The game that got away

Now that it looks like the Ravens will come up just short of the AFC North title and a first-round bye, it's easy to look back at the regular season schedule and pick out the games that could have made the difference in Baltimore's shot at a division championship.

We can, of course, discuss the Week 13 loss to the Steelers, in which the Ravens held a lead with under four minutes left in the fourth quarter, but couldn't block Troy Polamalu on a safety blitz and couldn't hold onto their four-point advantage.

We can also look at the blown fourth quarter leads against the Falcons and Patriots, which resulted in late, heartbreaking losses.

If the Ravens came out of any of those affairs with a victory, the division title would likely be theirs.

But all three of those defeats came at the hands of teams who are currently are at the top of their respective conferences. While those games might have been dramatic and the losses might have stung, they certainly weren't results that the Ravens have anything to be ashamed of.

If we go all the way back to Week 2, however, we'll find a 15-10 loss to the Bengals. This was a Cincinnati team which won the AFC North in 2009 and was playing at home. At the time, the loss didn't seem like a "bad" one.

Today, however, that game is one the Ravens would like to have back. The Bengals are now a lowly 4-11, and their win over Baltimore is their only one against a playoff-bound team.

"It's a disappointing loss. It was disappointing at the time, but it's real disappointing now, knowing the late-season implications that it had," linebacker Jarret Johnson said.

Not only did the loss to Cincinnati hurt in the win-loss column, it also hurt in regards to the division tiebreaker.

There's a good chance that the Ravens and Steelers will finish the regular season with the same 12-4 record, and if that indeed does happen, Pittsburgh would win the AFC North because their 5-1 record within the division would top Baltimore's 4-2 mark. That loss to the Bengals accounts for the difference.

Of course, every team has losses to "inferior" opponents (remember, the Patriots fell to the Browns by 20), and at the time of the Week 2 loss, the Bengals were playing pretty good ball and looked like they would be competing for yet another division title this season.

Now, however, we see what they've become and shake our heads. As the Ravens prepare for the rematch against the Bengals this weekend, you can't help but wonder how things would be different if Baltimore had taken care of business in Cincinnati the first time around.

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