At this stage of the season, it really is a “win-is-a-win” celebration of sorts after each victory.
That’s how the Ravens handled Sunday’s 26-10 triumph over the Miami Dolphins.
Call it “workmanlike” or “professional” or “plodding”…but the Ravens used a balanced attack and assistance from a horrible tackling effort by Miami to move to 6-2 in the AFC North in advance of a Thursday night contest at Atlanta. Baltimore’s intermission lead of 13-10 was hardly impressive, as they squandered three different red zone trips and were fortunate that the Dolphins themselves butchered a 3rd and one play late in the first half on the Ravens one yard line. Both teams ran the ball well throughout the first 30 minutes, but it was the Ravens who made a significant personnel move in the third quarter, as John Harbaugh benched a lackluster Fabian Washington and inserted Josh Wilson at cornerback, a move that paid dividends throughout the final 30 minutes. After getting torched in the Buffalo game two weeks ago, Washington didn’t fare much better in the opening half of Sunday’s game with Miami and Harbaugh made the switch, although afterwards he was evasive, as always, about both Fabian’s performance and his benching.
Despite the rather lopsided score at the end, the entire second half might well have changed on one play that WASN’T made by the Miami defense. Trailing 20-10 with 2:59 to play in the 3rd quarter, the Dolphins were a play away from making it 20-17, but cornerback Sean Smith – stepping in front of a ball intended for Anquan Boldin near the sideline – dropped a sure-fire interception-return-for-a-touchdown. Rather than 20-17, it turned into 23-10 and 26-10. The play was eerily similar to two Sunday’s ago when Donte Whitner, in nearly the exact same location on the field, dropped a near-certain-INT-for-TD with Buffalo ahead 24-10 in the 2nd quarter.
Big plays – either made for your team or not made against you – change football games. And Smith’s gaffe in the 3rd quarter of Sunday’s game was a game-changer in a bad way for the Dolphins.
Baltimore’s second half offensive effort was much more polished than what they produced in the first half. Flacco was sharp throughout and Ray Rice ran it and caught it with similar success. Derrick Mason produced a 3rd quarter TD catch on a sizzler from Flacco and two Billy Cundiff short-range field goals finalized the scoring.
That Miami didn’t score a point in the 2nd half was testament to Baltimore’s upgraded defensive effort.
That the Dolphins didn’t continue to run the ball at a Ravens defense that was suspect against the run throughout the first half is something for Tony Sparano to answer, I suppose.
The only question marks for the Ravens on Sunday? Red zone offense and the lack of continuity running the ball in tight spaces. Harbaugh and Cam Cameron can’t come up with one constant when it comes down to crunch time. One series McGahee gets the bulk of the in-close work. The next series, they throw the ball inside the 10. And at some point later on in the game, Ray Rice picks up work in the red zone. It’s a little odd, to say the least. If it were effective, we wouldn’t be scratching our heads so much. But it’s not. Or, at least, it wasn’t today.
So Baltimore churns along at 6-2, looking very much like a team that can play as well as anyone for 30 minutes at a time. Turning that into a 60-minute effort remains the Ravens biggest task, but 6-2 is still 6-2.
And in the NFL, as evidenced by what happened on Sunday in Cleveland, you have to play at 100% every Sunday or you leave with your tail between your legs.
Today, Miami headed home a loser.
And that’s all that matters in Baltimore, where the Ravens protected their home turf once again.