the third quarter to defeat the Ravens, 24-16.

And then there was the debacle last season, when the Ravens were upset by the visiting Chicago Bears (1-4) and an unproven quarterback named Mitch Trubisky in a 27-24 overtime loss.

Ouch. You’d figure the Ravens had learned their lesson.

They were in a similar situation Sunday. The Browns hadn’t won a division game since Oct. 11, 2015 (against the Ravens). They were starting a rookie quarterback and the Ravens were 15-5 against rookies since 2008.

And the Ravens lost to a team with inferior talent.

Again.

The NFL is full of parity, but the Ravens should have won. The Ravens had the No. 10 offense and No. 2 defense in the league compared with Cleveland’s No. 19 offense and No. 25 defense.

The Browns drafted some good young talent, but so did the Ravens, and the Ravens also added three new veteran receivers in Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead IV and John Brown.

The Ravens had a Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Joe Flacco and the Browns countered with a rookie named Baker Mayfield, who had yet to win a game as a starter.

These are the types of games playoff-caliber teams win. When you haven’t been to the postseason in four of the past five years, you need to stay hungry and devour competition like the Browns because it makes the road to the playoffs so much easier.

It’s still a long season. If it were late in the year, these types of losses can be devastating. They hurt morale and cause dissension, and some teams never recover. The Ravens still have to face a long list of quality quarterbacks, and yet there isn’t any unbeatable team on the schedule.

They’ve made progress from a year ago by adding a deep passing game to the offense, and the defense is more aggressive. Overall, they are one of the most balanced teams in the NFL, and they still have a decent and realistic shot of being in the playoffs.

They should recover, but it they miss out by a game, we’ll all look back on the blown opportunity Sunday in which the Ravens had a chance to get a second straight road victory before heading to Nashville.

The pain of Sunday’s loss could last longer than expected.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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