In the final seconds of Sunday's 17-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the disgruntled voices emanating inside M&T Bank Stadium shouted "Refs, you [stink]" while a crowd of 71,161 waved their fingers at the officials.
The Ravens, however, pointed at only themselves. Although they disagreed with three defensive penalties on the Bengals' game-winning drive, the Ravens blamed themselves - not the officials - for losing their grip on first place in the AFC North.
The final, painful blow came when the Ravens let Cincinnati wide receiver Andre Caldwell run wide open for a 20-yard touchdown catch with 22 seconds left, capping one of the most excruciating defensive series in team history.
Asked whether he questioned any of the defensive penalties on that critical series, coach John Harbaugh said: "I'm not thinking about it. I just think we have to play better. The idea is to play so well that those things become irrelevant."
He added: "You have to find a way not to have penalties. You have to find a way to get them sacked. You have to find a way to make a play - an interception, whatever it might be - and I think we all have to do a better job at that."
Overaggressiveness once again cost the Ravens' defense. On Oct. 4 in New England, it was roughing-the-passer penalties. Against the upstart Bengals, the flags came downfield.
Three penalties - illegal contact on Chris Carr, unnecessary roughness on Ray Lewis and pass interference on Frank Walker - accounted for 30 of the 80 yards on Cincinnati's last drive.
A second straight loss has dropped the Ravens (3-2) one game behind the Bengals (4-1) and into a second-place tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2).
"You don't get here by blaming other people and by making excuses," Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "I don't think any of us are going to do that. We're not going to turn into those type of people now."
That's not to say the Ravens supported the officials' calls.
"It really [stinks] to get penalized for playing physical football like that," defensive end-linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "I'm not sure if Ray hit him in the head. I'm not sure Chris Carr did illegal touching. I'm not sure if Frank Walker did illegal touching. In a game that close, I think it has to be 'Hands down, I got to call that.' "
The Ravens, whose offense was shut out for the first 53 minutes, put the game in the defense's hands with one big offensive play.
Catching a short pass at midfield, running back Ray Rice used his left arm to keep from falling down and raced down the sideline for his second career touchdown. His 48-yard score put the Ravens ahead 14-10 with 6:59 left in the game.
After holding the Bengals without a first down on the next series, the Ravens' defense thought it would close out the game when Cincinnati got the ball back at its own 20-yard line with 2:15 remaining.
Instead, the Ravens gave up their first fourth-quarter touchdown since the season opener.
"Being up and [getting a long field], I'd take that opportunity every day of the week," Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "I want to be in that opportunity every single time."
The three costly penalties on the final defensive series were:
* On the first play of that possession, Carr was called for illegal contact on Caldwell. Instead of an incomplete pass, the Bengals moved 5 yards and received another first down at their own 25-yard line.
"It wasn't the most obvious call on the face of the earth, you know," Carr said. "It wasn't like, man, he [abused] him."
Asked to describe the play, Carr said Caldwell "went outside and back inside, and I was right there and jammed him. He grabbed my face mask and threw me down. That was the play."
* On first down at the 50, Lewis was penalized for unnecessary roughness when he hit Cincinnati's Chad Ochocinco coming over the middle. The collision put Ochocinco on his back and knocked off his helmet.
Lewis, who called the roughing-the-passer penalties last week "embarrassing," didn't speak to reporters after Sunday's game.
That 15-yard penalty gave Cincinnati a first down at the Ravens' 35.
"It was a good hit. But I think he should have just pushed me down instead of hitting me," Ochocinco said. "I was in midair, and I had no way of protecting myself."
* On third-and-16 from the Ravens' 30, Walker was flagged for pass interference after he broke up a pass to Ochocinco. The 10-yard penalty was called on Ed Reed, but Walker acknowledged it was on him.
"I felt like I went around him and batted the ball down," Walker said. "But we haven't watched film yet, so I could be inaccurate. I really didn't think he was going to throw the ball because he was covered."
On the next play, Caldwell caught the uncontested touchdown pass, the fifth straight week that Carson Palmer has led a scoring drive at the end of the fourth quarter or overtime this season.
"You're going to have penalties," Johnson said. "What bothers me is the way we played against the run and the way we let the ball get downfield. The way we played against that run, I take that really personal. That's something we got to fix."
There were mistakes that had nothing to do with the officials. The Ravens allowed their first 100-yard rusher in 40 games; Cedric Benson cracked 100 yards on a 28-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Foxworth initially stopped on a deep pass to Chris Henry, which resulted in a 73-yard catch and a second-quarter field goal. Trevor Pryce was called for illegal formation (his head was over the center) on an extra-point miss, which allowed Cincinnati to kick again and take a 10-7 lead late in the third quarter. And on that penalty-filled last drive, the Ravens watched the slow-footed Palmer run to convert a fourth-and-1.
"We say we're this defense and we got to be at it all times," Suggs said.
Said Johnson: "If you are going to make those penalties, you better play well enough on other downs to make up for them. We didn't do that."
The offense hurt the Ravens as much as their defense. The Ravens gained a season-worst 257 yards, and Joe Flacco threw an interception in the red zone for the second straight week.
In the end, the Ravens' defense scored as many touchdowns as the offense. Reed returned an interception for a touchdown in the second quarter.
"When you score seven points as an offense, you never feel like you hold up your end of the bargain," Flacco said.
The Ravens face the Bengals again Nov. 8, but that's the least of their worries. Over the next three weeks, the Ravens travel to Minnesota (5-0), have their bye week and then play the Denver Broncos (5-0) at home.
"We get [the Bengals] in four weeks, and hopefully we play well enough to be in a position to make that game matter," Harbaugh said. "That's our responsibility."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times