BALTIMORE -- Joe Flacco ran the length of the field and dove desperately just before Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris took the interception into the end zone. Flacco just laid there, motionless with his face in the turf.
Following a 34-17 rout by the Broncos, their third straight loss, Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens look down for the count. A team that was one pass away from the Super Bowl last season doesn't look like it can win one game in the postseason this year. Yes, the Ravens are in the playoffs, compliments of a Steelers' overtime loss at Dallas. But no one can say the Ravens look like a playoff team -- at least, not with a straight face.
Flacco has turned into a turnover machine, and duct tape holds together the defense. The Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron after last Sunday's loss, and the offense struggled to get first downs, much less touchdowns, in Jim Caldwell's debut as a playcaller. On defense, the top three tacklers are out with injuries, its best pass rusher (Terrell Suggs) is playing with one arm and its best cornerback (Lardarius Webb) is done for the season.
The Ravens are clearly running out of answers and players. To be honest, the Ravens have never looked like a great team this season. Their faults were brushed to the side by the fact that they had a 9-2 record. Now, they're a slumping 9-5 team that is one fourth-and-29 conversion away from having lost four straight games. It's gotten so bad that team leader Ed Reed used the word "embarrassed" five times to describe the worst home loss in the five-year John Harbaugh era.
December is usually the time the Ravens hit their stride, not a punch-in-the-gut slump. This is the time when everyone is usually asking whether Baltimore can win the Super Bowl. But the question that everyone is asking these days is whether this team can win another game this year.
The Ravens are a bruised and battered team, and it shows on the face of the franchise. When Flacco talked to reporters after the game, his lip was busted open and the right side of his face had a bloodied gash.
"We’re a 9-5 football team," Flacco said, "and it feels like we’re 0-14 right now."
The first series under Caldwell ended with Flacco fumbling on a sneak on third-and-one, the quarterback's third straight game coughing it up. But the game was lost on a bizarre decision in the final minute of the first half.
With the Ravens trailing 10-0, Flacco threw a 14-yard pass to Torrey Smith to get Baltimore to the Denver four-yard line. Rushing to the line, Flacco took a quick snap and fired a pass to the left sideline, where it was intercepted and returned 98 yards for a touchdown.
The first mistake was hurrying when the Ravens needed to settle down. There were 34 seconds left, but Baltimore had three timeouts remaining.
So, who decided that play? "That’s coach’s call. That’s my call," Harbaugh said. "We run that a lot. We’ve done that a lot this year. We’ve done it over the last few years. There’s a number of play calls that we have in that situation. Joe [Flacco] is trying to stick it in there for a touchdown. The kid made a great play. That’s what happens. That’s football."
The problem is, Harbaugh doesn't call the plays. That's Caldwell's job now. This was Caldwell's first time calling plays since he was the head coach at Wake Forest in 1999. The Broncos defense is a tad better than the one at Duke.
While you scratch your head over the play call, Ravens fans were pulling their hair out over the pass. Flacco wanted to throw the fade, but it was slow to develop. Instead, he was late on an out-pattern pass, which even Harris said he never expected Flacco to throw.
"I just made a mistake," Flacco said. "There's no other way to put that."
This isn't the type of play you expect out of a quarterback who has won a playoff game in each of the past four seasons. This is the type of play, however, that makes you wonder whether the Ravens are truly committed to Flacco for the future.
That is an issue that will come in the offseason. The more pressing concern is a Ravens team that is spiraling out of control. Baltimore is no longer among the AFC's elite teams. The Ravens have lost to the Texans and Broncos by a combined score of 77-30. Yes, the Ravens did beat the Patriots earlier this year but Week 3 seems like a lifetime ago.
The Texans, Patriots and Broncos are all getting hot at the right time. The other division leader in the AFC has no identity on offense and few healthy starters on defense.
"I think the best three players today that only really came to work were Morgan [Cox], Sam [Koch] and Justin [Tucker]," Reed said, naming the long snapper, punter and kicker. "As (part of) Ravens nation, as a player, I am embarrassed for our city.”
Everyone on the Ravens should share in that embarrassment. On their first six drives, the Ravens produced 44 yards, five punts and one turnover. Baltimore didn't get its first first-down of the game until there were eight minutes left in the first half. The defense played surprisingly well against Manning, but it looked bad when Ravens cornerback Cary Williams stopped on a 51-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker in the third quarter. And Reed won't have the play where Knowshon Moreno leapt over him on his Hall of Fame highlight tape.
"I felt like it was Christmas, and not for our side," Reed said. "I felt like we were in a giving mood. I don't have to go back and watch the tape to know we gave up a lot of things."
Reed added, "This is the NFL. You have to be on your game, and nobody is safe. That’s why we lost a coach last week. There has to be a sense of urgency for every man. There has to be something to every man to know that your job is on the line, including me. That’s why I said I have to start with myself. We have to make corrections. There were a lot of mistakes made today.”
The mistakes and injuries continue to pile up. The Ravens' best deep threat (Smith) and backup running back (Bernard Pierce) were knocked out of Sunday's game with concussions.
Baltimore has to figure out a way to turn around its season in its final two games -- home against the defending Super Bowl champion Giants and at the Bengals. The Ravens' once insurmountable lead in the AFC North has dwindled to one game over Cincinnati.
"We’ve just got to keep moving forward, keep our eye on the prize," Flacco said. "Everything in this league is ‘what have you done for me lately,’ and we’ve got to continue to move forward and stay confident because nobody’s going to be too high on us except ourselves."
What the Ravens have done lately is put a big question mark on their season.