Back from a party weekend in NYC, which is why you didn't hear from me. While there's a lot you can say about this game and a lot you can point to for improvement, I tend to take a simpler view of things. Not "we should have kept Gano" or "Once again we didn't rush the passer" and so on... Sure all of these points have their validity, but the big picture is what we need to be looking at.
We can get over our "the refs are out to get us" complex because this one (like all of the other games but in this case quite obviously) was our fault and we got very very outplayed.
We are essentially a middle-of-the-pack team. Winning the AFC North is obviously out of the question at this point. Although it's possible that we somehow make the playoffs at 9-7, that's doubtful, considering that either Pittsburgh or Cincy will win the AFC North and the other will get a wildcard spot. That leaves one wildcard spot for teams like Houston, San Diego, and us to compete for (and even Jacksonville and the Jets are hanging around at 4-4 too).
Of all those teams who has the toughest schedule? We probably do. We have upcoming games against Indy, in Green Bay (on a monday night in december--yeah thanks that's gonna suck), against Chicago, and the two games against Pittsburgh. I'd say 8-8 is most likely, although 9-7 isn't impossible.
The obvious fact is that the "remodeling" that Harbaugh spoke of when he came in isn't yet complete. We have an offense that CAN be explosive, but isn't the sort of "any comeback is possible" offense that the Peyton Mannings, Drew Breeses, and Kurt Warners of the world can offer. We have a defense that CAN be aggressive and stalwart, but has discipline issues, fails to rush the passer at times, and has a closing window of time with Ray Lewis.
While we've got many years of stability ahead on offense with Flacco and Ray Rice, you have to wonder how soon they'll be able to put together a team complete enough to really contend for a RING. It's amazing--if you had this year's offense with last year's defense we'd be unstoppable. But it just doesn't work like that. We have this year's offense and this year's defense and both of those seem to be in the "good-but-not-great" echelons of the NFL.
In short, while the Playoffs aren't impossible, you can consider my hopes tempered. We have a lot of work to do and the only good news at this point is that we won't have to play the Bengals again in the regular season.