Every loss in the NFL is a tough one, but the one suffered by the Ravens to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday is the kind that can tear a team — and a season — apart.
The Ravens have been a resilient bunch since they won the Super Bowl after the 2000 season, but this loss rips at their pride for numerous reasons because a strong defense has been the backbone of this franchise for more than a decade.
Yet on Sunday, the Ravens allowed two long drives in the last 6:03, including a game-winning eight-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Philip Rivers to wide receiver Eddie Royal with 38 seconds remaining.
Worse yet, the loss was suffered at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens have been nearly unbeatable through the years.
"It hurts, it really hurts," Ravens defensive end Chris Canty said. "When your offense is able to put up points like they did today, we expect to close out, finish and make the play at the end to help our team, especially at our place. This was a pivotal game, a great opportunity for us and let it get away."
That's why the upcoming week is so important. There are two or three breaking points in every season for a team, and the Ravens will be at the crossroads next week when they travel to play the Miami Dolphins.
The Ravens had a great opportunity to stay within striking distance of the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals and gain some separation from the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they whiffed Sunday.
Plus, San Diego might be one of the teams the Ravens will be in competition with at the end of the season for a wild-card spot.
"It's tough, but you have to play through it," Ravens guard Marshal Yanda said. "We're trying to get rolling here, but give San Diego credit. So, we need to get our heads right and prepare for next week."
Losses like these have destroyed teams, especially late in the season. The Ravens had won two straight and played reasonably well last Monday night in a 34-27 win on the road over the New Orleans Saints.
It was certainly a win in which they had momentum, especially defeating a star quarterback like Drew Brees. But it all came to a halt Sunday afternoon and next up are the Dolphins.
Two things are certain: Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill isn't Rivers, but the Dolphins defense is much better and more physical than San Diego's. Plus, the weather could be hot and humid, creating tough playing conditions.
The Ravens might also be without receivers Marlon Brown (concussion) and Torrey Smith (knee). Some teams might prefer to tap out.
"It's tough, you're concerned about them, but you've still got to play and you've still got a game going on," Ravens receiver Steve Smith said. "This is a stinger. You've got to be open-minded and you've got to have tough skin. You have to be able to handle the corrections and not receive it as criticism, but just plain corrections and try to move forward."
That will be very hard. There are some things the Ravens just can't correct because they simply don't have the talent, especially in the secondary.
Their cornerbacks can't cover, and sometimes their safeties get lost. If there was a Deion Sanders or Rod Woodson available, the Ravens could improve.
But there aren't any available. Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees has tried to mask his weaknesses. He called an incredible amount of blitzes against San Diego in the first half.
Then, with the game on the line, he started blitzing the Chargers at their own 46 with two minutes left in the game instead of waiting for San Diego to get inside the Ravens' 30.
Pees tried zone. He played man to man. He moved outside linebacker Terrell Suggs inside and shifted fellow outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil from one side to the other.
Regardless, Rivers carved up the Ravens. Midway through the fourth quarter, Suggs and Dumervil were gasping for air while trying to get to Rivers.
Last week, there was hope. This week, oxygen was needed.
"We'll keep working on those little things and put a good game plan together and go down there and play against a good football team," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of the Dolphins. "We have the players to win. We have good enough players to win and have to go do it."
The Ravens have good enough players to beat most teams, but they'll struggle against good quarterbacks, and they'll lose if those teams have a good defense. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady would wreck the Ravens.
One of the most disheartening things to watch Sunday was that the offense is really starting to jell, especially the running game. The Ravens had 125 rushing yards and quarterback Joe Flacco played well, completing 19 of 31 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns. The Ravens scored 33 points and didn't have a turnover, and still lost.
There will be those who will criticize the Ravens for not scoring enough touchdowns in the red zone, or Harbaugh for his clock management, especially passing on a third-and-2 at the San Diego 13 with 2:32 left in the game.
If he had run the ball, the Ravens could have used more clock. But I agree with Harbaugh. His defense was pathetic and if the Ravens had gotten a first down in that situation, the game was over. The preference was to put the game in the hands of a hot offense, not an ineffective defense.
The bottom line is that the Ravens are going to have to score at least 28 points against teams to win most games.
If they had beaten the Chargers on Sunday, the Ravens would have shown the rest of the NFL that they are legitimate contenders, not just pretenders. Instead, there is doubt, not just in the league, but maybe in the minds of the players themselves.
This will be a character week for the Ravens going into Miami. They were on a mini roll but suffered a huge setback Sunday.
This game was even worse than a blowout because lopsided losses can be attributed to just a bad day and everybody moves on.
The Ravens' loss Sunday is the type that stays around a while longer and eats at you. The Ravens had it won, and just one or two more plays would have made a difference.
Sometimes, teams can't let go of the painful ones. Sometimes, they never recover.