Everyone wants to look for someone to blame for yesterday's crushing loss to the Steelers.
Should we blame Anquan Boldin or T.J. Houshmandzadeh for their dropped passes late in the fourth quarter during the comeback efforts? Should we blame Marcus Smith for the dubious holding penalty that brought back Lardarius Webb's go-ahead touchdown? Should we blame the defense for allowing Ben Roethlisberger to convert a third-and-19 (yes, a third-and-19!) with the game on the line?
How about the offensive line for allowing Joe Flacco to get beaten up play after play throughout the second half? Or Flacco himself for that floating interception that spurred on the Steelers' rally and for leading an offense which put up just 128 yards all game? Or how about the coaches for allowing this meltdown of all meltdowns to occur?
OK, enough. Instead of doing all that, let's come at this another way.
Is it a cop out to just say that the Ravens simply weren't good enough?
Listen, I thought coming into the game that the Ravens would beat the Steelers because they were the more talented team. And I honestly still think that the Ravens beat Pittsburgh in pure talent. Go up and down the roster and tell me otherwise (it might be close, but I give Baltimore the edge).
But when it boils down to it, the Ravens did not play well enough to make a deep run in the playoffs. I'm talking about yesterday, but I'm also talking about this team in a big-picture sense over the course of the last five months.
Think about it. Their offense struggled to put together any type of consistent effort. They couldn't become the smooth, dominant passing team that everyone expected, and the rushing attack, while it had its moments, was unable to carry the load because of shaky line play and the lack of a physical, downhill, go-get-me-a-yard back.
The supposed best wide receiving corps in the NFL dropped the ball, literally and figuratively. Boldin, Houshmandzadeh, Derrick Mason and Donte' Stallworth (remember him?) failed to show up in big moments time after time.
Baltimore's quarterback struggled with that consistency thing as well. Flacco looked like he was on the verge of becoming a top-notch quarterback at times this season, but at other times - especially in big moments - he looked lost. Completely lost. The three-year vet is a solid NFL quarterback, but he's not at the stage where he can say, "Jump on my back, boys, I'm taking you to the promised land" just yet.
Defensively, while the Ravens righted the ship down the stretch and played at a high level for most of the last two-plus months, they still made too many mistakes in coverage and failed to get enough of a consistent pass rush from someone not named Terrell Suggs.
You can certainly ask questions about some of the coaching decisions as well, like offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's bizarre insistence on running fade routes to 5-foot-10 receivers inside the red zone and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's season-long issue of when to blitz and when to sit back in coverage.
Perhaps more important than any of the previous factors listed, however, is that Baltimore lacked a killer instinct all year. Elite, conference championship-caliber teams don't blow 14-point halftime leads in big games. They don't put up 28 yards of total offense in the second half of a playoff game. They don't turn the ball over three times in nine minutes or allow 24 second-half points.
Those mistakes shouldn't ever happen in big games, but it seems like the same familiar script that Ravens fans were fed week after week this season.
If you want to play the blame game for yesterday's loss in Pittsburgh, there's plenty to go around. Players, coaches, front office members all deserve some. But the fact is, the Ravens probably didn't deserve to win that game for any number of reasons.
"We're both good football teams," Flacco said after the game, "and the bottom line is they're better at winning right now than we are. We have to improve. We're just not there yet."
Plain, simple and correct.