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OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens' effort to reach the postseason now includes this undesirable exercise: scoreboard watching.
An unexpected 25-13 loss in Houston on Sunday left Baltimore (9-6) in need of help to get into the playoffs.
Had the Ravens handled the Texans and defeated Cleveland at home this Sunday, Baltimore would be in the postseason for the sixth time in seven years.
The scenario now is far more difficult.
For the Ravens to get in, beating the Browns is only the first step. San Diego must also lose at Kansas City on Sunday afternoon.
That's it. Baltimore's only other option, beating Cleveland and having Cincinnati lose twice, disappeared when the Bengals topped Denver on Monday night.
The key for the Ravens, according to coach John Harbaugh, is to expend all their energy on the first part of the equation.
"Our emphasis is completely and squarely on the Cleveland Browns," Harbaugh said Monday. "That's what we're going to be doing. I'm sure they'll flash the score up there and I'm sure we'll see it.
"But we're not going to be immersed in any other game. That's a recipe for disaster. We will be wholly and fully engaged on the task at hand."
By losing to the Texans, Baltimore not only relinquished control of its destiny, but lost any chance of winning the AFC North. The Ravens are also assured of opening on the road if they do reach the postseason.
It was a devastating defeat, especially because Houston was starting fourth-string quarterback Case Keenum.
Coming in as a five-point favorite, the Ravens fell behind 16-0 at halftime and never mounted a rally in the second half.
Joe Flacco went 21 for 50 for 195 yards and three interceptions, Justin Forsett ran 10 times for 19 yards and Baltimore finished with a meager 211 yards on 68 offensive plays.
"Our defense played well. Our special teams played well, and we didn't do a single thing on offense," Flacco said. "We just got beat up and whopped."
The Ravens intend to look at that game as they would a dropped pass — shrug your shoulders, get back in the huddle and try to do better next time.
"You learn from adversity. I guess I don't feel as somber about it as you all do," Harbaugh said. "We're excited about the opportunity. It gives us an opportunity to do something even greater, surprise everybody even more. That's what we plan on doing, that's what we're going to try to do."
A year ago, the Ravens traveled to Cincinnati needing a win and some help to get into the playoffs. Baltimore lost 34-17.
"We've been in this situation, where we didn't really control our own destiny, and we didn't play well," Flacco recalled.
"All we can control is going out there against Cleveland and winning a football game. I am not sure what all else has to happen, but the bottom line is that we have to go out there and win a game."
That, or go home.
"We need to go play our best game of the year," Harbaugh said. "We're playing a game for the playoffs. We have a chance to make the playoffs. It starts with winning the game. That's what we have to do. So that's our focus, completely, totally, 100 percent. That's all we're thinking about."
Before losing to the Texans, the Ravens had won four of five. The one defeat in that stretch was a 34-33 misstep at home against San Diego, and that is why the Chargers (9-6) own the tiebreaker over Baltimore.
"We have to win and hope folks lose," Ravens receiver Torrey Smith said. "It's not a real good feeling. We have a tough game ahead. We have to pull it off and hope we get a good Christmas present."
Earlier this season, the Ravens squeezed past Cleveland 23-21. But the Browns (7-8) have lost four straight and haven't won in Baltimore since 2007.
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