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Turnaround teams meet again in Miami after Ravens beat Dolphins there in October

December 29, 2008|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

When the Ravens last traveled to South Florida, they had an alarming tendency to turn the ball over and had lost three straight games.

On Oct. 19, they corrected both deficiencies and turned an early corner in the John Harbaugh regime by beating the Miami Dolphins, 27-13.

Miami fell to 2-4 with the defeat, but has lost only two games since. The victory launched the Ravens on their playoff path; counting that game, they have won nine of their past 11 games.

Clearly, both teams have moved on from their Week 7 meeting, both better off for the journey.

"They're a different team right now, [and] we're a totally different team at this point," Ravens safety Ed Reed said. "I'm sure there's going to be a bunch of new things that they present."

The Dolphins matched the NFL's biggest single-season turnaround by beating the New York Jets, 24-17, yesterday to win the AFC East title. At 11-5, that represents a 10-game swing from a 1-15 season that got then-Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron fired. Cameron is now the Ravens' offensive coordinator.

The Ravens lost 12 turnovers in their first five games of the season behind rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. They've lost nine turnovers in the past 11 games, including one at Miami, when Flacco threw for 232 yards and had the first 100-plus passer rating of his NFL career.

Harbaugh wasn't buying the notion of an advantage for having played and won at Dolphin Stadium this year.

"We'll probably know the hotel, and we've been in the locker room before," he said. "Beyond that, I don't know what it means. We know they're a very good football team, and we know that they've done something that teams that make the playoffs do - they've gotten better every single week since that game.

"So it's going to be a playoff football game, and it's going to be a playoff atmosphere against a team that we respect very much."

In the first Miami game, Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington had 295 passing yards - and a costly interception that linebacker Terrell Suggs returned 44 yards for a touchdown.

Pennington, signed late in training camp after being cut by the New York Jets, has thrown only seven interceptions all season, against 19 touchdowns. He has been the key player behind Miami's rejuvenation.

"I guarantee you they're a much better team than they were earlier this season," said Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason. "Much better. They were a hard team [to beat] the first time; they're much better now."

Both teams enter the playoffs with momentum. The Dolphins have won five straight games and eight of nine. The Ravens have won two in a row and five of their past six.

Flacco said the Ravens won't be fazed by the fact that they'll be on the road the rest of the season - however long it lasts. They will take their inspiration from last year's Super Bowl champion, the New York Giants, who won three straight road games to reach the Super Bowl as a wild-card team.

"As long as you go in there and play your game, it's a football game," Flacco said. "It's not going to faze us to go on the road. I think everybody saw New York do it last year, and we believe we can go do the same thing."

ravens (11-5) at dolphins (11-5)

What: Wild-card playoff game

When: 1 p.m. Sunday

Where: Dolphin Stadium

How they got here: The Ravens, 5-11 last season, earned the sixth seed in the AFC by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars, 27-7, yesterday. The Dolphins, 1-15 last season, won the AFC East and the right to host a playoff game when they beat the New York Jets, 24-17, yesterday.

We meet again: The Ravens beat the Dolphins, 27-13, on Oct. 19 as linebacker Terrell Suggs intercepted a pass from Chad Pennington and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown. In the span of 8 minutes, 22 seconds, the Ravens went from a 3-3 tie to a 17-6 lead. With the win, the Ravens ended a three-game losing streak.

Coaches: Both are in their first year. John Harbaugh, 46, spent the previous 10 seasons as an assistant for the Philadelphia Eagles. Tony Sparano, 47, worked the previous five years as an assistant in Dallas, four of them under Bill Parcells. Parcells, now the vice president of football operations in Miami, hired Sparano as the Dolphins' head coach.

Quarterbacks: The Ravens' Joe Flacco finished his rookie season with 257 completions in 428 passes for 2,971 yards and 14 touchdowns. Chad Pennington, in his first season with the Dolphins, completed 321 of 476 passes for 3,653 and 19 TDs.

Running backs: The Ravens' Le'Ron McClain carried 232 times for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Dolphins' Ronnie Brown rushed 214 times for 916 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Sack kings: Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter led the AFC with 17.5 sacks. Ravens defensive end-linebacker Terrell Suggs had 8.5.

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