NFL Nation: 2013 Week 5 BAL at MIA

MIAMI -- Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice sported a welt over his right eye. In Sunday's 26-23 win over the Miami Dolphins, it represented a badge of honor.

A funny thing happens when the Ravens commit to the running game -- they usually win. The Ravens are 38-6 (.863) when running back Ray Rice gets at least 15 carries in a game. Rice had 16 carries in the second half alone and finished with 27.

So while Rice took a beating, the Ravens didn't get beat.

"Jim (Caldwell, offensive coordinator) didn't let his foot off the pedal," said Rice, who had 74 yards rushing Sunday after gaining 89 in his first three games. "No matter what, we were going to run the football. That's a good feeling."

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Ray Rice
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsRay Rice rushed for 74 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries against the Dolphins.
I'm not going to say the Ravens learned their lesson after running the ball twice in the second half of last Sunday's loss at Buffalo. The Ravens nearly beat the Bills by exclusively throwing the ball.

But on Sunday, the Ravens got a sense they could outlast the Dolphins and they wanted to reduce the times that Joe Flacco got hit. Sticking to the run paid off in the second half. The Ravens, who had not gained 100 yards rushing in a game this season, totaled 100 yards rushing after halftime against the Dolphins.

"We definitely wore them out a little bit," Flacco said.

The subplot of the return of the Ravens' running game was the redemption of Rice. He fumbled at his own 28-yard line in the first quarter, which resulted in a game-tying field goal. Dating back to the playoffs, this marked the fifth time that Rice had fumbled in his past eight games.

But Rice came back to score two touchdowns in the second half. His first score was a power run in between the tackles. His last one came as a result of him cutting to the outside when the Dolphins crashed to the inside, allowing him to walk into the end zone.

“That nose guard, he reminds me of Haloti Ngata. He’s a very strong," Rice said of the fumble caused by Paul Soliai. "Once he got his arms around me and bear-hugged me, he made a heck of a play. I was just able to keep my head in the game and bounce back and keep grinding.”

Grinding out yards is exactly what the Ravens offense did Sunday. It would have been easy for the Ravens to run the ball 40 times if they were averaging 5 yards per carry. That's why you have to admire them more by running the ball 40 times when they only averaged 3.3 yards per attempt.

The Ravens aren't going to proclaim that the running game is fixed. But, for one of the few times this season, there is hope that the ground attack can get back on track.

"We decided to run because we thought (that's how) we had the best chance of winning," coach John Harbaugh said. "But more than that, in this heat, the 1-yard run becomes a 3-yard run. And a 3-yard run becomes a 7-yard run. That's what happened."
MIAMI -- There were questions whether Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs would be the same defensive player after tearing his Achilles last year. No one ever thought Suggs would be better.

Suggs continued to dominate this season with three sacks in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 26-23 win, which is a tribute to his conditioning. A motivated Suggs reported to training camp in the best shape of his career, and when others were wilting under the hot South Florida sun, he proved to be the strongest player on the field. He powered his way through a lackluster Dolphins offensive line, getting to quarterback Ryan Tannehill three times in an eight-play stretch in the final quarter.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill and Terrell Suggs
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsTerrell Suggs sacked Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill three times in an eight-play span during the fourth quarter Sunday.
"That guy is a freak of nature," safety James Ihedigbo said. "He played phenomenal. That second-half performance made our job in the secondary so much easier."

When it looked like the Ravens were losing grasp of the momentum, that's when Suggs started wrapping his arms around Tannehill. The Dolphins had just tied the game at 23 on an interception return for a touchdown, and the Ravens' offense punted the ball back to Miami.

But Suggs delivered a sack on Miami's first play and then stopped the drive by taking down Tannehill on third-and-14. The Ravens then went down the field to hit the game-winning field goal.

So, what inspired Suggs in the fourth quarter?

"My wife told me to bring momma three sacks," Suggs said. "It came down the stretch in the fourth quarter and I said, 'All right, momma said she wanted three, so go get it.'"

"Momma" must have known the Dolphins had allowed the second-most sacks in the NFL. In total, the Ravens recorded six sacks with Suggs accounting for half of them.

The Ravens are 14-1 when Suggs records multiple sacks in a game.

"You could say that he could be the defensive player of the year every year with the impact that he has on the game and the plays he can make," Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Gibson said.

When Suggs was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, he finished with 14 sacks. He has half that many just five games into the 2013 season.

Some will say the increase in Suggs' sacks comes from the addition of Elvis Dumervil on the other side. Others believe Suggs is determined to show he's back after recording four sacks in 12 games (including playoffs) last season.

Whatever the reason, Suggs now has a sack in each of the first five games, which ties a franchise record.

"Terrell Suggs was just off the scale," coach John Harbaugh said.
MIAMI – The Miami Dolphins have a lot of holes to fix following Sunday’s 26-23 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was the second consecutive defeat for Miami.

But one previous void appears to be improving: the chemistry between quarterback Ryan Tannehill and No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace. Both were on the same page Sunday against the Ravens. Tannehill combined with Wallace for seven receptions for 105 yards. It was Wallace’s second 100-yard game of the season.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill and Mike Wallace
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsRyan Tannehill and Mike Wallace connected for Wallace's second 100-yard receiving game of the season.
Miami's offense had significant trouble running the ball and protecting the quarterback. But Wallace and Tannehill showed flashes of what could be a dangerous tandem for the rest of the season.

“We have to make plays regardless,” Wallace said in the locker room after the game. “Whatever the situation is, we need to make plays on our side.”

The Dolphins certainly made a concerted effort to get Wallace the football against a tough Baltimore defense. Tannehill targeted Wallace a season-high 16 times. It was a mix of short, intermediate and deep passes that kept the Ravens off balance. Wallace also drew an defensive-holding penalty in the first half that helped lead to a field goal.

Tannehill’s best play was a 49-yard bomb to Wallace, who was double-covered but still had the speed to run past two defenders. Tannehill's pass was slightly underthrown, but Wallace was able to make the play and set up another field goal.

“We always have something in the game plan, and you kind of get a feel for the game as its going on,” Tannehill explained. “We were able to hit him on a deep play. It was really kind of the worst look we have possibly gotten for that play, but he used his speed and was able to make a big catch downfield.”

The bye week should only help this pair. The Dolphins will only go as far as Tannehill takes them, and Tannehill needs his best receiver to produce. Wallace has world-class speed and the Dolphins are still in the feeling-out process of how to use him. Wallace is only five games into his Miami tenure and should improve as the season goes on.

A growing rapport between Tannehill and Wallace can only mean good things for Miami's offense.

“Honestly, we have to get better,” Wallace said of the offense. “We make plays, but we have to make some more. We make some plays sometimes and then we stall.”
MIAMI -- Of Joe Flacco's 16 career game-winning drives, the one in the Baltimore Ravens' 26-23 win over the Miami Dolphins isn't his most memorable. But, after Flacco gets to rest his aches and pains, he may consider this his most satisfying one.

During a game in which nothing seemed to go his way -- from warm-ups to the fourth quarter -- Flacco showed winning perseverance in taking all of those shots and coming back to deliver the key offensive play. His 14-yard pass to Torrey Smith set up Justin Tucker's 44-yard, go-ahead field goal with 1:42 left in the game.

This tested Flacco physically. He's getting hit so many times he should invest some of that $120.6 million contract into life insurance. This also tested Flacco mentally. After having an interception returned for a touchdown -- which wasn't his fault -- he had the Ravens back ahead about six minutes later.

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Joe Flacco
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsJoe Flacco completed 19 of 32 passes for 269 yards against the Dolphins.
"Joe doesn't ever get phased," coach John Harbaugh said. "It seems Joe never gets shaken. Joe is not the kind of guy that's going to get rattled. That's just who he is. That's part of his greatness. And that's why he is who he is as a player."

Flacco was undone by injuries. The Ravens were down to three healthy wide receivers because Jacoby Jones (knee) and Marlon Brown (hamstring) were inactive and Brandon Stokley (groin) was cut Saturday. To make matters worse, left guard Kelechi Osemele suffered back spasms and lasted only one play before backup center A.Q. Shipley took over.

Flacco didn't get any protection from his offensive line, getting hit a half-dozen times and was sacked twice. With a collapsing pocket, Flacco had to throw the ball before he wanted to do so and couldn't follow through on his passes.

On the final play of the first half, soon-to-be demoted left tackle Bryant McKinnie was so slow that Koa Misi went untouched off the edge in sacking Flacco. Then, in the fourth quarter, McKinnie's failure to block Dion Jordan led to Flacco getting hit from behind and an interception returned for a score. By that point, the Ravens had to be second-guessing not suiting up Eugene Monroe, who was acquired last week.

Speaking of that touchdown, Flacco didn't get help from offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell either. With the Ravens ahead by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, there was no reason for Flacco to be throwing from his goal line on third-and-22.

"We want that one back," Harbaugh said. "That was a mistake. We should have run the ball there. I think we'll all agree there. We should have punted it out of there the way our defense was playing. We put Joe in a tough spot there."

Flacco, though, simply shook off his eighth interception of the season.

"It was frustrating but you come off the sidelines, you get pissed for a couple of seconds and then you regroup because you're getting the ball right back," said Flacco, who was 19-of-32 for 269 yards. "Stuff like that happens. It was still a tie game with a lot of game left and we knew we had to go win it."

Rebounding has been a recurring storyline in Flacco's career. He improved to 4-0 the week after throwing multiple interceptions in a game (he was picked off a career-worst five times last Sunday), and he won this time with some dramatic flair. This was his first game-winning drive since leading the Ravens back in Denver in last season's AFC divisional playoff game.
MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins consistently take a “next man up” mentality. But what happens when the next player keeps getting injured?

After a relatively healthy three weeks, Miami’s defense is being hit hard with injuries. The bye week is coming at just the right time for the Dolphins (3-2). Miami suffered some new injuries and is still reeling from old ones following a 26-23 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.

The list of injured defensive players is a long one. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (shoulder), cornerback Nolan Carroll (shoulder), defensive end Cameron Wake (knee) and cornerback Dimitri Patterson (groin) are all starters who either didn’t play or couldn’t finish Sunday’s game against Baltimore. Several other Dolphins players are also banged up on defense, but played through it.

“That’s the view of the NFL: When a guy goes down, the next guy should be ready to step in and fill that void,” Dolphins safety Reshad Jones said in the locker room afterward. “I feel like the backups did a pretty good job coming in and filling that void.”

Miami’s defense kept the points down, relatively speaking. But the Dolphins allowed 384 yards in the loss and couldn’t get key stops in the second half.

Miami’s short-handed defense was clearly gassed in the third and fourth quarters. The rotation was shortened because of injuries, and Baltimore took advantage by scoring 20 second-half points.

The Dolphins were a strong second-half team in the first three games. But Miami had a short week of preparation, and injuries have this group gasping for air. The Dolphins allowed 133 yards rushing on 40 carries.

“It’s hard to lose people in the game,” Dolphins linebacker Koa Misi said. “It was definitely hard on us.”

Miami will get two weeks to recover before facing the Buffalo Bills (2-3) on Oct. 20 at Sun Life Stadium. That should provide ample time for most of Miami’s defensive players to return. Miami needs to win at home, especially within the division.

The Dolphins need a better overall performance from their defense week in and week out if they want to put themselves in position to make a playoff push. The Dolphins fell to 1-1 at home this season, and have lost two straight.

“I want to be 5-0 as a player, just for this team, because we work really hard,” Dolphins linebacker Philip Wheeler said. “But we’re not proud with 3-2. We’re going to take it and we’re going to learn from the mistakes of this game and make sure we’re not 3-3 after the bye.”

Dolphins fall to middle of the pack

October, 6, 2013
MIAMI -- How good are the 2013 Miami Dolphins?

Your guess is as good as anyone’s.

The Dolphins enter the bye week limping following Sunday’s 26-23 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Two weeks ago, the Dolphins were 3-0 and there was discussion of whether they could be among the upper-echelon teams.

But two losses in six days have quickly brought Miami crashing down to earth. The Dolphins (3-2) at this stage are simply a middle-of-the-pack team. They’re not bad. They’re not great.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesRyan Tannehill was under consistent pressure from the Baltimore defense on Sunday.
“It doesn’t feel good; it doesn’t feel good at all,” Dolphins linebacker Koa Misi said of back-to-back losses. “This bye week would have been nice going in 4-1. But we have to get better at certain things.”

The Dolphins are back in line with the NFL’s large and inconsistent middle class. That is major part of what's made the league so popular. You just don’t know what to expect from at least half of the teams, including the Dolphins, on a given week. Miami enters the bye week certainly with more questions than answers.

The defense hasn’t lived up to expectations and is banged-up with injuries. The Dolphins aren’t getting enough stops and allowed the New Orleans Saints and Ravens to combine for 64 points the past two games.

On offense, the pass protection has been horrible and is perhaps the Dolphins’ biggest weakness. Miami has allowed 24 sacks in five games, including six against the Ravens on Sunday.

“There’s a lot of ballgames left to play and time to turn it around,” Dolphins left tackle Jonathan Martin said. “But it is a concerning trend so far. So it’s definitely something we need to get corrected now.”

Dolphins second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill is keeping Miami’s offense afloat. He continues to play well despite poor blocking and little help from the running game.

Miami rushed for just 22 yards on 11 carries. But Tannehill threw for 307 yards and a touchdown. He also nearly led the Dolphins to a game-tying drive in the final minute, but rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis missed a 57-yard field goal.

In the preseason, a 3-2 start would have been considered solid for Miami. The Dolphins had a brutal schedule to start the season, but losing two in a row gives the impression that Miami is sputtering.

“We have to make up some things and get better at some things, but I think we’ll be alright,” Misi said.

"Alright” is a good way to describe the Dolphins. They’re certainly not elite but they're not bad, either.

Currently, Miami is just alright after five games.
MIAMI -- Observed in the locker room after the Baltimore Ravens' 26-23 win at the Miami Dolphins:

Answering that question: The Ravens didn't get rattled when the Dolphins scored 10 straight points in the fourth quarter, including an interception return for a touchdown, to tie the game at 23. Coach John Harbaugh talked about how Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs and Marshal Yanda kept the team together. "Did somebody ask about leadership?," Harbaugh asked. "We got great leadership." This was a response to linebacker Ray Lewis saying the Ravens lacked leadership a couple of weeks ago.

Road-field advantage?: Ravens fans took over Sun Life Stadium, where there was purple throughout. The sections behind the Ravens' bench were nearly all Ravens fans and it made this look like a college bowl game. In my 14 years of covering the team, I can't remember a bigger turnout on the road by Ravens fans. When a reporter suggested there were at least 10,000 Ravens fans at the game, coach John Harbaugh said. "It seemed like half of the stadium." Ravens players went over to the stands to thank the fans after the win.

Offensive line shuffle: Backup center A.Q. Shipley played nearly the entire game at left tackle after back spasms forced Kelechi Osemele out of the game after the first series. Osemele had his back tighten up on him in pregame after the Ravens had already set their inactive list (which had their top backup guard Jah Reid on it). So, Osemele tried to play but couldn't last. "That's why we had to make the change," Harbaugh said.

Turning out the lights: About four minutes into Harbaugh's postgame press conference, linebacker Terrell Suggs accidentally hit the switch that turned off the lights in the interview room. "It wasn't the commissioner," Harbaugh said. "It was Suggs." Harbaugh was alluding to Suggs' recent comments that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had a hand in the Super Bowl blackout. Suggs laughed and said, "That was pretty good coach."

Rapid Reaction: Miami Dolphins

October, 6, 2013

MIAMI -- A few thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 26-23 loss to the Baltimore Ravens:

What it means: After a 3-0 start, the Dolphins are stumbling into the bye week with a 3-2 record. Miami had a brutal schedule to start the season, and this probably would have been fine by most Miami fans at the start of the season. But Miami raised expectations after its fast start, and now the perception is the team is struggling. A few big plays at the end gave Miami a chance, but rookie Caleb Sturgis missed a 57-yard field goal at the end.

Stock watch: Ryan Tannehill's stock is back up after a horrible Week 4 against the New Orleans Saints. Tannehill bounced back from a four-turnover performance in New Orleans and had a much better game Sunday. Tannehill threw for 307 yards, one touchdown and had zero turnovers. He also nearly led a game-tying drive at the end but took a big sack.

As far as stock down, Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman had another questionable week of play calling. He made another poor third-and-1 call on the opening drive that was reminiscent of a call from last week's loss to the Saints. Despite heavy criticism last week, Sherman ran outside for no gain and was forced to punt for the second week in a row. The Dolphins also called a timeout before the play. The run-pass ratio was also drastically out of whack for such a close and competitive game. Miami's offensive line also allowed six sacks, which ups the Dolphins' total to 24 sacks allowed this year.

Injury updates: Miami Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake returned to the lineup Sunday, but it was brief and he was mostly ineffective. Wake, who has a sprained knee, played in the first quarter only and didn't register a tackle. He will get two days to rest. Dolphins starting linebacker Dannell Ellerbe also injured his shoulder in the second quarter and didn't return. Cornerback Nolan Carroll injured his ribs in the third quarter and didn't return.

What's next: The Dolphins get a much-needed bye in Week 6. After a 3-2 start, it's time for Miami to re-evaluate the team, improve and get healthy. The Dolphins will host the Buffalo Bills (2-3) in a big AFC East battle in Week 7.

Rapid Reaction: Baltimore Ravens

October, 6, 2013

MIAMI -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 26-23 victory over the Miami Dolphins:

What it means: The Ravens (3-2) kept pace in the AFC North and remain tied for first place by beating the Dolphins (3-2). It wasn't pretty, but a shorthanded Ravens offense remained committed to the run (first time Baltimore gained more than 100 yards rushing this season) and their defense continually put pressure on Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill (six sacks). Rebounding after tough losses has been a trend under coach John Harbaugh. Since 2008, the Ravens are 21-7 after losses.

Sweating it out: The Ravens had an impressive 94-yard touchdown drive in the second half, but it was a 34-yard one that won the game for Baltimore. With the score tied at 23, Joe Flacco hit Torrey Smith on a 14-yard pass to put the Ravens in field goal position. Justin Tucker's 44-yard kick put the Ravens ahead 26-23 with 1:46 remaining. It marked the 16th career game-winning drive for Flacco. The Ravens had to sweat out a 57-yard miss by Caleb Sturgis, who went wide left with 33 seconds left.

Stock watch: Rising: Linebacker Terrell Suggs. He continues to look like the NFL Defensive Player of the Year from two years ago. He recorded three sacks, including two on a critical fourth-quarter series. Suggs now has seven sacks this season and at least one in each game thus far.

Redemption for Rice: Running back Ray Rice fumbled once again but also scored two touchdowns. He powered his way for a 2-yard touchdown in the third quarter, tying the game at 13. This made up for a fumble earlier in the game, which had led to a field goal. Dating back to the playoffs, Rice has fumbled five times in eight games.

Another costly turnover: A week after getting picked off a career-worst five times, Flacco had an interception returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that tied the score at 23. But much of the blame can go to left tackle Bryant McKinnie or to the play call. On third-and-22, Flacco threw from his own goal line and was hit from behind by Dion Jordan, who beat McKinnie on the quarterback's blind side. Offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, who was acquired this week in a trade, was inactive after only two full practices with the team.

What's next: The Ravens return home to play the Green Bay Packers. It will be Baltimore's first home game since Sept. 22.

Ravens-Dolphins halftime notes

October, 6, 2013
MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins (3-1) lead the Baltimore Ravens (2-2), 13-6, at intermission.

Here are some notes during halftime:
  • Miami looked like a team that didn’t practice much in the first quarter. The Dolphins were sloppy and couldn’t get much going until late in the first half. Because of the short week, the Dolphins’ only “real” practice was on Wednesday. Thursday was a day off, and Friday was a light walk-through.
  • Miami is getting receiver Mike Wallace involved in the first half. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is making a concerted effort to get his No. 1 receiver the ball, and Wallace has six receptions for 99 yards. Wallace had a big reception of 49 yards in the second quarter that led to a field goal.
  • Tannehill is having a good bounce-back game so far. Tannehill has thrown for 178 yards and a touchdown in the first half. He had an interception overturned on a replay. Tannehill had four turnovers in a loss last week against the New Orleans Saints.
  • Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe injured his shoulder in the first half and his return is questionable.

This should be a close and physical second half from Miami. Keep checking's Dolphins page for more updates throughout the afternoon.