HOUSTON -- Sitting in front of his locker after getting beat up in a 25-13 loss to the Houston Texans, quarterback Joe Flacco tried to figure out which teams needed to lose in order for the Baltimore Ravens to make the playoffs.
There would be no need for such a conversation if Joe Cool didn't melt down under the Texans' pressure.
Flacco threw incompletions on 17 of his first 20 passes. He was intercepted three times, all of which came deep in Ravens' territory.
This was Flacco's worst game at the worst possible time. As Flacco's passes sailed high over the middle and veered out of bounds, the Ravens (9-6) watched any control of their playoff destiny float away with them.
Yes, there were other factors -- no running game, poor pass protection and dropped passes -- that contributed to the Ravens producing their fewest total yards (211) in 21 games. But this is the time of year where quarterbacks carry their teams to the postseason, especially ones with $100 million contracts.
Tony Romo threw four touchdowns as the Dallas Cowboys clinched a playoff berth. Aaron Rodgers fought off the flu and a calf injury to pass for 300 yards as the Green Bay Packers punched their ticket to the postseason. And Philip Rivers guided a clutch comeback to keep the San Diego Chargers alive.
What did the Ravens get under center? Flacco resembled Kyle Boller more than a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. He was inaccurate, impatient and uncharacteristically gun shy. In the end, Flacco lost to a fourth-string quarterback in Case Keenum, who was on a practice squad the previous week.
"People are going to look at his stats and say it was horrible," wide receiver Torrey Smith said of Flacco's performance. "He took his shots and showed his toughness again. It’s on us to protect him and make plays for him and we didn’t get the job done today."
Even though Flacco has struggled with consistency throughout his career, this clunker stunned the Ravens. He was having a career year in his first season under offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, and he had a four-game streak with a passer rating of 99 or higher. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said there was no hint of such a flop, saying one pass hit the ground on the final two practices of the week.
That wasn't the Flacco who showed up Sunday. It was like James Flacco suddenly appeared.
"We got our ass kicked," said Flacco, who finished 21 of 50 for 195 yards. "There's no other way about it. Our defense played well. Our special teams played well, and we didn't do a single thing on offense. We just got beat up and whooped."
No one got beat up more than Flacco. The Texans sent well-timed blitzes to hit Flacco a total of 10 times. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Flacco attempted 16 passes when under duress Sunday, his most such attempts since Week 6 of the 2009 season. He was 4-of-16 (25 percent) when under duress Sunday.
Even when he wasn't under pressure, Flacco faded back on some passes and failed to step into throws. This led to a nightmare first half, when he completed 3 of 18 passes for 27 yards and two interceptions. Flacco's 16.7 completion rate was the worst completion rate in a half in his career and the worst in a half for any quarterback this season (minimum 10 attempts), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Last season, the Ravens missed out on the playoffs because Flacco struggled in the last two games with a knee sprain. The combination of the number of hits and incompletions on Sunday made you wonder whether Flacco was playing hurt.
"I was not injured," he said.
Flacco is lucky in that regard when looking at his offensive teammates. Running back Justin Forsett turned his ankle and didn't play the final nine minutes. Starting offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Rick Wagner limped out of the locker room wearing protective boots.
The way this is shaping up, the Ravens are going to need Flacco to step up and not stumble like he did Sunday.
"We've been in this situation last year, where we didn't really control our own destiny, and we didn't play well," Flacco said. "All we can control is going out there and next week against Cleveland and winning a football game."