OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens’ playoff outlook isn’t quite dead yet.
It’s practically on life support, though.
With four remaining regular-season games, the Ravens have plummeted into a logjam quartet of 6-6 franchises vying for the second and final AFC wild-card berth.
In order for the Ravens to be assured of returning to the postseason as they currently rank one game behind the Jacksonville Jaguars in the wild-card standings, they’ll probably need to win all four games against the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders.
Following a 27-14 loss Monday night to the Green Bay Packers marred by penalties, turnovers and red-zone failures on both sides of the football, the reality of their predicament began to set in for the Ravens.
And the Ravens, Steelers, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets have identical 6-6 marks.
"We’ve got no choice now, we’ve backed ourselves against the wall," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "I don’t think 9-7 is going to get it done. We’ve done this to ourselves. Across the board, we didn’t play well enough to win. Now, we need to win four games."
Accomplishing that feat definitely isn’t impossible. Not when you consider the competition features the 2-10 Lions, 5-7 Bears, 6-6 Steelers and the 4-8 Raiders.
"We are fighting for our lives right now, but we are still breathing," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We are still alive. I think our character and heart will show through as we finish up the season."
For the Ravens to make a serious run, though, they’ll need more than strong intangibles.
They’re going to have to immediately correct some glaring shortcomings.
In a tightly-called game Monday by referee Walt Anderson’s crew with 310 yards of combined penalties for the second-most in NFL history since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Seattle Seahawks game in 1976, the Ravens were flagged a dozen times for 135 yards.
That included five pass interference penalties, the most any NFL team has been hit with since 2001. Now, the Ravens lead the NFL with 12 defensive pass interference penalties.
Some of it can be attributed to the way the league emphasis on giving offenses every chance to put up crowd-pleasing points.
However, the Ravens’ failure to adjust in the final month of the season is a troublesome issue.
"You can only be so upset," cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "That’s the way the league is going. It seems like week after week, you’re getting less rights as a defensive back. I don’t remember each and every pass interference penalty. That penalty by nature is not clear-cut.
"It seems week by week, year after year, it seems to be leaning more toward the offense. It’s important for us to adjust and grow with the game. It definitely accounted for some of the large chunks they were able to get. It had an impact on the game."
Foxworth was flagged for an 18-yard pass interference penalty in the first quarter. Frank Walker was hit with a 25-yard infraction that set up a Packers touchdown.
Rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb’s 13-yard pass interference led to quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ second touchdown pass.
"You have to grow with the game," Foxworth said. "I’ve never been one and I don’t think this team, to blame the refs or do anything like that. You just grow with it.
“You see what’s happening. You couldn’t touch them before. You really, really can’t touch them. That’s what it is."
The Ravens, who also had problems with false starts along the offensive line against Green Bay, also rank second in total penalties in the league with 90 and second in penalty yardage with 868.
"It’s not discipline," Harbaugh said. "That word rankles me. It’s too easy. It’s the way you play a technique. Some of the interference calls were good calls. Some of them, I don’t know where the interference was.
"You coach your guys to keep your hands off them and run with them and make a play on the ball. The tackles starting early in pass protection, no, there’s no reason to do that. We know what the snap count is."
And wide receiver Derrick Mason’s offensive pass interference miscue cost him a 43-yard reception. He made the situation worse by losing his temper again and arguing with the officials to draw a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
"That should never happen," Harbaugh said. "You keep your poise, you get off the field. You’re upset about it. Derrick has got to keep his poise and come off the field and not compound the problem. We tell our guys if something happens, don’t compound the problem. ..
"The penalties have got to be improved. Too many penalties. It’s a two-way deal. It was called a certain way, but the penalties have got to stop. We’ve got four games left. We’ve got to make it right."
Mason’s penalty pushed the Ravens back to their own six-yard line with a daunting 3rd-and-32 to go for the first down.
Mason declined an interview request following the game.
"There are some things we just have to cut out," said middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who committed a 15-yard facemask penalty when he lassoed wide receiver Greg Jennings to the ground. "We just need to figure it out and keep moving.
“I just think we have to stop the things that are going to get us in trouble, whether it’s the penalties, whether it’s the turnovers. In football, there are two things I promise you will beat you: turnovers and penalties.”
However, penalties aren’t the Ravens’ only problem.
Harbaugh was incensed about the defense’s inability to halt the Packers in the red zone.
Green Bay scored three touchdowns on six drives inside the Ravens’ 20-yard line as Rodgers delivered touchdown passes from two, eight and 19 yards.
"We’ve got to be better in the red zone," Harbaugh said. "Whether it’s the defense that we’re in, the way it’s executed, that has got to get fixed. If you’re going to play good defense in the NFL, you’d better be really good in the red zone.
"We’ve been good around here in the red zone for a long time, and the places I’ve been before we’ve been good in the red zone. That’s something we’re going to get better at."
Meanwhile, quarterback Joe Flacco is struggling with his decision-making, accuracy and health.
Dealing with a sprained ankle, a bruised hip and a sore shoulder, Flacco made a terrible choice when he opted to roll out to his right and throw across his body for an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
Intended for Demetrius Williams, the ball wound up in the hands of Packers cornerback Tramon Williams.
"I think it was a stupid decision and a worse throw," Flacco said. "It was second down, so you really didn’t need to make a play there. You can give yourself another shot on third down and still kick a field goal.
"I didn’t set my feet. I didn’t get enough on the ball and I underthrew it to him."
Flacco wound up completing just 15 of 36 passes for 137 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions for a 27.2 passer rating.
In the fourth quarter, he completed 3 of 9 passes for 26 yards and two interceptions.
"I just think they’re throws he shouldn’t throw in those situations," Harbaugh said. "The one in the red zone is obvious. The guy is trying hard to find a way to win a game. The thing about Joe is he’s a competitor. He fights.
"He’s running around and trying to make some throws. It’s part of the process in his development as a quarterback. It’s time to get through that and make those decisions, especially in the red zone, and put us in position to win a tough game like that."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.