SEATTLE—They said that they had learned their lesson, and the letdowns that occurred in Nashville and Jacksonville wouldn't happen again.
Then over 60 minutes, the Ravens did everything possible to lose a football game. They fumbled kickoffs, missed field goals, dropped passes, took senseless penalties, appeared disinterested in establishing a running game, and allowed what was the league's third worse offense to run off nearly the final six minutes while the game hung in the balance.
All that added up to another head-scratching performance by the Ravens and a hard-to-accept 22-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks before an announced 66,522 at CenturyLink Field Sunday.
"There's the hard way, there's the easy way and then there's the way we do it. It's like, 'Let's see how much we can spot them before we come back and win the game.' It's terrible," said linebacker Terrell Suggs. "We can't do that in this league, but we're a team. Despite everything that happened, we still had an opportunity to win this game and we didn't get it done. I'm disgusted to lose like this, but we got to get over it."
Remember all the momentum that the Ravens had built up after their last-second comeback win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday? That's now gone thanks to a three-turnover performance, which included two first-half fumbles by kick returner David Reed, who was subsequently benched, and two long first-half misses from kicker Billy Cundiff.
Seahawks kicker, Steven Hauschka, who Cundiff replaced during the 2009 season, went 5-for-5, with all his makes coming from inside 40 yards.
Remember all the talk about taking care of business, solidifying the Pittsburgh win and separating themselves in the AFC North? The Ravens (6-3) are now a half-game behind Pittsburgh, who beat the Cincinnati Bengals earlier today. The Bengals visit M&T Bank Stadium next Sunday.
"We understand we're going to be the target of a lot of criticism," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We understand that it's going to be local, we understand that it's going to be national. We understand the fans are going to be very disappointed in the game and were very disappointed in the game. We had an opportunity here to do something, to separate ourselves a little bit in the division. We didn't take advantage of it. That's tough. We take full responsibility for this loss."
As poorly as they played, the Ravens still felt relatively good about their chances after quarterback Joe Flacco hit tight end Ed Dickson for an 11-yard touchdown catch -- Dickson's second of the game -- with 5:52 to play to cut the visitor's deficit to 22-17. The Ravens had trailed 19-7 at halftime and 22-7 late in the third quarter.
The Ravens had come back under far more difficult circumstances just seven days earlier in Pittsburgh, and their opponent was certainly not the Steelers. The Seahawks hadn't moved the ball the entire half. They had already committed six penalties in the fourth quarter, and 13 for the game.
When the Seahawks committed penalties on two consecutive plays to start their drive, leaving them 1st-and-20 from their own 10-yard line, things looked even better. But much-maligned quarterback Tarvaris Jackson hit Golden Tate for 24 yards on 3rd-and-5. Then in the same situation later in the drive, Jackson hit Marshawn Lynch out of the backfield and he juked linebackers Jarret Johnson and Ray Lewis to gain the necessary yardage for the first down.
Lynch, who finished with 109 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries, and five catches for 58 yards, then rushed for another first down, putting the game and the Ravens away.
"We were down by five, putting our defense back on the field, and expecting to get the ball back very quickly," said Flacco, who completed 29 of his career-high 52 attempts for 255 yards, one touchdown and one interception. "They did a good job, and when you leave the game up to that, you're kind of just hoping that you get another shot. When you don't come out and play the way you need to from the very beginning, when you leave yourself in that kind of position, you have to be perfect. It's tough to do that on a weekly basis."
Entering this season, the Ravens had lost just one game against a sub .500 team during the Harbaugh era. They've now lost three this season, all coming after big wins, all coming on the road, all coming against teams that most pundits predicted they'd handle with relative ease.
"You got to win those games to be one of those elite teams like we're claiming to be," Ravens safety Ed Reed said. "If we're claiming to be that team, we got to come out and play week-to-week. It can't be elite one week and unnecessary roughness the next week. It's got to be every time."
While the Ravens avoided comparing today's debacle with the 26-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week Two, and the 12-7 defeat to the Jacksonville Jaguars three weeks ago, there was certainly a common thread, at least with the Jacksonville game.
That night, Ray Rice, the Ravens' best offensive player, carried the ball just eight times and had 13 touches, prompting criticism at the team's game plan, some provided by Suggs. Sunday, Rice had only five carries for 27 yards to go along with eight catches for 54 yards.
He did throw a one-yard touchdown pass, hitting Dickson on a halfback option play early in the second quarter that cut the Ravens' deficit to 13-7.
Rice politely declined comment after the game, preferring an opportunity to gather his thoughts. But his lack of involvement in the running came certainly was not lost on Seahawks' coach Pete Carroll.
"There's been games where they have gone like this," Carroll said. "I was kind of hoping that it would go like this, where they wouldn't feature [the run] as much [and] they wouldn't be balanced out. We got up enough and at halftime, they decided they were going to throw the football, so that we didn't see much of the running game at all. This has happened a couple of times, and it happened [against] Arizona, and a couple of other games. I was hoping the game might take this kind of format and it did. I thought that helped us a little bit."
So did Reed's failure to hold onto the ball. The young returner has now fumbled three times in the past two weeks, losing two of them. Of his three first-half kick returns today, Reed fumbled two of them and got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the other one. His two fumbles led to two of Hauschka's four first-half field goals. A Flacco interception on the Ravens' first drive of the second half led to another chip shot.
"I let my teammates down," Reed said. "It was bad. I don't feel good at all."
Reed had plenty of company as the Ravens players trudged out of the visiting locker room one-by-one, mostly in silence. Over a near six-hour flight, they would have much to digest, much to ponder.
And there is certainly no bigger question than why the Ravens have beaten up on some of the AFC's elite teams, and then can't beat some of its weakest.
"It just really sucks to lose this way," said Suggs. "Our fans came all the way out here, they don't deserve this. We don't deserve to do this to ourselves like that But without struggle, there's no progress. We're going to learn from this. We're 6-3. It's not the end of the world. I remember the Super Bowl champs [the Green Bay Packers] were 10-6. We're not going to lose 6 games."