Armando Salguero

Ravens show Dolphins how teams aiming for the playoffs play in December

Miami Dolphins Jay Ajayi is surrounded by the Baltimore Ravens defense in the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD, December 4, 2016.
Miami Dolphins Jay Ajayi is surrounded by the Baltimore Ravens defense in the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD, December 4, 2016.

That was the difference between a veteran team that's won in the past and knows what playing meaningful games in December is about and a team that is still new to success.

The Baltimore Ravens administered a classic woodshed whipping to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday and the mammoth 38-6 margin was only the most obvious sign there is a difference between a veteran team familiar with litmus test games and Adam Gase's upstart bunch.

From the opening moments it was obvious the Ravens were playing with desperation and urgency and fire. The Dolphins, meanwhile, kind of just showed up expecting good things to happen.

Note to the Dolphins: You came to this game having won six games in a row and perhaps thinking if you stuck to your process and kept doing what you've been doing against one-win San Francisco and not-making-the-playoffs San Diego and Los Angeles things would be just fine.

No. Wrong.

That's not enough against a team that knows how to fight for a playoff spot.

That's not enough against a team that sees itself as fighting you for a playoff spot.

That's not enough against a team that came with a better plan -- including fourth-down plays to run successfully from its own side of the field -- a defense that allows only 13 points a game at home, and a kicker who could kick field goals from 55 yards out as if it was practice.

"It seems like every week, we've always had someone that made a play to get things to avalanche going in the right way. We went the wrong way today," coach Adam Gase said afterwards. "It was just one thing after another. We didn't execute and they pounced all over it.

"That's what they do. 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."

That wasn't a snowball that hit the Dolphins. That was a 10-ton boulder. And then another. And another.

Consider that Baltimore scored on its first drive. And its second. And by the time what seemed like the worst quarter the Dolphins have played since September was over, they trailed 14-0.

Soon it was 24-0 and there were no halftime adjustments to be made because everything needed to change.

On offense, Ryan Tannehill looked like it was 2015 all over again. He had no rhythm and little accuracy. He threw one interception the past six games. He threw three on Sunday.

Outside of Jay Ajayi breaking a tackle on seemingly every one of his runs, the offense had nothing. The offensive line was losing at the line of scrimmage, there was no deep passing game to speak of. It was a mess punctuated by some bubble screens and a lot of punts.

"We're a team right now that's ready to grind out December in whatever way that looks like," Baltimore cornerback Jimmy Smith said, "and try to make this playoff run."

Defensively, a unit decimated by injuries played like it. At one point I looked up and Spencer Paysinger and Mike Hull were the linebackers. Even when Kiko Alonso did come back to the game after suffering a thumb injury, he clearly wasn't himself because a hamstring injury he had all week kept him from running like he normally does.

But that wasn’t the worst part on defense.

Cornerback Tony Lippett, who had been improving steadily the past month, fell back to Earth allowing slants and in-cuts seemingly at will. Bobby McCain struggled to tackle. The defensive line didn't factor.

The middle of the field was an open and available space to Ravens receivers, especially tight end Dennis Pitta. Pitta had not scored a touchdown since December 2013. He scored two against the Dolphins.

Joe Flacco had never completed more than 35 passes in a game. He completed 36 against the Dolphins.

Flacco had 11 touchdowns in 11 games before Sunday. He had four against the Dolphins

Players made no plays. Coaches had no answers in their schemes or play calls. The Dolphins as a group performed as if they were caught unaware a game had been scheduled for this terrible field at M&T Bank Stadium.

"The last few weeks we were able to overcome some things and win," guard Jermon Bushrod said. "But today was a lesson … The lesson, man, is you have to go ahead and earn it. You have to fight for it everyday.

"Nobody's going to just sit down for you just because you've had some success. They're gunning for you now. They want to spoil your party. We have to understand that."

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