Five thoughts on the Ravens' 26-23 win over the Miami Dolphins Sunday at Sun Life Stadium:
End Result All That Matters This TimeWhen the Dolphins' last-second, last-ditch field goal flew just wide, you probably could hear the Ravens exhaling all the way back in Baltimore. Was it a pretty win? Hardly. Is there plenty to pick apart? For sure. But by the end of what was basically an even game, all the Ravens cared about was coming home with a win rather than their fifth straight road defeat dating back to last season. They needed it badly and somehow, some way, they got it. It was up in the air a handful of times on a 90-degree afternoon – after a disappointing first half, after the Dolphins tied it up with a late rally, even after Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill reprised Joe Flacco's "Mile High Miracle" in the last minute, giving the Dolphins an unlikely final shot. The Ravens didn't just dodge a bullet; they dodged about five. That tends to whittle away all concerns about what worked, what didn't and why. The end result was all the Ravens cared about, and who can blame them?
Timing Of Suggs' Sacks Impressive
Terrell Suggs is having a huge season, with a sack in each of the first five games, including three Sunday. He's on a pace that would result in a 22-sack season. But forget numbers. Let's talk about timing. With the score tied late in the fourth quarter, Suggs took over the game. The Dolphins had the ball, having scored 10 straight points. With their home fans roaring, they were in position to go win the game. But Suggs sacked Tannehill on first down, then sacked him again on third down. Any questions? The Dolphins punted, the stadium got quiet and the Ravens took the ball and drove to what turned out to be the winning points. "Suggs is playing off the scale," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. On a hot day when a lot of guys wilted, Suggs was in the best shape of anyone, quite a statement for a guy one year removed from an Achilles injury.
Enough O-Line Improvement To Win, But Work Needed
Unlike a week ago in Buffalo, the Ravens stuck with their running game even when it didn't produce in the first half. Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell said he was going to do it, and he followed through on that pledge and was repaid for his patience when the Ravens rushed for 100 yards in the second half, enabling them to control the clock and take command. What changed after halftime? Harbaugh said Caldwell called more of the runs that seemed to be working for both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. But mostly, the line just blocked better against a large and mobile Miami front. Does the line remain a work in progress? Absolutely. The pass protection was shaky again Sunday. Flacco absorbed some brutal hits. That can't go on indefinitely. I'm expecting Eugene Monroe to replace Bryant McKinnie next Sunday. But overall, the line showed improvement in the second half, enough to win. You take your victories.
Expected And Unexpected Playmakers
Down to just three healthy wide receivers, the Ravens really needed some playmakers to step up. They got what they needed from sources both expected and unexpected. Once again, Torrey Smith delivered big plays at a handful of crucial moments. He got the offense going with a 41-yard catch-and-run on the Ravens' first series. Early in the third quarter, he drew a big pass interference penalty (admittedly dubious) that set up the Ravens in the red zone and led to their first touchdown. Near the end of the third quarter, he hauled in a third-down catch to sustain a drive that led to another touchdown. To reiterate, Smith is the player the Ravens can least afford to lose in 2013 other than Flacco. But Smith's output alone wasn't going to be enough. Fortunately for the Ravens, Ed Dickson, Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson combined for seven receptions and 120 receiving yards. It had to happen because, well, there was no else to do it.
Justin Tucker was immense, nailing four field goals, including a 50-yarder in the first half and a high-pressure 44-yarder to win the game. Most of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. So much for the issue of how he would bounce back from his two-miss game in week 2. … Miami's Mike Wallace had a big receiving day statistically with 105 yards, but look closely. Other than one long reception in the first half, he piled up the yardage on short routes. And his seven catches came on 16 targets. The Ravens will take that any day. … This time, Harbaugh got the challenge flag out in time. Remember all the crying about his failure to challenge a key play in the season-opening loss in Denver? Sunday, the Dolphins were on the move in the third quarter, answering the Ravens' rally, when Wallace came down with a first-down reception at the Baltimore 27. The Dolphins rushed up to snap a play, but Harbaugh tossed his challenge flag just in time. The catch was overturned, the Dolphins punted, and the Ravens took the ball and drove 94 yards to a touchdown. Big difference.