AFC East: Ravens-Dolphins
MIAMI -- Last year, Akin Ayodele was a starting linebacker for a team with an NFL-record 13 Pro Bowlers. They lost only three regular-season games. They had a first-round playoff bye and were expected to play in the Super Bowl.
Ayodele said Sunday's loss hurt more with the Miami Dolphins.
"It's hard to swallow," Ayodele said moments after the favored Baltimore Ravens dominated at Dolphin Stadium. "This one hurts more than any of them.
"I really believe what we had here was special. The time and how hard guys worked, it was like a poker game; we were all in. When you look across the board, you can't tell me anybody had a doubt in their mind."
The Dolphins began the year a pitiable franchise but finished as AFC East champs. There was something more rewarding about that than winning when everybody expected it.
As someone who was in both locker rooms, emotions were much higher among the Dolphins on Sunday than they were among the Cowboys a year ago.
I don't recall seeing anybody other than Owens cry in Irving, Texas. There were tears Sunday at Dolphin Stadium.
"Last year, because it was the Cowboys, everybody expected us to make the playoffs," Ayodele said. "Then when we went 13-3 it was 'OK. This is a team that's going to win it all.' The expectations were there from the jump.
"But even more so this year, having so many doubters -- from the media, from people outside who really didn't know what this team consisted of -- gave us so much momentum, so much will to want to prove everybody else wrong.
"It made us an even tighter team. It made us appreciate each other even more. It really felt like a team of destiny that could prove the world wrong."
MIAMI -- There are several ways to dissect a quarterback's performance.
Sometimes the stat line isn't enough.
For example: 9 of 23 for 135 yards and zero touchdowns for a 59.1 passer rating. Those look like numbers for a backup replacing the injured starter in the second half of a blowout.
Sometimes, however, one number on the stat line is enough. Four interceptions is a bad day no matter what. Chad Pennington can testify.
Although Pennington's 53.7 passer rating wasn't the worst of his career, if you consider the game was being played in January it would be difficult to argue it wasn't his worst day.
Doug Kern and Hank Gargiulo from ESPN Stats & Analysis broke down Pennington's afternoon in every way imaginable. Here is what they found:
- Pennington had a 0.0 passer rating on throws that traveled 10 yards or farther in the air. He tried six times, completing one for exactly 10 yards and throwing three interceptions.
- On passes shorter than 10 yards, he completed 24 of 32 for 242 yards, one touchdown and one interception. His receivers accounted for 150 yards after the catch.
- He had a 0.0 passer rating on third down, completing 1 of 5 attempts for 9 yards with two interceptions.
- But he was highly efficient on first down, connecting on 13 of 17 passes for 131 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions for a 97.9 passer rating.
- He tried to avoid the middle of the field, with good reason. He threw nine passes between the painted numbers, completing five for 42 yards and getting two picked off.
Pennington had a 37.8 passer rating in the first half, but it wasn't the worst half of his six-game playoff career.
Five years ago, against the Oakland Raiders, he posted an 8.7 rating in the second half. He went just 7 of 26 for 85 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions.
MIAMI -- While much of the focus will be on Chad Pennington's historically bad Sunday when looking back on the Miami Dolphins' demoralizing postseason loss, let's take a moment to point out he didn't have much help in the run game.
The Dolphins carried 21 times for 52 yards in their playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Dolphins tried to run nine times on first down for a grand total of 17 yards.
With such an inability to run, it's no wonder the Ravens were able to tee off on Pennington and take chances in the secondary. The Ravens sacked him three times and intercepted him four times. No Dolphins quarterback had thrown that many interceptions in a playoff game.
The Dolphins all but abandoned the run in the second half, when they rushed for only 22 yards. Five of their seven second-half carries came on their opening two drives before Patrick Cobbs fumbled with 9:42 left in the third quarter.
Pennington went no-huddle on the next possession and completed his first eight passes for 61 yards. Then he threw his fourth interception of the game.With the season over, there's no need to analyze the state of Miami's run game for next week.
But will the backfield and offensive line, as they're currently constructed, be enough for 2009?
Miami ranked a respectable 11th in the league, running for 1,897 yards. Brown ranked 19th in the league with 916 yards. He scored 10 rushing touchdowns. Williams finished with 659 yards and four touchdowns.
But in 11 games, Brown failed to rush for at least 60 yards. Williams failed to reach 60 yards in all but two games. Seven times, Williams ran for fewer than 30 yards.
The Dolphins couldn't run effectively between the tackles, especially not after Justin Smiley went down with a season-ending leg injury in Week 13. Against great defenses such as the Ravens, the Dolphins couldn't turn the corner either.
MIAMI -- The calendar flipped over to 2009 this week, but it looked an awful lot like 2007 at Dolphin Stadium on Sunday.
After a magical season in which anything seemed possible for the Miami Dolphins, they reverted Sunday into the version fans endured in that mistake-filled 1-15 campaign.
The Dolphins committed only 13 turnovers all season, tying the NFL record for a 16-game season. At one point they had gone a record 17 straight games with one or fewer giveaways.
MIAMI -- Rodney Harrison is working Sunday's game for NFL Network, but apparently nobody informed him he's not supposed to be openly rooting for either team, and especially not in the Dolphin Stadium press box.
The New England Patriots' safety clearly wants the Baltimore Ravens to beat the Miami Dolphins because he's gleefully screaming and high-fiving his associates with every Chad Pennington interception -- that would be four times -- or any other big Ravens play.
Harrison was clapping in the press box a few moments ago, when Ed Reed burgled his second pass of the game. This one 8 yards outside the end zone to keep the Dolphins touchdown-less with a couple minutes left in the third quarter.
MIAMI -- Here are some Chad Pennington interception stats, courtesy ESPN researcher Mark Simon, that underscore how rare Sunday afternoon's performance against the Baltimore Ravens has been (three interceptions with 10 minutes left in the third quarter):
- Pennington had thrown four interceptions in five career playoff games.
- Three interceptions ties the Dolphins' record for most in a playoff game (Dan Marino, David Woodley, Jay Fiedler).
- Pennington was 0-3 in postseason games in which he threw an interception.
- The last time he threw three or more interceptions was Week 5 last year against the New York Giants.
- In Pennington's last eight regular-season games: 234 pass attempts, three interceptions.
MIAMI -- Chad Pennington's afternoon is getting worse.
The runner-up for league MVP ended the Miami Dolphins' opening second-half drive against the Baltimore Ravens with his third interception. He hadn't thrown three in a game since October 2006 against the New York Giants.
Davone Bess is back in the game, but Pennington hasn't been finding his receivers much anyway.
Bess is the only one with a catch, giving Ravens defensive backs three times as many catches as Miami receivers. Pennington's other six completions have been to running backs.
MIAMI -- Chad Pennington picked a terrible time to have his first two-interception game of the season.
The Miami Dolphins quarterback just uncorked a pass that Baltimore Ravens free safety Ed Reed caught as though he were the intended receiver on a seam route, turned around and ran it back 64 yards for a touchdown to give his team a 10-3 lead with 2:30 to play in the first half at Dolphin Stadium.
The actual intended receiver, Ted Ginn, fell down on the play, but the ball hung up so long, it would have been Reed's all the way.
Pennington threw an interception earlier in the second quarter to Ravens strong safety Jim Leonhard.
The Dolphins prided themselves on limiting turnovers all season, tying the NFL record for fewest in a 16-game season with 13. They committed two turnovers only once -- a Pennington interception and Ricky Williams fumble in a Week 16 victory at Kansas City.
He hadn't thrown two interceptions in the same quarter since September 2007 against the Buffalo Bills.
MIAMI -- Miami Dolphins rookie receiver and punt returner Davone Bess walked off the field with a thumb injury after Baltimore Ravens safety Jim Leonhard intercepted a Chad Pennington pass in the second quarter.
Bess' status has been announced in the Dolphin Stadium press box as questionable.
His absence would be a problem for the Dolphins. He has one catch for 9 yards, but he finished the season with 54 receptions, only two behind team leader Ted Ginn. Over the last six regular-season games, Bess had 35 catches for 366 yards.
Bess, who wasn't drafted despite a stellar season as Colt Brennan's top target at Hawaii, finished with the second-most catches in NFL history by a rookie free agent. New York Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet had 66 in 1995.
Bess also is Miami's top punt returner, averaging 11.0 yards a try.
MIAMI -- At least the count was closer than the MVP ballots.
Dolfans surely will feel they were snubbed again when they learn head coach Tony Sparano didn't receive the Associated Press' NFL Coach of the Year award, which was announced shortly before kickoff Sunday.
Sparano lost by one vote to Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith. Despite all of Sparano's accomplishments in helping the Dolphins amass an 11-5 record and claim the AFC East title one year after winning a single game, Smith also deserved it.
The Falcons -- and their city -- were awash in turmoil from the Michael Vick scandal and Bobby Petrino's classless, hit-and-run tenure. But Smith, with a rookie quarterback and rookie GM, took the Falcons to the playoffs.
What likely hurt Sparano's case was that many people think of football operations boss Bill Parcells first when they consider how far the Dolphins have improved from last year's debacle.
What I can't condone, however, is that one voter apparently couldn't make up his mind and split his vote between Smith and Sparano. Had the voter gone with Sparano, the award would have been shared.
The Dolphins offense made it look easy as it drove to a second-and-goal from the Ravens' 1-yard line. But a Chad Pennington incompletion and a Ronnie Brown run for no gain forced Miami to settle for a 19-yard Dan Carpenter field goal rather than a tone-setting touchdown.
- WR Terrance Copper
- CB Evan Oglesby
- RB Jalen Parmele
- LB Antwan Barnes
- LB Robert McCune
- T Oniel Cousins
- G David Hale
- QB Todd Bouman
MIAMI -- What a gorgeous day at Dolphin Stadium, where the wild card Baltimore Ravens will play the AFC East champions at 1 p.m.
The sun is shining for now, but the sky was splotched with nasty clouds on my drive in. I had to trigger the windshield wipers a couple times.
The Weather Channel's game forecast is for 77 degrees with 13 mph winds and a 10 percent chance of showers after kickoff.
The grass looks great three days after Virginia Tech played Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl. No remnants of the giant FedEx logo are visible. The Dolphins insignia are bold in both end zones.
Tailgaters are in full force for the Dolphins' first playoff game in seven years, but I was surprised at the amount of Ravens jerseys dotting the crowds.
It will be interesting to see if how much the intruders make themselves heard in what's expected to be a record-setting crowd.
Ed Hochuli will be the referee.
DAVIE, Fla. -- In their best Jan Brady impersonation, Dolfans have bemoaned all the predictions for Sunday's playoff game have gone for the "Ravens! Ravens! Ravens!"
The reasons to lean toward the Ravens obviously relate to their sensational defense.
But the ESPN Stats and Analysis crew has broken out interesting numbers that indicate Miami's offense happens to be effective at negating many of the methods Baltimore uses to get after opposing quarterbacks.
Although the stats suggest the Dolphins will have trouble rolling up yards or converting third downs, they protect Chad Pennington and don't commit turnovers.
When the Ravens visited Dolphin Stadium in Week 7, they recorded only one sack and one takeaway. That turnover, however, was costly. Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs returned a Chad Pennington interception for a touchdown.
Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington has won in the playoffs before. He was a league MVP candidate. He finished second in the NFL with a 97.4 passer rating.
Joe Flacco is a rookie, and although he has had an impressive inaugural season, the pressure is about to get heavier.
A statistical evaluation of Pennington and Flacco, however, shows the rookie has been holding his own in the fourth quarter. Flacco's completion percentage is a tad lower than Pennington's, but his passer rating actually goes up compared to the first three quarters.
Pennington's passer rating plummets nearly 19 points in the fourth quarter, throwing as many touchdown passes as interceptions.
But the veteran is stunningly efficient early in a game. His great starts have a tendency to overcome any fadeout.
Here are some interesting Pennington stats from his second Comeback Player of the Year season:
- Pennington was sharpest through his first 10 attempts of a game with a gaudy 115.8 passer rating. He gained 1,386 of his yards and threw nine touchdowns without an interception.
- Seventeen of his 38 throws of 20-plus yards came on his first 10 attempts of a game.
- Attempts 11 through 20 dipped to a 92.2 passer rating, and attempts 21 through 30 dropped to a 79.4 passer rating.
- When breaking down the field into quarters, Pennington's passer rating was 113.1 when inside his own 20-yard line.
- Pennington had a 102.2 passer rating in the first half with an amazing 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. His passer rating was 92.5 in the second half.
- His passer rating was 62.2 in the last two minutes of a half. He was 31 of 52 for 330 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
- When behind, Pennington completed 67.5 percent of his passes for 1,608 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions for a 102.2 rating.
- With the lead, Pennington completed 64.9 percent for 1,380 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for an 82.7 rating.