Ravens now struggling to win close games

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Do you want to know why the Baltimore Ravens trail the Cincinnati Bengals by two games in the AFC North? It's close games.

In games decided by four points, the Ravens are 1-3 and the Bengals are 3-1. The Ravens' 19-16 loss in Pittsburgh was the latest game where the defending Super Bowl champions came up short.

"It's always been the difference in this league," coach John Harbaugh said. "We've just got to find a way to win those games but not just find a way to win them, find a way to be good in them. Find a way to do all the little things to get us in position to win. We'll work hard on that."

It's been the same storyline the past two games. The Ravens' offense suddenly gets hot in the fourth quarter to cut the margin to one score, and their defense can't get the other team off the field in the final minutes of the game.

Two weeks ago, on third-and-3 with 1:53 remaining, Ravens safety Matt Elam couldn't pull down Packers tight end Jermichael Finley. Last Sunday, with 56 seconds left and the Steelers at midfield, Ravens cornerback Corey Graham missed a tackle on wide receiver Antonio Brown, who ran 13 yards to get Pittsburgh in range for the game-winning field goal.

No team has lost more games decided by three points or fewer than the Ravens this season. The winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the only team to have dropped three games by that close margin.

"It’s a tough league, a streaky league," Harbaugh said. "You win close games, you lose close games. The biggest difference between last year and this year right now is that we’ve lost the close games, [and] last year we won the close games. So, we’ve got to get hot a little bit and win some close games."

Harbaugh is right. In the Ravens' championship season, no team won more close games than Baltimore. The Ravens were 5-3 in games decided by three points or fewer.

There was Justin Tucker's winning 27-yard field goal as time expired against New England in a 31-30 victory. There was the Cowboys missing a 51-yard field goal with two seconds remaining in a Ravens 31-29 win. And there was Ray Rice converting fourth-and-29 in a game that the Ravens eventually won, 16-13, in San Diego.

But the Ravens aren't getting the big plays or the big stops at critical times this season. Since Harbaugh took over as Ravens coach in 2008, the team is 12-14 in games decided by three points or fewer.