Painful reality for Joe Flacco and Ravens

Joe Flacco said Baltimore was "ready to go get ourselves into the playoffs ... and we just didn't do it." AP Photo/Nick Wass

BALTIMORE -- The ugliest loss in the six-year John Harbaugh era cost the Baltimore Ravens a shot to win the AFC North and control their playoff destiny.

Now, the Ravens (8-7) need to win at Cincinnati and have either the Miami Dolphins (8-7) or San Diego Chargers (8-7) lose. To say the Ravens' fate is out of their control is appropriate.

Barring a miraculous recovery by quarterback Joe Flacco, the season ended for the Ravens when the helmet of Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy hit the left knee of Flacco six days ago, and the 41-7 dismantling by the New England Patriots on Sunday underscored that point.

There is little hope for the Ravens given the way the injured Flacco and his limping offense are playing. Flacco's sprained left knee clearly affected his play, to the point where he couldn't step into his passes, which caused him to overthrow his receivers on the sidelines and underthrow them deep.

That's the painful reality for Flacco and the defending Super Bowl champions.

"We're used to going out there and playing well when we need to when the playoffs are on the line," Flacco said. "We came out today hungry and ready to go get ourselves into the playoffs or make that next step towards it, and we just didn't do it."

The Ravens looked like a team no one wanted to face when they won four straight games. What was the difference Sunday? A one-legged quarterback.

This isn't a knock on Flacco's toughness. It's just an assessment of his effectiveness. Baltimore needs Flacco to be at full strength when all of the other phases of the offense -- running game, pass protection and his wide receivers' hands -- are so unreliable.

That's why you can't put all of the blame for the most lopsided home loss in Ravens history on questionable officiating. The Ravens' inability to stop the run is just a small part of the second-largest margin of defeat in team history.

Here is why the Ravens fell in such embarrassing fashion: When the Patriots took a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter -- when the game was really lost -- Flacco was 1-of-5 for 9 yards, with one interception. That's right, Flacco had as many completions to the Patriots as he did to the Ravens. That's not going to beat the Houston Texans, much less the Patriots.

Flacco's first pass was an underthrown deep ball to wide receiver Torrey Smith, which would've been a touchdown if the speedy wide receiver were hit in stride. His fourth throw lacked the touch needed to get the ball over a Patriots linebacker, and the deflected pass was intercepted (which led to the Patriots' second touchdown).

"It didn't affect me," Flacco said of the knee injury. "I would have liked to have played better, but the brace had nothing to do with anything."

It's commendable that Flacco doesn't want to make excuses, and maybe as an athlete you can't have the mindset that you're limited. But no one can believe him after watching his performance.

It wasn't like Flacco was having a Pro Bowl season before the injury. He was, though, playing well enough in the clutch to deliver victories.

But it's difficult to envision Flacco leading the charge when he can't even stay on his feet. Flacco fell to the ground without being touched when trying to scramble on a third down in the first quarter.

"I think my knee's a little bent when I'm taped up, and I just kind of misstepped and just totally whiffed on the turf," Flacco said. "It was just really unathletic."

Reaching the end zone was a problem before Flacco got injured. The Ravens had to settle for six field goals on Monday night and needed a 61-yard field goal from Justin Tucker to escape with an 18-16 win at Detroit.

The Ravens didn't score Sunday against the Patriots until there was 9:21 left in the game. Baltimore didn't cross midfield in the first half and managed seven points on three trips in the red zone.

It's not like the Ravens should've played backup Tyrod Taylor over the banged-up Flacco, not based on the way Taylor finished the game. Harbaugh correctly scoffed at the question of whether he considered going to Taylor earlier in the game.

This is how quickly the season has turned for Baltimore. The Ravens walked onto the field knowing they would win the AFC North title if they won their final two games. When they walked out of M&T Bank Stadium for the final time this season, they faced a question of whether they should've benched the reigning Super Bowl MVP.

The Ravens, mathematically, can still make the playoffs with a loss in the season finale. There's a scenario in which the Ravens qualify if the Dolphins, Chargers and Steelers all lose next Sunday as well.

But can the Ravens make noise in the playoffs? Denver and New England, the current top two seeds in the AFC, have beaten the Ravens by a combined score of 90-34.

The Ravens find themselves on unfamiliar footing heading into the final week of the regular season.

"I don't think we've ever needed some help. We've always kind of controlled our own destiny," said Flacco, who has made the playoffs in each of his first five seasons. "I don't know what those scenarios are. I'm not going to worry myself now. We're just going to worry about getting a win."