On the Miami Dolphins' first play from scrimmage, running back Lamar Miller ran toward his right and then cut up the middle untouched for 15 yards.
It was exactly the type of play the Ravens usually stop when Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is in the game. In their 28-13 victory over the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium, the Ravens struggled without their suspended star early before the defense started shutting down running lanes and pressuring Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill from all directions.
They held the Dolphins to 249 total yards and 63 rushing yards. Miller had 47 yards rushing in the first half but finished with just 53 for the game.
"The biggest thing was just getting the win — that was the most important part. But I do feel good about the way I played," said rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who made his first start in place of Ngata. "There were a couple of plays I could have made out there, but at the end of the day we got the win and I do feel good about where I'm at as far as playing."
Ngata, a five-time Pro Bowl selection who was having a strong season, served the first of his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. In his place, the Ravens used several players, including Jernigan, Lawrence Guy and Terrence Cody, who made his season debut.
On passing downs, the Ravens frequently moved Pernell McPhee inside, allowing him to rush the passer from up the middle and collapse the pocket. The formula worked as the Ravens had six sacks.
"You have to understand that those are two big shoes that are hard to fill and Timmy Jernigan did an outstanding job today and so did the rest of the line — Brandon Williams, Chris Canty," said Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, one of Ngata's closest friends. "We just have to win out so we can get him back."
After one of his sacks, Suggs did the Haka, a Polynesian dance to honor his teammate who is of Tongan descent.
"It's the first time I've ever line up without him," Suggs said. "I wanted to salute him and let him know that I miss him and we're going to hold it down until he comes back."
For the entire fourth quarter, Lardarius Webb and Asa Jackson, playing his first game in about two months, were the Ravens' only two healthy and available corners.
Anthony Levine, who had started the previous three games at cornerback but was replaced Sunday by Jackson, suffered a concussion while trying to cover the Ravens' second punt and did not return to the game. Danny Gorrer, who has seen some time as the nickel corner, was injured on the first play of the fourth quarter while trying to make a tackle on Charles Clay's 14-yard reception. Gorrer was carted off the field.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh had no updates on either player, but Gorrer left the locker room on crutches and will be evaluated further in the days ahead.
"It's the nature of football," Jackson said. "It's unfortunate to us that we kept getting hit with corners but that's what happens around the whole league. We just are going to keep doing next man up and guys are ready to contribute. We've got some good, young guys that are going to have to step up and be ready to make some plays this week and the coming weeks."
Jackson, who was activated from the injured reserve with a designation to return list on Saturday, started despite missing the previous seven games with a toe injury. He was beaten by Brian Hartline for a 3-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter but otherwise, the Ravens' much-maligned secondary played well.
After missing practice for much of the week, Ravens running back Justin Forsett was active but he acknowledged that he wasn't 100 percent. Still, Forsett rushed for 71 yards on 13 carries and his 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter gave the Ravens a 21-13 lead.
"This time of year, I doubt anybody's 100 percent," said Forsett, whose streak of 100 yard games ended at three. "I'm just battling through some soreness and things like that. But best believe, when I'm out there, I'm going to give it my all and that's what I tried to do."
Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro also got seven carries for 35 yards — his biggest work load since his fumble against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov.2 — along with one reception for 20 yards. Bernard Pierce then came off the bench in the fourth quarter to rush for 50 yards on three carries.
Quarterback Joe Flacco is not known for his running ability. In fact, he is often hesitant to take off and run out of the pocket. But he showed some nice speed on his 15-yard run out of the Ravens' end zone and up the middle for a key first down. That played started the Ravens' 12 play, 97-yard scoring drive at the end of the first half but was hardly surprising to teammates.
"I think a lot of people underestimate Joe's speed. He has a lot more than a lot of QB's in the league," wide receiver Kamar Aiken said. "We like it when he runs and he had the chance. He slides not to get hit so it's always good when he's running and picks up 15 to 20 yards."
Aiken was one of nine receivers to catch a pass from Flacco. That included Phillip Supernaw, who had a 29-yard reception, but did not include Torrey Smith, who wasn't even targeted as he struggled to deal with a right knee injury.
"It didn't feel good from the get go," Smith said. "It was more so my pain tolerance. It obviously was hurting when I was running. … Basically, I kind of knew going in that I wasn't going to be able to play the whole game. But being able to go in and spell the guys for a little bit and help them get through the heat. They did a great job."
Flacco was sacked just once, the seventh time in the past eight games he's been taking down one time or fewer. … When tight end Owen Daniels caught a pass late in the second quarter, it marked his 100th consecutive game with a reception. The Ravens are now 5-0 against the Dolphins in Harbaugh's tenure. … … Flacco seemed to be having problems with the speaker in his helmet for much of the first half as he frequently ran toward the sideline before a play to get the call from offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. … After having five offsides penalties against the San Diego Chargers last week, the Ravens had three more in the first quarter Sunday but none the rest of the game. … Rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring) was inactive for a fifth straight game. … Also inactive were tight end Crockett Gillmore (back), offensive linemen Gino Gradkowski and Jah Reid, defensive end DeAngelo Tyson and defensive backs Terrence Brooks and Rashaan Melvin.