The Reds suffered back-to-back home Super Rugby defeats against Aussie rivals as they went down 23-20 to the Brumbies in Brisbane on Friday.
Losing at home to the Force was expected to lead to a big response from Richard Graham's men but this result is a hammer blow to their year.
They now sit nine points off the Brumbies, who occupy top spot in the Australian conference, with just ten rounds of regular-season action to go.
Both the Reds and Brumbies now enjoy a bye week and it is clear which franchise go into their recovery the happier as the latter look in synch.
They began the game strongly with a try on eight minutes from lock Scott Fardy, who pounced on a Quade Cooper fumble five metres from his own line to power over the whitewash. Nic White's conversion made it 7-0 to visiting side as they accepted the home side's gift with open arms.
Fly-half Cooper would somewhat make amends by adding three points soon after off the tee following a scrum infringement seen by referee Steve Walsh, but there was more woe to come for the Reds only a couple of minutes later as captain James Horwill was pinged for a ruck offence. It was now 10-3.
The Reds weren't helping themselves as they insisted on kicking what possession they had away, which allowed the likes of Joe Tomane to counter. The wing was in great form and at this point was causing the Reds problems, which ultimately led to another three from White.
Tomane would be rewarded on 31 minutes when full-back Jesse Mogg found him on the right wing, finishing very well before White made it a seventeen-point lead. Fortunately for the Reds they would soon hit back via a driving maul that saw Beau Robinson go over.
White would make it a thirteen-point ball-game four minutes after the turnaround following illegal scrummaging and it was clear that the Brumbies would look to calm matters in the second-half, seemingly confident the Reds didn't have enough in their arsenal to recover.
The Reds would threaten to prove that wrong and did have opportunities to cross when Chris Feauai-Sautia and Will Genia went close to scoring within one minute of each other before wing Rod Davies coughed up the ball five metres from the try-line on 58 minutes.
However, the biggest blunder was yet to come. Cooper was the man to miss the chance to cut the gap when he went over the whitewash from a set-move only for Tomane to put in a try-saving tackle that saw the fly-half spill possession. Luckily for the Wallaby playmaker, a try from blindside flanker Ed Quirk off a dominant scrum spared his blushes somewhat.
Hope of a comeback win was further enhanced with ten minutes remaining when Cooper landed three points from 40 metres to make it 23-20, but the away side held on to put the pressure on the chasing Waratahs, who face an in-form Force side in Perth on Saturday.
Tries: Robinson, Quirk
Con: Cooper 2
Pen: Cooper 2
Tries: Fardy, Tomane
Con: White 2
Pen: White 3
Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Anthony Fainga'a, 11 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ed O'Donoghue, 20 Curtis Browning, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Mike Harris/Dave McDuling, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Jordan Smiler, 5 Tom Staniforth, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Silva, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 JP Smith, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Christian Lealiifano.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: James Leckie (Australia), Will Houston (Australia)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)