MINNEAPOLIS — Terrell Suggs, the Ravens' vocal and emotional leader, leaned against a cement wall in the far corner of the visiting locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium. A hat obscuring his eyes and his head mostly down, the normally fast-talking and upbeat veteran paused to collect himself.
Rarely in his 15-year NFL career has the rush linebacker been at a loss for words, even for a moment.
"Excuse me, man. I'm sorry," Suggs said in response to the first question before continuing. "It's disappointing and extremely frustrating, but you know, the team was built around the defense. We're not playing good football right now. I don't really have any answers for you."
A 24-16 defeat to the Minnesota Vikings, who dominated the game in every facet before an announced crowd of 66,751, left the Ravens searching for elusive answers and encased by even more doubt about their viability as a playoff team.
"We just ain't playing Ravens football," Suggs said. "The team is built around the defense. We ain't got to be perfect, but we definitely have to play better than what we are doing. We're seven games in, we have nine left. Right now, we stink. You can all write it … but with the schedule going ahead, I still think we can do something magical. You all know what kind of team we are once we get into the show. We have an AFC home game on Thursday. You defend your home turf, everything can look up for you."
Playing without their top three wide receivers, the Ravens were held out of the end zone until Joe Flacco hit Chris Moore for a 13-yard touchdown pass with no time on the clock. That was Flacco's first touchdown pass since the third quarter of a Week 4 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the team's first offensive touchdown overall since early in the second quarter of the Week 5 victory over the Oakland Raiders. It also was little more than window dressing on the scoreboard.
Despite the return of top run stuffer Brandon Williams and fellow defensive lineman Carl Davis, the Ravens allowed 169 rushing yards and Latavius Murray's 29-yard touchdown run in which the Vikings running back ran through the middle of the defense while barely being touched.
Even the Ravens' normally strong special teams unit, which nearly bailed them out in the previous Sunday's overtime loss to the Chicago Bears with two return touchdowns, faltered in allowing three lengthy returns.
It all added up the Ravens' fourth loss in five games and a score that was nowhere near indicative of how much better the Vikings (5-2) were than the Ravens on Sunday afternoon. At 3-4, the Ravens are under .500 for the first time this season and they have to pick up the pieces in time to face the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.
"Like I said, I'm just extremely frustrated and disappointed, but we can't concede," Suggs said. "We ain't out [of it] yet. The magic still could happen. We only have two AFC losses. We saw in '12 how good momentum can do. We just have to get the momentum rolling on the other side. We just have to stick in there and get the [stuff] fixed.
Suggs admirably put the game on the defense, which had a hard time getting off the field against backup quarterback Case Keenum, allowed points on seven of 10 possessions — Kai Forbath kicked six field goals — and appeared to wear down in the second half. But the reality was the Ravens were probably doomed when they lost their top receiver, Mike Wallace, to a concussion early in the first quarter.
They were already without Jeremy Maclin, Breshad Perriman and Chris Matthews, so when Wallace went down after a high and penalized hit by safety Andrew Sendejo, they had only three remaining wide receivers against a Vikings defense that was much too fast and talented to struggle with what the Ravens had to offer.
"We're not into all of that. The reality is what it is," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We have to find a way to go do what we have to do. We didn't turn the ball over, and that was a goal in this game. We thought that would give us a chance, but we didn't do enough of the other things we needed to do to win the game."
Flacco was sacked five times, the Ravens couldn't run the ball, they went just 6-for-16 on third down and they struggled to win matchups downfield. About the only positive thing to say about the offense was that Flacco didn't throw in interception in completing 27 of 39 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown.
Those numbers were padded significantly by the team's meaningless late touchdown drive. Before that, the Ravens' sole source of offense was kicker Justin Tucker, who made kicks from 48, 57 and 47 yards, and was the reason the visitors went into halftime trailing just 9-6.
"You get better, you look at where you made mistakes, but I wouldn't say that we are trying to fix something that is completely broken, Flacco said. "We can't look at it that way. We have to look at the areas that we can do things well in, and continue to exploit the defense in those things that we do well. We will make it happen. We have to keep our heads up and play one game at a time. This is where we are right now, and there's nothing we can do to go back in time to change it at this point."
Several of the Ravens on offense seem to understand, though, that the unit's continued struggles are threatening to sink the season. There's no doubt that the defense has been a disappointment and that its inability to stop the run is head-scratching,
However, too much is still being asked about the defense, which almost has to score on its own or force a turnover for the team to have chance at winning. In a telling admission, safety Eric Weddle was asked how much margin of error the Ravens defense now has and he replied, "Zero."
"We have to figure it out: running game, passing game. We've got to get back to work," said wide receiver Michael Campanaro, who caught three passes for 31 yards. "It's definitely the biggest thing on everyone's mind right now: just getting the offense going, helping out the defense and just getting points on the board."