Joe Flacco threw three interceptions in Baltimore’s season-ending loss to Cincinnati. The defending Super Bowl champions will miss the playoffs for the first time under Coach John Harbaugh. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Joe Flacco walked slowly off the field, his hands resting on his hips and his head down. He didn’t give a glance at the Cincinnati Bengals celebrating in the end zone.

When he finally got to the sideline following Dre Kirkpatrick’s 21-yard interception return for a touchdown, Flacco pulled off his helmet and tossed it to the ground, creating a defining image for a Baltimore Ravens’ season that was just minutes away from ending.

Whether that was the moment where it had finally set in for Flacco and his teammates is unclear but they’ll have plenty of time to digest the reality.

The Ravens are not going to the playoffs. Their title defense came to an end Sunday in a 34-17 loss to the AFC North champion Bengals in front of 62,406 at Paul Brown Stadium.

The loss sealed the Ravens’ fate and ended their NFL-best five-year postseason run.

“It’s tough. It’s disappointing,” Flacco said. “But we’re an 8-8 football team — we don’t deserve to be there.”

Flacco’s comments were reiterated throughout a quiet locker room. Nobody made excuses or shifted blame. The Ravens said they simply weren’t good enough to earn the right to keep playing, not just on Sunday, when they allowed Cincinnati to score the final 17 points, but all season.

“We have no choice but to accept it,” Ravens strong-side linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. “We have a talented group of guys and coaching staff, so it’s very disappointing. We worked hard all season and did a lot of good things this year, but it wasn’t good enough to make it to the playoffs.”

It had all set up perfectly for the Ravens. They needed a victory plus a loss by either the Miami Dolphins against the New York Jets or the San Diego Chargers versus the playoff-bound Kansas City Chiefs. Just as the Ravens were getting back into their game, the Jets were taking control against the Dolphins en route to a 20-7 victory.

But the Ravens didn’t take advantage and the beneficiary was the Chargers who beat the Chiefs, 27-24 in overtime, to capture the second and final wild-card spot. The Ravens’ hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, would have gone to the playoffs if the Chiefs lost.

“It’s obviously a very difficult, disappointing loss,” said Ravens Coach John Harbaugh, who was seeking to join Bill Cowher as the only NFL coach to reach the playoffs in the first six seasons to start an NFL head-coaching career. “That’s it, that ends it. That stings.”

Their final loss might as well serve as a microcosm of their season. The Ravens persevered through a slew of offensive miscues and defensive breakdowns to come back from an 11-point halftime deficit and tie the game late in the third quarter.

But their defense couldn’t get off the field and maintain the momentum, allowing a 90-yard scoring drive that ended on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s one-yard touchdown run that gave Cincinnati a 24-17 lead with 13 minutes 29 seconds to play.

Of the Ravens’ final five possessions, three ended on Flacco interceptions, one of them on a Sam Koch punt and another when they were stopped on downs in the game’s final seconds. The Bengals, who watched Dalton throw four interceptions, kept giving the visitors opportunities to stay in the game but the Ravens kept handing them right back.

“That’s usually the case when you’re not sharp enough,” said Flacco, whose three interceptions give him 22 for the season, three more than any quarterback in Ravens history. “Usually, the same problems keep presenting themselves, even at the end of the game.”

— Baltimore Sun