CINCINNATI — Joe Flacco walked slowly off the field, his hands resting on his hips and his head down. He didn’t even give a cursory 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 Ravens’ season that was just minutes away from ending.
Whether that was the moment where it had finally set in for Flacco and the rest of his teammates is unclear, but they’ll have plenty of time to digest the reality now.
The Ravens are not going to the playoffs, their title defense officially coming to an end Sunday. A 34-17 loss to the AFC North champion Bengals in front of an announced 62,406 at Paul Brown Stadium 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. It just is what it is. Everybody in that locker room is used to winning and getting in the playoffs and giving ourselves a shot to win it all. It’s disappointing not to have done that for ourselves, but we didn’t play well and at 8-8, we don’t deserve to be in there.”
Flacco’s comments were reiterated throughout a quiet locker room. Nobody made excuses or shifted blame. To a man, the Ravens admitted that they simply weren’t good enough to earn the right to keep playing, not just on Sunday, when they allowed Cincinnati to score the game’s 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.”