Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that "we probably should have a better record" as his team braces for a visit from the Pittsburgh Steelers Nov. 4 in an AFC North matchup that has attained must-win status for the Ravens.
The Ravens (4-4) were manhandled in every aspect of the game, giving up 27 straight points after an early 7-0 lead, and they have lost two straight for the first time this season.
"It's not as bad as it felt after the game," Harbaugh said. "You draw from that. Guys played super hard. They played very hard. We just didn't play well all the time, and I think the Panthers made a lot of really good plays."
After a 3-1 start, the Ravens have slipped to third place in the division, trailing the Steelers (4-2-1) and Cincinnati Bengals (5-3). They face both of those teams at home in the next two games, with a bye week in between.
"We're 4-4 in a .500 league," Harbaugh said. "We're a game out of first place, and we got our season in front of us. We'd all love to have a better record than we do right now. We probably should have a better record, but the record is what it is."
The Ravens beat the Steelers, 26-14, in Pittsburgh Sept. 30, but since then the Steelers have won three in a row to rise to the top of the division. The Ravens can ill afford to lose more ground, with road games at Atlanta, Kansas City and San Diego still on the schedule.
If the Ravens win their next two games, they will be 6-4, with a season sweep of Pittsburgh, and they will be right back in the discussion for the AFC North title. If they split those two games, or worse, they will once again be left clinging to playoff aspirations.
The importance of these next two games can't be diminished, as a fourth straight season without a playoff berth could spur wholesale changes in the organization.
HARBAUGH STILL CONFUSED BY FAKE PUNT PENALTY: Harbaugh is careful not to publicly criticize officials, but a day later he still seemed baffled by an illegal shift penalty that negated a successful fake punt by the Ravens.
"Never seen that called in 21 years," Harbaugh said. "The center was set for a second, so I'm not sure what the call was. ... You can't control the official. The official makes the call that he makes."
Instead of gaining the first down on the fake -- from the Ravens' 10-yard line -- the Ravens punted, and the Panthers promptly drove and scored, their first of four straight scoring possessions in the first half.
"It was a huge play in the game," Harbaugh said.
NO UPDATE ON STANLEY: Harbaugh offered no update on starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who sustained a leg injury against the Panthers. "I'm not going to get into all that," Harbaugh said. "We'll see how it goes."
The Ravens were already missing a pair of starters on the offensive line, as left guard Alex Lewis (neck) and right tackle James Hurst (back) each missed his second straight game at Carolina. With Stanley hobbled, the Ravens turned to Jermaine Eluemunor, recently promoted from the practice squad, at left tackle.
TEAMS COUNTERING RAVENS PASS RUSH: Registering 11 sacks in a game -- a franchise record and one shy of the NFL mark -- is bound to get people's attention.
After the Ravens dropped Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota 11 times Oct. 14, they have recorded just one sack during the past two weeks and never got close to sacking Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
"People are playing completely different," Harbaugh said. "We're not getting too much dropback pass. People aren't going to drop back pass and let us rush the quarterback and cover."
Harbaugh noted that teams are increasingly using play-action, bootlegs and other misdirection to keep the Ravens defense from playing "downhill."
"We've got to adjust to that," Harbaugh said. "I think part of that is we've got to play with discipline. We've got to play with discipline in terms of assignment, controlling the edge, eyes where they're supposed to be. ... We're going to see a lot of that going forward the rest of the season."
NO COMMENT ON BROWNS FIRING: Harbaugh said he had no comment on the Cleveland Browns' move to fire head coach Hue Jackson, saying he had just learned of the move. Jackson, who was on Harbaugh's staff with the Ravens in 2008 and 2009, went 3-36-1 as the Browns' coach, with one of the three wins coming this year against the Ravens, 12-9, in overtime.
That game could loom large as the Ravens scramble for playoff position later this season. The Ravens face the Browns again in the regular-season finale Dec. 30.