Harbaugh: Despite slide, Ravens’ dreams still alive (playoff berth clinched)

Back-to-back losses, let alone three in a row, has been unheard of for the Ravens since 2009. And how about two straight home defeats? Also rare.

But Baltimore is in the middle of its worst slide in three years - three consecutive defeats, including two straight at home for the first time since 2007 - and because of that, its once comfortable padding atop the AFC North has dwindled to one game with two weeks left in the regular season.

Coach John Harbaugh ended what seemed like a moratorium on looking ahead to publicly reassure his spiraling squad after Sunday’s loss to the Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium.

“The most important thing to understand, and our guys understand this, every goal that we have, starting with our first goal, which is to win the AFC North, is in front of us. It’s still there,” Harbaugh said. “And every dream that we have, which is the ultimate dream, is still available to us, and that’s what you keep in mind.

“It’s a tough league for tough guys. You’ve got to find a way to put it behind you, improve, address the issues, own them and move on. And that’s what we plan on doing. That’s really the message. That’s going to be the message now, it’s going to be the message next week, it’s going to be the message going forward.”

The Ravens’ losing streak has sunk them to 9-5. The Bengals are now 8-6 after winning five of their last six, and the Steelers are playing right now with a chance to draw even with Cincinnati for second place in the division with a win over Dallas.

Baltimore is not yet eliminated from contention for a first-round bye, but it seems unlikely with the Texans at 12-2, the Broncos at 11-3 and the Patriots at 10-3 entering tonight’s game against the 49ers. At this point, winning the division and getting into the playoffs has to be the Ravens’ primary concern after their tumble to begin December.

Safety Ed Reed was troubled by what has transpired.

“We just lost three games straight. I wouldn’t say spiraling out of control, but it’s been bad these last few weeks,” he said. “We’ve been kind of decimated with injuries and everything and with those key injuries out, there’s really no excuse for it because we are a great team. But it just kind of got out of hand early (against Denver) and we didn’t play a great game as players. I think the best three players today that only really came to work was Morgan (Cox), Sam (Koch) and (Justin) Tucker. I’m sure there was a bunch of great plays because it’s not as bad as you think it is when you’re on tape.

“But as a single player right now, as an individual, I’m embarrassed as a player to come out and perform the way we have. But you have weeks like that. We’re not the only team that lost today and we still have two more games. But as a Ravens nation, as a player, I’m embarrassed for our city.”

Quarterback Joe Flacco said the adversity of going through this funk is challenging the team.

“It tests all of us. It tests our leadership. It tests our toughness,” he said. “We believe we have a tight locker room. It’s going to test that. We’re a 9-5 football team, and it feels like we’re 0-14 right now. But that’s just the feeling that you have right after a game like this. It’s going to test a lot of things, and it’s going to test a lot of things in us guys. We believe we’re pretty stand-up guys, tough guys, guys with character.

“We’re going to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror when this thing is all said and done and honestly say that we are those type of guys or that we’re not those type of guys. I believe that we are, and you’re going to be able to see that over the next six, seven weeks, however long we have left.”

Wideout Anquan Boldin said he still believes the team will accomplish its goals, as long as it eliminates the mistakes that have contributed to the three-game skid.

“I’m not discouraged at all. I’m just frustrated,” he said. “I still feel like we’re going to win the division. We’re still going to make noise in the playoffs, but we’ve just got to cut out the dumb stuff.”

Update: As a result of the Steelers’ loss to the Cowboys, the Ravens have clinched a playoff berth. This will be the team’s NFL-best fifth straight appearance in the postseason.