Same Colors, Different Teams

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The last time the Ravens and Miami Dolphins met, back in Week 7, Baltimore beat down its opponent, taking a 27-13 victory in South Florida.

The win evened the Ravens' record to 3-3 and dropped Miami to 2-4, not much of an improvement over the Dolphins' 1-15 campaign in 2007.

Still, both teams have surged since then, shocking many pundits by seizing playoff spots after catching fire as the season progressed.

Since then, Miami went 9-1 to take the AFC East crown, while Baltimore notched a Wild Card berth by closing out 8-2.

It is obvious that neither team is remotely close to the two squads that squared off that sunny Oct. 19 afternoon at Dolphin Stadium.

The Ravens know there isn't much they can take from already facing the Dolphins - at least anything of worth on the field.

"We'll probably know the hotel, and we've been in the locker room before," said head coach John Harbaugh. "Beyond that, I don't know what it means. We know that they're a very good football team, and we know they've done something that teams that make the playoffs do - they've gotten better every single week since that game.

"It's going to be a playoff atmosphere against a team that we respect very much."

Baltimore has no choice to respect the Dolphins, who have reeled off five consecutive victories, including their postseason-clinching win last week over the 9-7 New York Jets.

Even the Dolphins say they are different.

"You are still searching: Who are we?" Miami cornerback Andre Goodman told the South Florida Sun Sentinel Monday. "We didn't know who we were, but now I think we have a pretty good idea."

That identity has morphed into a proud program under new coach Tony Sparano, efficient quarterback Chad Pennington and an unpredictable rushing attack that features the Wildcat formation. In addition, Miami's opportunistic defense - led by fiery outside linebacker Joey Porter - has 30 takeaways and an impressive 40 sacks.

"I'll guarantee you they're a much better team than they were earlier this season," said wideout Derrick Mason. "They were a hard team the first time."

With that in mind, the Ravens will draw film from Miami's full body of work under Sparano and his new coaching staff. After soundly defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-7 Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore wasted no time preparing for its first road playoff game since the 2001 campaign.

"We're going to pull from the whole season and the preseason, just like we always do," Harbaugh explained. "They are what they were last week, and you try to anticipate what they're going to be next week.

"You can tell they work hard every day to get better, so we're impressed with them."

Added safety Ed Reed: "We're going in to look at the film. I'm sure there's going to be a bunch of things that they present, so we just have to prepare for those guys, go down there and play our best."

The Ravens certainly offer more to think about for the Dolphins, as well.

In that October win, Baltimore got the job done on 105 rushing yards and a touchdown from Willis McGahee, two Matt Stover field goals and a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Even though Baltimore continues to pound it on the ground behind the NFL's fourth-best running attack and play with a stifling defense (second in the league), the Ravens have vastly developed their repertoire.

Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco is coming off one of his best statistical performances of the year, completing 17 of 23 passes for 297 yards against Jacksonville, including five connections of 25 or more yards.

Le'Ron McClain, the 260-pound fullback who has emerged as a bruising leader in Baltimore's trio of runners, has totaled 531 yards on 133 carries in the last six contests (88.5-yard average per game).

And, Todd Heap and Mark Clayton have made more of an impact in the passing game after Derrick Mason dominated the receivers' stat sheet earlier in the year.

"We've had confidence in ourselves all year," Flacco stated. "We always believed that we were going to step up and come through. We feel good about ourselves, that's all I can say."

But even though each team has evolved to some degree, the Ravens continue to seek some similarities from their last visit to Miami, be it the balmy weather or the positive outcome.

"It's a warm place, so hopefully it will stay warm with no rain," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said with a smile. "And hopefully, we can do exactly what we did last time."

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