By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun
1:07 AM EST, November 8, 2010
Ray Rice busted out some dance moves while walking to the huddle, just like the ones he used to elude the Miami Dolphins all afternoon.
The shaking and wiggling from the Ravens' precocious running back shouldn't come as a surprise. The fact he could do it with about five minutes left certainly should.
After failing to hold fourth-quarter leads the previous two games, Rice and the Ravens regained their finishing touch in a 26-10 thumping of the spitting mad Dolphins.
Unlike the times when the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills were able to send the game into overtime, the Ravens didn't let a 10-point advantage in the final quarter slip through their fingers. In fact, they tightened their grip on the haphazard game.
With Rice churning out the yards, the offense controlled the clock for 11 of the quarter's 15 minutes. With Ed Reed patrolling the secondary again, the defense stopped Miami's final two drives with interceptions.
Ravens fans had grown accustomed to sitting on the edge of their seats. But on a chilly and windy day at M&T Bank Stadium, over half the announced crowd of 71,305 felt comfortable enough to leave them in the closing minutes of the game.
"We've faced many situations now that we've overcome," said Rice, whose 180 total yards accounted for nearly half the Ravens' offensive output. "As a team, you want to be tested because later in the year … we're in the huddle saying, 'We've been here before.'"
Rice added, "We're hitting our stride as a team."
Hitting their stride at the midway point of the season, the Ravens (6-2) are tied with four other teams for the best record in the NFL (the New York Jets, New England Patriots, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons). They won for the fifth time in six games and handed the first road loss of the season to the frustrated Dolphins (4-4) .
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (20-for-27 passing for 266 yards) recorded a season-best rating of 129.6, led an offense that didn't punt (Flacco pointed this out to the team's public relations department) and connected on two touchdown passes. His 32-yarder to running back Willis McGahee came on the opening drive (when McGahee ran around and past seven defenders off a screen pass) and his 12-yarder to wide receiver Derrick Mason came on the Ravens' first drive of the second half.
The rest of the time was dominated by Rice, who had 97 yards receiving on seven catches and 83 yards rushing on 22 carries.
Teams had limited Rice this season to 94.5 total yards by having a linebacker shadow him all over the field. The Dolphins were the first team that didn't and paid the price for letting Rice catch the ball over the middle in open space.
"Why would we shadow him?," Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby said with no hint of sarcasm. "He didn't do anything."
Rice just had four plays over 10 yards: 34, 20, 15 and 12. He produced 117 of the Ravens' 228 yards in the second half (51 percent). And he was the closer, touching the ball the last six times on a 13-play, 61-yard drive in the fourth quarter that took nearly six minutes off the clock.
"I hope they continue to forget about him," fullback Le'Ron McClain said of Rice. "Ray Rice is dangerous with the ball in the open field. Everybody in the league got a taste of that today."
That long drive ended with a 20-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff, which extended the Ravens lead to 23-10 with 6:45 remaining.
The defense did the rest to restore some of their pride and secure the Ravens' seventh straight win at home. After giving up 20 fourth-quarter points the past two games, the Ravens held Miami to 65 yards on its final two possessions and forced two turnovers.
The first interception occurred when a pass bounced off hands of wide receiver Brandon Marshall -- who had proclaimed this game as a "defining moment" for the Dolphins -- and into the arms of Reed. The Ravens converted Reed's third interception in two games into another Cundiff field goal, which finished off a troublesome day in the red zone (1-for-7 inside the 20-yard line) but pushed their advantage to 26-10.
The second pick came from Josh Wilson, who started the second half in place of Fabian Washington (benched for the second straight game). Wilson broke in front of Davone Bess with 35 seconds remaining for his first Ravens interception.
"You always want the onus to be on you," Wilson said. "It's time for us to step up. Offense did what they did. Now, it's time for us to go in and end the game."
As the Ravens closed out the game, they reveled in getting the last word.
Coming into the game, Miami linebacker Channing Crowder forgot Mason's name and referred to him as "the old guy." Mason, who scored his touchdown by faking out cornerback Vontae Davis, delivered a parting blow.
"You gotta be able to back up your talk, and the guy just didn't," said Mason, who had four catches for 42 yards. "Hopefully, after this game, he'll sit back and realize what type of player he truly is. He is not one of the elite players in the game."
More controversy was stirred up in the third quarter when Crowder walked into the Ravens' backfield after calling timeout. Crowder says McClain spit on him.
"I'm not that type of player. I'm a ballplayer," McClain said. "If he's frustrated that I was straight getting after him all game, that's a fact. That's his opinion if he thought I spit on him, but the fact is, throughout the game, for four quarters, I was doing my job. And I'll just leave it at that."
The Ravens improved to 8-1 after the bye since 2002, including 3-0 under coach John Harbaugh. There will be no such time in preparing for the next game, which is four days away at Atlanta (6-2).
Asked how long he can savor Sunday's win over Miami, Harbaugh glanced at his watch.
"I'm going to savor it until 9 p.m. tonight," he said. "We don't have time to mess around."
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