The mood in the locker room was somber, a choice that suited the emotions running within the Baltimore Ravens.
In a span of three plays, Baltimore was poised to defeat the New England Patriots and then at least send the AFC Championship Game into overtime. But a dropped catch and a missed field goal later, it was the Ravens who watched New England celebrate at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., a 23-20 win and a trip to Super Bowl XLVI.
"I'm distraught that we couldn't bring it home for them," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We've got the team, the players to do it, and we even made the plays to do it, but we just fell 15 seconds short."
The loss was a microcosm of the Ravens' inconsistency. Baltimore compiled a 12-4 record, captured its first AFC North title since 2006, and secured one of the top two seeds and a first-round bye.
But the Ravens could have done much more.
Baltimore swept the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time since 2006 and won all six games against AFC North rivals and all eight games at home for the first time in franchise history.
After beating the Indianapolis Colts in Week 14, the Ravens were positioned to capture the top seed in the AFC playoffs, which meant the path to the Super Bowl would have to run through M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
But Baltimore was blitzed by the San Diego Chargers, 34-14, in Week 15. That opened the door for New England to leapfrog the Ravens for the top spot in the conference - a position the Patriots would not relinquish.
Joe Flacco (Getty Images)
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In the aftermath of that victory, free safety Ed Reed publicly questioned quarterback Joe Flacco's grasp of the offense. Both players and coach John Harbaugh downplayed the comments, but the media firestorm dogged Flacco.
Even after a 22-of-36 showing for 306 yards and two touchdowns against New England, Flacco was asked whether he thought his play had silenced the critics.
"I don't care," he said. "Look at the film. If you look at the film, you see how I play. I pretty much play the same every week. If you think I played better this week than other weeks, then I think you're wrong. This is the way I play every week, and I really don't care. I don't know if I will ever prove everything. That's not up to me. My job is to go out there and play and give our team the best shot to win."
That mission will have to wait until next season.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron realized the value of running back Ray Rice and centered the offense around him midway through the season. Rice went on to earn his second Pro Bowl invite in three years.
WHAT WENT WRONG: The vaunted pass rush fizzled. After accruing 45 sacks through the first 13 contests to lead the NFL, the defense managed just three sacks in the last three games of the regular season and one sack in two games in the postseason
--CB Lardarius Webb collected his third interception of the postseason when he picked off quarterback Tom Brady in the first quarter. Webb also led the team in interceptions in the regular season with five.
--RB Ray Rice rushed for 67 yards, compiling 444 career postseason yards. Rice passed Jamal Lewis (426) for the most playoff rushing yards in team history.
--WR Torrey Smith turned a short catch into a 29-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Smith, a second-round pick in April, caught six of quarterback Joe Flacco's 10 touchdown passes of 20 yards or more.
--TE Dennis Pitta caught a six-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. It was Pitta's second touchdown catch in his last three games.
--K Billy Cundiff went 2-of-3 on field goals, including missing the potential game-tying 32-yarder with 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Cundiff missed all 10 of his field goals on the road and went 8-of-10 on field goals in the fourth quarter this season.
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