COMMENTARY | A deafening look was noticeable upon the face of Joe Flacco after losing to the Cleveland Browns for the first time in his career.
The Baltimore Ravens find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Losers of three straight contests, the defending champions are two games under .500 and are in jeopardy of missing the postseason for the first time during the Joe Flacco-John Harbaugh era.
That makes Sunday's divisional game against the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals a pivotal one. It will make or break the season for a team that endured plenty of overhaul during the offseason.
Granted, some of the results that have been on display this season do not come as much of a surprise. Flacco's inconsistency is due in large part to the absence of his most valuable offensive targets. The loss of Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta has hurt the Ravens late in games, where the Ravens have struggled to produce consistently.
However, what wasn't expected was the staggering fall of the Ravens rushing attack. The duo of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce has merely averaged 71.6 rushing yards per game, ranked 29th in the NFL and last in yards rushing per attempt.
This is a result due in large part to the lack of execution from an offensive line that played a major role in the playoff run last season. Gino Gradkowski has disappointed on a timely basis in both run-blocking and pass protection. Michael Oher continues to prove he is a liability at right tackle.
All-Pro offensive guard Marshal Yanda has been a major disappointment in all facets of the game. The lack of miscommunication was astounding during Sunday's loss to Cleveland, where Browns defenders were rushing freely into the Ravens backfield.
A veteran coaching staff should be capable of fixing these mistakes. There is plenty of blame that can be spread out for the miscues, most notably to offensive line coach Andy Moeller and run-game coordinator Juan Castillo.
The same problems arising have to stem from the stubbornness of the men running the operation, especially since there was no improvement for the Ravens following their bye week.
However, the players are in an unfamiliar situation. Is it the case of a dreaded Super Bowl hangover, where the same drive for a championship isn't as evident?
A win over the weekend not only keeps the Ravens within the wild card race, but also the wide open division race with half the season remaining. The question here is beyond whether the team is talented enough.
A loss at home against a division rival will guarantee an end to their playoff hopes for this year. A record of 3-6 may not mathematically rule them out, but it will say a lot about the state of the roster if it even gets to that point.
Ultimately, the Ravens have played in the biggest of games, and accomplished their goal of becoming champions last year. But that is moot in present time for one of the league's model franchises, who could learn there is work to be done in order to come close to that level of success again.Matt Miselis has covered the Baltimore Ravens four five years. He has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report and has been featured on ESPN Radio and CBSSports.com. Follow him on Twitter.