GLENDALE, ARIZ. — About a half-hour after his team lost another game that featured late heartbreak, too many mistakes, more injuries, a communication breakdown and a couple of controversial calls, coach John Harbaugh promised that the story of the 2015 Ravens has not yet been written.
"This is a tough story we're writing right now," Harbaugh acknowledged. "A lot of teams would fold their tent in this situation — not the Ravens, it's not going to happen. We'll be writing a story. It's going to be a real interesting story to read before it's all said and done."
The Ravens are 1-6 and buried in last place in the AFC North division following their 26-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals Monday night. They are a contender for the first overall pick in the NFL draft, not a playoff spot.
The early story of their season can be described in so many ways. Disastrous? The Ravens were a chic Super Bowl pick. Now, they share the worst record in the NFL with the Detroit Lions.
Gut-wrenching? The Ravens are the third team in the past 15 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information, to have their first seven games decided by eight points or fewer and the only team to lose six of those contests.
Confounding? How else do you explain an opposing player catching a touchdown pass between his legs, like Cleveland Browns tight end Gary Barnidge did in Week 5? How else would you describe Justin Tucker sinking into a huge divot while missing a costly field-goal attempt the following week against the San Francisco 49ers? What better way to describe some of the events from the Ravens' loss Monday night?
There was head referee Ronald Torbert saying that he didn't see John Urschel declare himself as an eligible receiver despite the fact that the reserve offensive lineman did it multiple times and quarterback Joe Flacco pointed it out. That resulted in an illegal formation penalty that contributed to the Ravens settling for a field goal.
There was Cardinals running back Chris Johnson getting pulled into nose tackle Brandon Williams' lap and staying awhile. When Johnson didn't hear a whistle, he got up off Williams and finished a 62-yard run, leaving the Ravens to question why the play wasn't blown dead when Johnson's progress was stopped. Finally, there was the Ravens' sideline communication system going down during the final drive, forcing Flacco to rely on players running in from the sideline to deliver the play call and personnel grouping.
Last week, Harbaugh remarked that the Ravens were "on a little bit of a roll here for crazy things happening." On Monday night, crazy became the absurd, and all that's left for the Ravens is to pick up the pieces of their season.
"It's not tough to keep going on," center Jeremy Zuttah said. "It's the way life goes sometimes. You come up short. The only thing you can do is to try and work harder to make sure you don't come up short next time. Unfortunately, that hasn't been happening for us, so we have to do whatever we can to make sure that it does."
To their credit, the Ravens haven't made excuses. They were steamed at Torbert's officiating crew for several calls, but Flacco was the first to say that the Ravens didn't play well enough to win. Other players cited ongoing miscues, not calls and a late-game technology breakdown, as the reason they lost. The reality was that they were outplayed for much of the game and it took a missed extra-point attempt, a blocked punt and some poor Arizona clock management for the Ravens to mount a comeback from being down 26-10 with under five minutes to play.
They have also steered clear of blaming injuries and are dealing with a couple of more this week, with starting offensive linemen Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele, wide receiver Darren Waller and cornerback Tray Walker all going down.
Harbaugh seemed to say as clearly as he has all season that the Ravens are operating with no margin for error.
"One thing about us right now, we're the kind of team that has to minimize mistakes and we have to execute," Harbaugh said. "We're going to be forced to develop the ability to do that with perfection. That's the kind of team we are right now. In the long run, that's going to be good for us. We just have to fight through it."
Flacco, who again drove the offense down the field late in the game before throwing his second interception in the end zone this season, has said all season that the Ravens have enough playmakers to be explosive. Following Monday's game, however, he admitted what has become painfully obvious.
"We have a little mistake here and we're not good enough in certain areas," he said. "I feel like we put ourselves in a lot of third-down situations on offense and we don't quite have the explosiveness to just take drives over, and score quickly and get big chunks consistently.
"It wasn't like we weren't completing passes [Monday], but it was six yards, seven yards, 10 yards, six yards, five yards. You just leave yourselves in third-down situations. … It's just tough to score points when you're just giving yourselves third down after third down on every drive. You have to get some chunks and get 25, 30 at a time and get first downs. We just haven't been quite able to do that."
Flacco continues to be inconsistent and make mistakes late in games. The receiving corps remains littered with question marks beyond Steve Smith Sr. The offensive line, billed as the strength of the team, has been decent, but far from dominant. On the other side of the ball, the Ravens run defense even showed signs of vulnerability against the Cardinals. The pass defense, meanwhile, has been one of the league's worst units.
About the only thing consistent about the Ravens are the weekly vows from Harbaugh and the players to get things fixed while staying united as a team. But how much failure and adversity can this team take?
"We've got to stay together, believe in each other and just keep grinding," said Williams. "We just can't [have] division and no pointing fingers. I've got to look at what I did and get better at that. So does everyone else. No pointing fingers. Just do what you can better."