Really, it's that simple.
Sometimes you have a bad day, the opponent has a good day, the refs don't exactly help you, or good old fashioned dumb luck causes the bounces to go against you.
Sometimes all four happen on the same night, on the road (which always exacerbates the negative), which adds up to a recipe for getting destroyed.
Sure, we could wring our hands and self-flagellate ourselves for the performance our team put out there but really, it wouldn't change anything.
Was it an embarrassing loss? Sure. Was it made doubly worse by coming at the hands of the Steelers? Yeah, of course. Was it made five times worse again by coming on national television? Right again.
Blowouts happen, especially on the road
Teams are never as bad or as good as some would have you believe. The best teams in the NFL can still lose and lose big. The worst ones can win and win big. Not to dismiss the obvious problems with this Ravens team but let's focus on some facts up front. Blowouts happen to everyone (except Seattle in the past few years, but I digress).
Just running a basic search of all past Ravens blowout losses (most consider any loss of >= 14 points a blowout) reveals more than a few:
Remember the 2003 Ravens? They finished first in the NFL in defense and won the division. They got raked over the coals 15-34 by a Steelers team that finished 6-10.
2008 Ravens? Blown out twice by the Manning brothers 3-31 against Peyton and 10-30 againts Eli. That team finished second in the NFL in defense and played in the title game.
2011 Ravens? As Suggs put it afterward, "it was raining touchdowns" from the hands of Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. That 14-34 loss put us behind the division eight ball (temporarily) but that Ravens team finished 12-4 and played in the AFC title game.
2012 Ravens? Got rocked by the Texans 13-43 in a game of almost comical ineptitude against a team that would later collapse fairly heavily. Think we know how that season ended.
Anyway, I could go on but really, I think the point is clear: sometimes, it just isn't your night in every way imaginable. As if watching a busted extra point attempt turn into a two-point conversion didn't make that clear...
Not that it helps much, but in case you didn't watch the rest of the NFL this week, here are some things that happened:
- The Chargers got shut out 37-0 by the Dolphins. Yeah, the same Chargers who looked like the best team in football at 5-1 earlier in October and the Dolphins who managed to get razed to the ground by Buffalo and Kansas City in consecutive weeks earlier in the season.
- The Broncos, easily the best team in the NFL, managed to screw things up in New England so badly they lost by three touchdowns — to a team who themselves got crushed by 30 a month ago.
Anyway, this is not a new phenomenon. It just sucks worse because of who it came against and how it happened. We're a prideful group. We give up 40 points only a few times a decade. We needed this win tonight pretty badly and yet did everything we could to make sure we didn't get it. I wish I could say something more sage other than ... **** happens.
Real cause for concern — the secondary
Not to belabor the painfully obvious but the secondary is obviously an unmitigated disaster without Jimmy Smith. Who do we even blame at this point? Spagnuolo? Jimmy Smith for lacking in durability? Teryl Austin for taking that coordinator job in Detroit? Literally everyone else that played tonight?
Probably all of the above. It's a big problem. The Steelers were fourth in the NFL in offense (by DVOA) and the lack of Jimmy Smith made an already dangerous opponent doubly more dangerous. But this was a travesty of busted coverages, poor execution, and then just good old-fashioned whipping by a quality offense. The Steelers got some very favorable calls, sure, like the blatant OPI by Antonio Brown and the bad spot on a QB sneak but that doesn't excuse the ease with which Pittsburgh threw touchdown passes. Maybe we only lose 33-23 instead but really, the shaky officiating it was only one part of a broadly bad night.
It's hard to say the secondary can be fixed anytime soon. Smith is out for awhile. The next Corey Graham isn't walking through the door. Webb may never recapture his 2011 and 2012 form. But they need to figure something out. The pass rush can't sack the quarterback three times consecutively on every drive. Only some of them....
A weakness in the secondary, or weaknesses as the case may be with us, is usually a near fatal problem. Good quarterbacks can exploit a weak secondary to the extent that it's hard to win games because of it. You just can't win in the passing league that is the NFL with critical shortcomings in the back end. We rarely felt what that was like with Ed Reed around. Now, we're finding out with he and Jimmy Smith gone. They must find a way. We play the Saints after the bye and that's going to be a rough outing without a semi-competent pass defense. Hell, so will every game including next weeks' against Tennessee.
Don't forget about the offense
The offense certainly did the team no favors with two unacceptable turnovers that totally turned the game, but then again, it may not have mattered. Still, we shouldn't let the offense off the hook. They got some early first downs but ultimately failed to capitalize on a pretty mediocre Steelers defense for most of the game. I wrote about it on Friday but this Steelers defense needed to be exploited by Baltimore to win. They didn't do that. Instead, my lasting memory of this game will be the turnstile that was Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele as James Harrison came through unblocked, leaving Flacco to practically throw the ball way twice per set of downs. The defense was bad but it was also a total team loss. Baltimore needed an above average day from the offense to win because there was no way the defense could keep three-and-outing Pittsburgh forever.
Final Thoughts: Just be glad it wasn't a playoff game
I'm a believer that any given year about eight teams can realistically win the Super Bowl. Playoff games, by virtue of being self-contained 60-minute events, really are random enough to the point that we should just be glad this meltdown happened now (a la 2012 against Houston) instead of in January. Because this sort of thing can and absolutely does happen to good teams in the playoffs (including us in past years).
In tonight's game, basically everything that could go wrong for us did. Thankfully, we have a recourse to those problems.
In any event, Pittsburgh's season didn't end when Cleveland annihilated them. Cleveland's didn't end when Jacksonville annihilated them. Cincinnati's didn't end when Indianapolis annihilated them. And ours didn't end tonight. It just means everything NFL related will be largely unbearable for at least another seven days.
We still have a chance to be one of those eight or 12 teams. We'll need 17 weeks to find out for sure whether we deserve to be.