The biggest difference for the Dolphins in 2013 isnt their 3-1 record, their improved quarterback play or their chronic inability to pass protect.
Its how angry they stay, days after a loss.
A year ago, the locker room on Wednesdays was loose, whether they had just beaten the Seahawks or lost to the Jets.
But 48 hours after the Dolphins three-touchdown loss to the Saints, there was still simmering rage in Davie.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, usually as polite as a British caddie, had an edge during his weekly media availability. Richie Incognito said hes sick of answering questions every week about the number of sacks the team has allowed.
We were real [ticked] off about that, cornerback Nolan Carroll said of the way the Dolphins lost to the Saints. It lingered with us for a little bit. We really couldnt believe it.
We never took something to heart like that before. Most times, wed be like, We got beat, oh well. So what? Our mind-set is different this year. Now, we want to win the division. We want to go to the playoffs. We want to do those things. For us, we cant do the type of things we did on Monday night.
The Dolphins would be well suited to carry that fire onto the field Sunday. It might be Week 5, but their game against the Super Bowl champion Ravens is enormous.
A win would put them at 4-1, and 71 percent of teams with such a start make the playoffs, according to Stats LLC.
However, the AFC is far stronger than expected this year, with upstart teams such as Kansas City (4-0), Tennessee (3-1) and Cleveland (3-2) all in the early running for playoff spots.
With a loss to Baltimore, both teams would have the same record, but the Ravens would own the tiebreaker. And with a bye next week, the Dolphins would go an entire month without a win undoing much of the progress made in the first three weeks.
Obviously, were coming off a tough loss, Incognito said. We made a lot of mistakes. If we continue making a lot of mistakes, continue the bad play, then it will seem undone. I dont foresee us doing that.
Now, some perspective is in order. Given the teams brutal start to the year Miami has played the leagues seventh-toughest schedule through four weeks most fans would have been happy if the team reached its bye with a winning record.
Plus, three of the Dolphins first four games have been on the road. That changes now. Only one of their next seven will be played outside of Florida, and they have the AFCs easiest schedule the rest of the season.
Finally, theyve been the NFLs best red-zone offense, scoring a touchdown on 82 percent of their trips.
But, theres plenty of cause for concern, too.
The only other major categories in which they lead the league come on special teams (punting average and field-goal percentage).
They rank 25th in total offense, 26th in total defense, and last in sacks allowed per pass play.
In short, the Dolphins are like most every other NFL team: flawed. And the Ravens are no different. Baltimores offense has been even worse than Miamis this fall, explaining the teams 2-2 start.
Teams overcome these imperfections by having a quarterback make them irrelevant. The Ravens had that with Joe Flacco last year; the Dolphins had the same with Ryan Tannehill through this seasons first three weeks.
But both regressed in their games last week. Tannehill turned the ball over four times; Flacco threw five interceptions.
No doubt, both are angry about it.
You wouldnt want it any other way, Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said of the teams tough opening stretch. You wouldnt want an easy schedule. People talk about the schedule that you have.
To be the best, youve got to beat the best. This weekend, weve got the best team from last year coming in. To get to where we want to be, we have to beat them.
• The Dolphins filled the open spot on their active roster by promoting safety Jordan Kovacs from the practice squad Saturday.