The Ravens (9-5) still have a solid grip on making the playoffs, and will definitely earn a place in the postseason if they are able to win their final two regular-season games. They current hold the sixth and final AFC playoff spot, which is the second wild-card berth, and would play the New York Jets in the first round of the playoffs if the season ended today.
In the aftermath of a 13-9 loss to the Steelers triggered by officials controversially awarding Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes a game-winning touchdown catch following an instant-replay review after overruling an initial call that he didn’t score, the Ravens need to defeat the Dallas Cowboys (9-5) in the final game at Texas Stadium and the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9) at home to conclude the regular season.
"Yes, we really wanted to win this one bad, but you can’t hold onto this one too long," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We’ve got two games for the rest of our season. We win out, we’re in the playoffs. We don’t, it’s not looking good. So, we had better handle business."
That business begins with putting aside a stinging loss to a division rival and preparing for an extremely difficult road game against a Dallas team laden with stars in quarterback Tony Romo, wide receiver Terrell Owens and outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware.
After registering the worst statistical game of his career with a 22.2 passer rating, a 39.3 completion percentage and 115 passing yards, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco returned to work at the Ravens’ training complex by 9:30 a.m. Monday to watch the film of the Pittsburgh game and begin studying the Cowboys.
"We’re a resilient football team, we really are," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That’s indicative of where our football team is. Our guys have moved on. You take the emotions and throw them away. You learn from the corrections and let’s go forward. It’s next game up in the NFL."
There’s ample evidence of the Ravens’ ability to recover from a setback.
Following a string of three consecutive losses to the Steelers, the Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts earlier this season, Baltimore went on a four-game winning streak that included three road victories.
After a 30-10 beating against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the Ravens won three games in a row by a combined margin of 94-20.
"You have to be mature about it," offensive tackle Willie Anderson said. "You have to be a man about it."
Especially with the uncertain playoff outlook that would be created if the Ravens don’t win their final two games to finish 11-5 overall with an 8-4 AFC conference record.
The Ravens have an identical record to three AFC East contenders: the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. Baltimore would get the playoff berth over the Dolphins if the teams both finish 11-5 by virtue of a 27-13 head-to-head win and would edge the Patriots because of a superior conference record.
Meanwhile, the Jets can clinch the division and not be involved in the wild-card tiebreaking procedures by winning their last two games.
"One of the things I’m going to tell my young guys is, is that we have to keep going," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "There’s two more games left, we can go in 11-5. You deal with what you deal with. The bottom line is your motivation cannot change. You take a loss just like you take a win: strap it up, short week, let’s go to Dallas."
Losing to the Cowboys wouldn’t eliminate the Ravens from contention, but it would mean they would require assistance to still make the postseason.
"We’re going to go there ready to play," Flacco said. "We’ve got two games left to get some wins and prove that we’re a playoff team, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do."
While the Ravens have demonstrated an ability to rebound from losses, there’s also doubt raised about their ability to finish games against quality opponents.
They are 2-5 against teams with winning records, falling to the Steelers 23-20 in overtime after squandering a 13-3 halftime lead, losing 13-10 to Tennessee after being outscored 10-0 in the fourth quarter and losing again to Pittsburgh while being outscored 10-0 in the fourth quarter.
For the season, Baltimore has outscored opponents 98-43 in the fourth quarter.
"In that situation in crunch time, most of the season we’ve been really good," Harbaugh said. "Offensively, we’ve been able to put teams away with drives and points at the end. And, defensively, we’ve been able to stop people. You have to win in crunch time, and that’s something we’re going to have to do this week to win.
"[Sunday] was just one of those games that at some point in time we are going to have the capability to win. And it better be sooner rather than later because we’re playing one of those games again Saturday night."