Jay Cutler, the previously retired quarterback-turned-broadcaster-turned-Miami-Dolphins-starter, made his debut Thursday night, playing in two series against the Ravens and completing three of six passes for 24 yards.
The Dolphins acted quickly when starter Ryan Tannehill went out with a significant knee injury, signing the former Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears quarterback out of the Fox broadcast booth and handing him the keys to their starting offense.
With starting quarterback Joe Flacco sidelined at least through the rest of the preseason because of a back injury, the Ravens have chosen a different approach. They’ve stuck with Ryan Mallett, a move the veteran backup continues to leave open for second-guessing because of his underwhelming play.
Mallett played the entire first half against the Dolphins and worked through some rocky moments to help the Ravens to a six-point lead on their way to a 31-7 throttling of the Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.
“I thought we made some improvements,” Mallett said. “We got into a little bit of a rhythm after kind of a slow start. But, you know, we’re getting better and that’s what it’s about. We’ll get ready for the next one.
“I think I played a little bit better. There’s still plays to be made, but that’s part of it. It’s part of growing and getting better.”
Mallett found tight end Larry Donnell alone in the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown pass, and set up Justin Tucker for field goals of 52 and 27 yards. Otherwise, neither he nor the starting offense was able to ease any concerns about the play of the unit with Flacco sidelined in what was a hard-to-watch first half, made worse by deplorable field conditions.
“We made a couple plays, but not enough,” Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace said. “We’ll continue to get better.”
Josh Woodrum came in and led the Ravens to three second-half scoring drives to turn the game into a rout. He finalized two of the drives with touchdown runs, scoring from 14 yards and 1 yard out. The Ravens scored the game’s final 31 points.
Before being relieved by Woodrum, Mallett completed 13 of 22 passes for 113 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He easily could’ve been picked off four times if Dolphins defenders would have held onto the ball.
“I thought he did good. He got out of trouble a few times, he made a few throws. I think we’ll just keep working to build off that,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Mallett. “He was under pressure more than we’d like early on and I thought he handled it well, didn’t make mistakes. He played good, solid football. We’re not totally together up front right now and I think he’s doing OK given the circumstances.”
Mallett’s first interception was on a deep route down the far sideline. Miami cornerback Xavien Howard had inside position on undrafted rookie Quincy Adeboyejo and easily made the play. On his second pick, Mallett threw a slant behind Adeboyejo who had the ball wrestled out of his hands by Cordrea Tankersley.
Unlike last week, Mallett was at least able to make a few plays down the field. He hit Wallace for completions of 19 and 14 yards. Tight end Benjamin Watson got in the act with an 11-yard completion for a first down. However, Mallett still struggled with his accuracy and didn’t look overly comfortable in the pocket.
In two preseason games, Mallett has completed 22 of 40 passing attempts for 171 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He’s expected to start again next week in the third preseason game against the Buffalo Bills.
Harbaugh said after the game that Flacco, who team officials believe is on track to start the Sept. 10 regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, won’t return to practice this week.
Mallett was hardly alone in his struggles Thursday. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was pleased that the Ravens had no pre-snap penalties in last week’s preseason opener against the Washington Redskins. Harbaugh was pleased that his team played winning football.
But that was not the case Thursday. Both Wallace and running back Terrance West fumbled in the first half, although the Ravens got both balls back. The Ravens couldn’t convert on a fourth-and-2 at the Dolphins 41-yard line on their first drive as Mallett threw incomplete to Danny Woodhead.
The interior of the offensive line — starting guards Jarrod Pughsley and Matt Skura, and center Ryan Jensen — were frequently pushed back, leaving little running room for West. Starting tackles Austin Howard and James Hurst, and Skura were all called for holding penalties while Skura was also flagged for a false start.
That the Ravens scored 13 points in the first half was mostly because of shoddy special teams play by the Dolphins. That was exemplified by one stretch late in the second quarter after Tucker put the Ravens on the board with a 52-yard field goal, an impressive kick given the awful field conditions.
On the ensuing kickoff, Senorise Perry, who scored the Dolphins’ first-half touchdown with a shifty 11-yard run, fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Tucker on the Miami 24-yard line. The Ravens’ drive stalled and they settled for a 27-yard field goal by Tucker.
The Dolphins got the ball back and went three-and-out, but Matt Darr’s punt was blocked by Chris Matthews who went unblocked because Miami didn’t have enough players on the field. Matthews recovered the ball on the 9-yard line and that drive ended with Mallett hitting Donnell for the touchdown on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line.