Surging Ravens hit their groove in time for playoff push
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- 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."