Ravens hit groove in time for play­off push

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY DAVID GINSBURG

OWINGS MILLS, MD. | Com­ing off their best per­for­mance of the sea­son, the Bal­ti­more Ravens ap­pear to have hit their stride at just the right time.

The Ravens did just about ev­ery­thing right Sun­day in a 38-6 rout of the Mi­ami Dol­phins, who came to Bal­ti­more with a six-game win­ning streak and left with an un­der­stand­ing of what it takes to win in De­cem­ber.

“We didn’t ex­e­cute, and they pounced all over it. That’s what they do,” Mi­ami coach Adam Gase said. “There’s a rea­son why they’ve won di­vi­sions, they’ve won play­off games, they’ve won Su­per Bowls — be­cause they un­der­stand, at this part of the sea­son, you’ve got to be on it early be­cause it can snow­ball one way or the other.”

Bal­ti­more (7-5) scored touch­downs on its first two pos­ses­sions and coasted to the fin­ish. The Ravens have won four of five to re­main tied with Pitts­burgh atop the AFC North, and they hope that mo­men­tum through a dif­fi­cult fi­nal stretch.

Next on the sched­ule: A matchup against the Pa­tri­ots (10-2), whom Bal­ti­more has de­feated only once in eight reg­u­lar-sea­son meet­ings.

“Now we’ve got our tough­est chal­lenge,” coach John Har­baugh said Mon­day. “We’re go­ing to need to play our best foot­ball on Mon­day night up in New Eng­land to win that foot­ball game. We do be­lieve we have a chance to do that, based on where we’re at right now.

Bal­ti­more couldn’t have per­formed much bet­ter than it did Sun­day. Joe Flacco com­pleted a fran­chise-record 36 passes, four for touch­downs, as the fo­cal point of an of­fense that scored 24 first-half points and fin­ished with a sea­son-high 496 yards.

“The credit goes to Joe and to the play­ers, just for the way they ex­e­cuted,” Har­baugh said. “It was very sharp, it was very pre­cise. We talked about that many times in here, that we were chas­ing that kind of pre­ci­sion. To see it con­sis­tently, from the be­gin­ning of the game to the end of the game, it was some­thing’s that’s been in our vi­sion here for a while.”

Flacco con­nected with 11 dif­fer­ent re­ceivers and to­taled 381 yards through the air. After­ward, some­one asked if he con­sid­ered it to be one of his mem­o­rable per­for­mances.

“Hey, it’s a De­cem­ber game, and it means a lot right now, but we’ve played a lot of mean­ing­ful games around here, truly mean­ing­ful games in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary, so I don’t want to look at this game and say some­thing like that,” Flacco said.

Now in his ninth sea­son, Flacco is a for­mer Su­per Bowl MVP a vet­eran of 15 play­off games. But be­fore Sun­day he had only one more touch­down pass than in­ter­cep­tions (11-10).

“Joe played just ex­tremely well and I thought all the guys around him played ex­tremely well, too,” Har­baugh said. “It came to­gether. That’s one game. We’ll be look­ing to try and im­prove.”

The point is, dom­i­nat­ing the Dol­phins prob­a­bly won’t mean much against the Pa­tri­ots.

“It’s not like golf, where all of a sud­den you go out there and your swing starts groov­ing,” Har­baugh said. “If it was like that, then it wouldn’t be foot­ball. It’s tough be­cause ev­ery sin­gle play presents a new chal­lenge against a tough op­po­nent that’s do­ing ev­ery­thing they can within their in­tel­lect and their phys­i­cal abil­ity to thwart your ef­forts.”

The de­fense ex­celled against Mi­ami, but that’s come to be ex­pected from a unit ranked No. 2 over­all and first against the run. Mi­ami’s only touch­down came in the fourth quar­ter, on an 8-yard drive fol­low­ing a lost fum­ble by Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta.

Bal­ti­more’s spe­cial teams got a 55-yard field goal from Justin Tucker, and punter Sam Koch dropped two of his three kicks inside the 20.

“What a great game, team ef­fort, all three phases,” safety Eric Wed­dle said. “We played our best to date, and we’ve got to play bet­ter next week. We’ve been play­ing play­off foot­ball for the last four weeks, so it’s noth­ing new to us.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bal­ti­more Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco com­pleted a fran­chise-record 36 passes to 11 dif­fer­ent re­ceivers Sun­day in a 38-6 win over the Mi­ami Dol­phins.

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