BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Ravens are a team that's improving and getting closer to looking like a playoff team. They're just not there yet, and you can't put all of the blame on Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin for standing in the Ravens' way.
The Ravens need to find their finishing touch if they want to make the playoffs and make noise in the postseason. The defending Super Bowl champions have to finish off drives on offense and finish off teams before the final minute of the game.
The Ravens played well enough to win in a nail-biting 22-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, but no one would've been sweating out a two-point conversion if they had delivered a complete game. While many will chalk this up to another classic thriller between these two teams, quarterback Joe Flacco left feeling more frustrated than anything else.
This would've been a statement game if the Ravens had scored touchdowns instead of kicking field goals. This would've been over long before a last-minute stand if the defense could've put pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and stuck with the Steelers speedy receivers.
The Ravens should be proud of the fact that they moved into sole possession of the AFC's final playoff spot and put more heat on the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals. They just shouldn't be satisfied.
"You got to continue to work because we haven't hit our peak yet," safety James Ihedigbo said. "We're playing good football and we're playing well enough to win. Once we hit our peak and hit full stride, I feel sorry for our opponents."
The Ravens' offense scored on six of nine drives. The only problem is that five of them ended with field goals, not touchdowns. There were too many penalties (four false starts in your home stadium is inexcusable) and too many other lapses in Pittsburgh territory, whether it was poor throw by Flacco or another sack given up by right tackle Michael Oher.
The Ravens' defense shut out the Steelers for the first 38½ minutes and stopped the Steelers on a game-tying two-point conversion with 63 seconds in the game. But the Ravens nearly squandered a 12-point fourth-quarter lead by failing to get any pressure on Roethlisberger and losing track of the Steelers wide receivers in coverage.
Flacco believes the Ravens are on the cusp of playing up to expectations.
"You could taste it, and we just didn’t convert a lot," said Flacco, who was 24-of-35 for 251 yards and a touchdown. "I’m honestly pretty happy with how we played tonight and how we performed. We’ve just got to get better at those little things that are going to get us over the edge.”
Can the Ravens make the needed corrections with only four weeks left?
"It’s not hard stuff; it’s just simple little things that you do every day," Flacco said. "It’s not like we don’t have the ability, we don’t have the talent, or we don’t have the work ethic. It’s not like we don’t have any of those things. It’s just the little things that we’re losing concentration for a half of a second, or whatever it is. [It is] very easily fixed.”
The Ravens gave the teams watching them on national television Thursday night some reason for concern.
For the second straight week, Flacco stretched the field with a 54-yard pass to Torrey Smith and a 34-yarder to Jacoby Jones. The defense held a team to 20 or fewer points for the fifth time in seven games. And the special teams keep making an impact with Justin Tucker's leg (a career-high five field goals) and Jones' returns (his 73-yarder off a kickoff was a momentum-changer).
The Ravens have gone from being a 3-5 team at the start of November to a 6-6 team by the end of it. Baltimore took control of the sixth seed and closed to within 1½ games of the Bengals (7-4), who play at San Diego on Sunday.
"I feel like we're getting there," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We just have to stay the course. This is the grind and this is the fight. We definitely got to win out to guarantee us a spot. We have four left and we pretty much need all four."
Time is running out on the Ravens to hit their stride. After playing host to the struggling Minnesota Vikings (2-8-1) next Sunday, the Ravens face three teams who either lead a division or are tied for the lead: at the Detroit Lions (7-5), home against the New England Patriots (8-3) and at the Bengals.
By the end of the regular season, the Ravens will have earned a playoff spot if they can peak at the right time and survive this brutal end-of-the-season stretch.
"We’re in control of our destiny," coach John Harbaugh said. "It’s up to us to win games. I’m proud of our guys finding a way to win the last two games and finishing the way they have. I feel like we’re getting there. I feel like we’re a really good football team. But you need to go out and prove it; you need to prove it every week.”