Sunday's victory over the Cincinnati Bengals left the Baltimore Ravens filled with regret. Even though Baltimore defeated Cincinnati, 22-0, to extend its winning streak to four games and ensure its first nonlosing season, the Ravens were eliminated from playoff contention.
"There is some disappointment obviously in the fact that we've gotten this far [and are not going to the playoffs]," Coach Brian Billick said. "The thing I'm most pleased about, the players I've talked with, there's a very real recognition . . . that we earned this record. We are who we are. The 8-7, hopefully 9-7 [after Sunday's game], we earned that, which right now, isn't good enough to get into the playoffs."
Billick said today at his weekly news conference that none of the players he has spoken to are engaging in "fateful paranoia." The Ravens recognize they got into this predicament by themselves, by dropping five of their first seven games and by losing four games by three points.
The game most Ravens players point to as truly damaging to their season was the 13-10 loss to Buffalo on Nov. 31. In that game, Bills quarterback Doug Flutie scrambled for a 17-yard gain on fourth and 15, setting up a five-yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes left to play to seal Buffalo's win.
"I know Coach Billick says to look ahead and not worry what happened in the past and those three-point losses," defensive end Michael McCrary said. "But, I can't help thinking about the fourth-and-15 late in the game against the Bills, and how Flutie ran for the first down. We should have never let that happen."
Billick hopes the players use the bitterness that accompanies barely missing the playoffs as motivation during the offseason.
Baltimore plays at New England on Sunday in the final game of the season with a chance to record its first winning season in the team's brief four-year history.
"We're going to go to New England and we're going to play our hearts out," safety Rod Woodson said. "I think we want to make a statement to ourselves to say, 'Hey, we belong in the playoffs.' We know we're a playoff caliber team. I think we're playing some of the best football in the league. I really do. [But] when you play that bad early, those games come back to haunt you this late in the season. That's unfortunate."
CAPTION: "We're a playoff caliber team," says Ravens' Rod Woodson, left. "We're playing some of the best football in the league."