OWINGS MILLS, Md. — From the moment they arrived at training camp in July through the waning seconds of their game in Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens worked in unison to achieve one overriding goal: qualify for the playoffs.
A sobering 31-27 defeat to the Steelers ended the Ravens’ bid to reach the postseason, and it was evident Monday that it’s going to take a lot longer than 24 hours to ease the feeling of disappointment.
“We wanted to win the game,” coach John Harbaugh said. “When you put that much into it — heart, soul, effort, believe in one another, a lot of hard work — it’s going to sting.”
The Ravens (8-7) needed to beat both the Steelers and Cincinnati in the finale to win the AFC North. The first part of that equation seemed well in hand when Kyle Juszczyk scored on a gritty 10-yard run with 1:18 left for a 27-24 lead.
But Pittsburgh answered with the game-winning touchdown with 9 seconds to go, leaving Baltimore out of the playoffs for the third time in four years.
“Very disappointing,” safety Lardarius Webb said afterward. “We worked our butts off all year to be at this point and have a chance.”
Hoping to finish with winning record: There will plenty of time after the season for the Ravens to dissect what went wrong, determine who’s to blame and decide which players (and coaches) won’t be back.
For now, however, Baltimore must focus on playing one final game. The re-adjusted goal, like it or not, is to finish with a winning season.
“We do want to be 9-7. It’s important to have one more win,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what we do this for, that’s what it’s all about, and our guys are going to be fired up to do it. I would never question their resiliency.”
The team’s ability to bounce back was tested much earlier this season, after Baltimore lost four straight to fall to 3-4.
The Ravens responded with a 21-14 win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 6, and they stayed in contention until the penultimate game of the season.
“We feel very excited about where we are as a football team,” Harbaugh said. “I know we’re a very good football team. That’s evident in the way we play.”
Putting up a good fight: The Ravens put up a heck of a fight in a hostile environment, but couldn’t close the deal.
“Our guys handled it very well. There’s just no denying that,” Harbaugh said. “(The Steelers) just made another play in the end when it was all said and done.”
Harbaugh said he will use his starters against the Bengals (5-9-1), including linebacker Terrell Suggs and guard Marshal Yanda, both of whom have been playing through injuries.
But cornerback Jimmy Smith won’t suit up, missing a third straight game with a high ankle sprain. The Ravens sure could have used him against Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, who had 10 catches for 96 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown.
Harbaugh was hoping to have Smith back for the playoffs. Naturally, the coach wasn’t counting on losing to Pittsburgh.
“That’s the nature of football and that’s the nature of life,” Harbaugh said. “We have a week of football left to play and we intend to make the most of it. I know all of our players feel the same way.”