Loss to Colts still haunting Ravens

OWINGS MILLS -- The ghosts from the Baltimore Ravens' haunting playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts haven't quite been exorcised. Being narrowly defeated by the eventual Super Bowl champions remains a bitter pill to swallow.

Behind a flurry of costly turnovers as the offense didn't even come close to matching the Colts' defensive intensity, the Ravens' season ended abruptly in the AFC divisional playoff round.

It was an emotional locker room afterward, and that hurt hasn't completely subsided. It was still a hot topic of conversation during minicamps this spring.

"No question after last year, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth and it doesn't go away," said tight end Todd Heap several months after the 15-6 loss at M&T Bank Stadium. "It's still there. I'm looking forward to this season just to put it in the past and get that bad taste out of my mouth.

"It's never easy to put a loss like that behind you. I don't care who you are. If you're a competitor, if you're playing this game to win a Super Bowl, you can't get that out of your mouth until you hit someone else."

The loss to Indianapolis was lowlighted by quarterback Steve McNair's crucial pair of interceptions and four turnovers from the offense, including an uncharacteristic fumble from Heap. McNair finished 18 of 29 for 173 yards with a dismal 49.9 quarterback rating.

The running game skidded to a halt with only 53 rushing yards from Jamal Lewis.

Although safety Ed Reed intercepted Peyton Manning twice and the defense limited a prolific offense to five Adam Viniatieri field goals, it wasn't enough to prevent the Ravens from losing their third consecutive playoff game since the 2001 season.

"It's bitter for me, not just because of the outcome," said McNair, who telegraphed an end-zone pass to Heap that was intercepted by rookie safety Antoine Bethea. "I go back and look at the film and I did not do enough to make the plays as a quarterback and as a leader of this team to go out and beat the Indianapolis Colts. "That's a learning experience, we all go through it. We don't make mistakes on purpose, but you have to learn from it."

Losing to the Colts, who broke Baltimoreans' heart when they snuck out of town on a snowy night in those infamous Mayflower vans nearly a quarter-century ago, only increased the pain for the town and its football team.

"We feel like it was a disaster because you lose in the first round of the playoffs, and the fact that it was the Colts and what it meant to the city of Baltimore," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "We all felt that."

Gaining true closure from that disappointment isn't likely to occur unless the Ravens perform differently with a different result given another opportunity.

They'll get a chance to exact a measure of revenge during a nationally-televised rematch with the Colts on Dec. 9 in Baltimore. Even a victory in that high-profile contest is unlikely to really change the feelings much, though, given that it lacks the heightened stakes of a playoff game.

"Last year left a bitter taste, I'm not going to sit here and lie to you," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "But I'm not feeling that anymore. I'm not looking at anyone else and saying, ‘You need to do this and you need to do that.'"

Added Reed: "It doesn't haunt you, but you think about it as a competitor. The Colts went on to win the Super Bowl and we can't hang our heads now. We want to win the Super Bowl, but you can't worry about that and sit back and say, ‘We could've done this, we could've done that.' You've got to come in next year and try to get better."

Learning from a loss is one thing, but dwelling on it or becoming obsessed is quite another. Heap has a healthy outlook for how to finally put the Colts debacle in the past.

"We're hitting our own guys now and by training camp we'll still be hitting our own guys," he said. "Until we can hit somebody else and get a few wins down the road, then you can kind of put that behind you."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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