It was an emotional locker room afterward, and that hurt hasnâ€™t completely subsided. It was still a hot topic of conversation during minicamps this spring.
â€œNo question after last year, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth and it doesnâ€™t go away,â€ said tight end Todd Heap several months after the 15-6 loss at M&T Bank Stadium. â€œItâ€™s still there. Iâ€™m looking forward to this season just to put it in the past and get that bad taste out of my mouth.
â€œItâ€™s never easy to put a loss like that behind you. I donâ€™t care who you are. If youâ€™re a competitor, if youâ€™re playing this game to win a Super Bowl, you canâ€™t get that out of your mouth until you hit someone else.â€
The loss to Indianapolis was lowlighted by quarterback Steve McNairâ€™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 wasnâ€™t enough to prevent the Ravens from losing their third consecutive playoff game since the 2001 season.
â€œItâ€™s bitter for me, not just because of the outcome,â€ said McNair, who telegraphed an end-zone pass to Heap that was intercepted by rookie safety Antoine Bethea. â€œI 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.
Losing to the Colts, who broke Baltimoreansâ€™ 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.
â€œWe 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,â€ defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. â€œWe all felt that.â€
Gaining true closure from that disappointment isnâ€™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, Iâ€™m not going to sit here and lie to you," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "But Iâ€™m not feeling that anymore. Iâ€™m not looking at anyone else and saying, â€˜You need to do this and you need to do that.â€™â€
Added Reed: â€œIt doesnâ€™t haunt you, but you think about it as a competitor. The Colts went on to win the Super Bowl and we canâ€™t hang our heads now. We want to win the Super Bowl, but you canâ€™t worry about that and sit back and say, â€˜We couldâ€™ve done this, we could’ve done that.â€™ Youâ€™ve got to come in next year and try to get better.â€
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.
â€œWeâ€™re hitting our own guys now and by training camp weâ€™ll still be hitting our own guys,â€ he said. â€œUntil we can hit somebody else and get a few wins down the road, then you can kind of put that behind you.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital