The Baltimore Ravens were eliminated from playoff contention after allowing a game-winning touchdown in the final minute of 31-27 loss to AFC North division rival Cincinnati Bengals in the regular season finale on Dec. 31 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md.

The loss locked the Ravens in at 9-7 overall on the season, which tied them with the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills. Tennessee and Buffalo owned the tiebreaker over Baltimore, giving them the final seeds in the AFC playoffs.

Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (27) breaks up a pass intended for Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace (17) during the first half of an NFL football game in Baltimore, Sunday, Dec 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

It’s time we start recognizing the fact that Ravens’ defense simply isn’t as special as it once was…

If you tune into any of the major sporting networks and they happen to mention the Baltimore Ravens, there’s a 90 percent chance that defense is the topic of discussion. Ever since the days of legendary linebacker Ray Lewis giving his signature pregame motivational speeches, along with his famous squirrel dance after running out of the locker room tunnel, Baltimore has been known as a great defensive team. Ask any NFL pundit how can the Ravens be successful and they’ll tell you, it starts with their “great” defense. “If only the offense was better, Baltimore would win more championships.”  Thats a common belief among most Ravens fans. The only problem with that theory is it’s outdated and just flat out wrong.

Baltimore’s defense hasn’t been very good at all, less alone “great,” especially late in the season when the games matter the most in terms of securing a playoff seed.  For the last two seasons, the Ravens’ defense ranked within the top 10 in the league in points allowed; they ranked ninth in points allowed in 2016 and fourth coming into Week 17 of the 2017 season.  Yet, they gave up more than 30 points in “win-and-get-in” scenarios during both years. Baltimore needed a win against their arch rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in Week 16 of 2016  to make the playoffs and almost won the game if it hadn’t been for the Ravens’ defense giving up 31 points and a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds of a 31-27 loss.

Sounds familiar right? That’s the exact same way Baltimore was ousted from the playoff picture this year as they gave up a game-winning touchdown in the final minute of a 31-27 loss to Cincinnati, Sunday.

Talk about picking the worst times to play your worst ball. That’s been the nature of Ravens’ defense for quite some time now. It happened to the Ravens back in 2013, too. They were 8-6 with two games left that year and only needed to win both to make the playoffs. Instead, they gave up 75 points combined over the course of both games in what turned out to be two bad  losses. In other words, the defense just plain ol’ choked with it all on the line, just as it did in 2016, as well as this Sunday.

You can’t choke in big games and expect to be considered a great defense. Great defensive teams don’t give up 30-plus point games or game-winning touchdowns, especially in elimination games. And they definitely don’t allow that to happen two straight seasons.

Perry Green

AFRO Sports Editor