Joe Flacco's interception with under three minutes remaining cost the Ravens the game.
Baltimore was threatening to take the lead with third-and-7 on the Colts' 14-yard line with 2:49 left in the game. But the Ravens were hurried at the line of scrimmage.
Baltimore had to decide whether to be conservative and run the football to set up a game-winning field goal, or pass to try for a first down or touchdown. Baltimore chose the aggressive play, but the Colts were prepared. Linebacker Gary Brackett made an interception covering Ravens tailback Ray Rice to seal the win for Indianapolis.
"I didn’t really think the guy that intercepted it was going to drop out the way he did," a surprised Flacco said. "It was a bad job by me. I might have been able to get Kelley [Washington] on the outside. I kind of rushed to get the ball snapped and made a bad decision."
The play was the final example of Baltimore continually being one step behind the Colts in the red zone Sunday. The Colts took the cliché of "bend but don’t break" to new levels in holding the Ravens to five field goals, despite Baltimore having no issues driving the football in between the 20s and putting up 354 total yards.
The Ravens were 0 for 4 in trips to the red zone, highlighted by Flacco's pick and three failed attempts to run the football from the Colts' 1 in the fourth quarter. Better execution in any of those four scenarios could have knocked the Colts (10-0) from the undefeated ranks and given the Ravens a marquee win that was sorely needed.
"We have to find a way to score touchdowns," Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "You can't attempt six field goals in a game like this, or potentially seven. You can’t do that."
Resorting to field goals against Peyton Manning will almost always result in a loss.
Manning (299 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) had his issues with the Ravens' defense. But he was still able to orchestrate two masterful touchdown drives of 87 and 80 yards that made the difference.
According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, Manning was 5-of-7 with a touchdown and a 117.3 passer rating in the red zone against the Ravens. It was a stark contrast to Baltimore’s offensive production close to the goal line.
"We scored touchdowns, they scored field goals," Manning said. "That was kind of the difference."
Adding to Baltimore’s plight was its inability to break off big runs. The Ravens rushed for 98 yards on 31 carries (3.2 yard average) and their longest run was 16 yards.
Baltimore got most of its yards through the air. Flacco threw for 256 yards and receiver Derrick Mason was the biggest target with nine receptions for 142 yards.
The Ravens' remaining schedule
But the Colts tightened up in the red zone as the Ravens became easier to defend. Baltimore couldn't get many yards on the ground and the short field limited the team's options in the passing game.
"They’re not the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL by accident at this stage," Cameron said of Indianapolis. "You have to give them some credit. We can execute better and I can do better."
The loss puts Baltimore’s playoff hopes on thin ice.
With six games to go, the Ravens (5-5) trail the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4), Jacksonville Jaguars (6-4), Denver Broncos (6-4) and Houston Texans (5-4) in a crowded field for the AFC wild-card. It appears 10 wins could be the magic number this season, which means the Ravens would have to win at least five of their last six games.
It starts with a huge AFC North showdown next week against the Steelers. Both teams are coming off tough losses and still have to meet twice this season. Those games probably will determine the playoff fates of each club.
"That’s a tough loss and it will be tough to swallow, but you’ve got to move on," Ravens defensive lineman Dwan Edwards said. "You got Pittsburgh [next], and that’s a division rival and you need to try to get the 'W.' That’s all we can do."
Mason was blunt about Baltimore's prospects moving forward.
"We all understand what needs to happen now, we do," Mason said. "You can’t get in the playoffs unless you win 10 games or more, and 10 games don’t automatically put you in in the AFC.
"So we know the road ahead of us. We have to win every game from here on out, point blank."