OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Before absorbing the most lopsided home defeat in franchise history, the Baltimore Ravens hoped a win at Cincinnati in the season finale this Sunday would provide them with a third straight AFC North title.
Now, beating the Bengals might not even be good enough to get the defending Super Bowl champs a return trip to the playoffs.
The Ravens' 41-7 loss to New England on Sunday ended their four-game winning streak and ruined any chance they had to capture the division crown. Even worse, Baltimore (8-7) lost control of its own fate and now needs help to reach the postseason for a sixth consecutive year.
The only way the Ravens can qualify for the playoffs is as the second AFC wild-card team. Baltimore must beat Cincinnati and hope either Miami (8-7) or San Diego (8-7) loses or ties, or, in a stretch, the Ravens can make it with a loss if San Diego and Miami also lose and Pittsburgh (7-8) ties or loses.
"The guys know the scenarios. They're not living in a vacuum, so they understand what else has to happen," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "But our job and our task is one single-minded purpose — to win the next game."
Cincinnati, the new AFC North champion, stands in the way of Baltimore's quest to earn a playoff berth. The Bengals (10-5) could opt to rest their starters, but Harbaugh isn't counting on that happening.
"Obviously we have everything at stake and Cincinnati's got much at stake, too," he said. "Not everything — they've got the division and they're in the playoffs — but they've got some seeding issues that they're playing for. So it's going to be a highly contested game."
That was what everyone expected to happen when New England came to Baltimore in a rematch of the AFC title game. But the Patriots bolted to a 17-0 lead, maintained control throughout and turned it into a rout with three touchdowns in the final 125 seconds to hand the Ravens the second-worst defeat in franchise history behind a 37-0 embarrassment in Pittsburgh on Nov. 9, 1997.