MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. — By now, the Ravens' grit should be unquestioned. Their ability to play hard and battle through injuries, blown calls and mistakes cannot be doubted.
Those things, coupled by the occasional good drive, defensive stand and game-altering special teams play, will be enough to win you a few games here and there. But that combination simply cannot be relied on every week. It's tough enough to consistently win in the NFL. It's nearly impossible if you have to overcome both the opposition and yourself week after week.
The Ravens outgained the Miami Dolphins by 156 yards. They ran 29 more offensive plays and held the ball for more than 16 minutes longer than their opponent. However, they were done in by a series of miscues in one 30-second span late in the second quarter, most notably another interception thrown by Matt Schaub and returned for a touchdown.
Their 15-13 loss to the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium in front of an announced 64,519 – a good many wearing purple – fit in perfectly with the rest of the Ravens' season. There were key injuries, several costly mistakes, a couple of curious calls by the officials, and more late-game drama.
But after Kendrick Lewis stripped the ball from running back Lamar Miller to give the Ravens possession in Miami territory, Justin Tucker's 55-yard field-goal attempt with under three minutes to go sailed wide right and the visitors' best chance to win went with it. The Ravens got the ball back with 20 seconds left and no timeouts but did not come close to getting Tucker another opportunity.
"I actually felt like I hit it perfectly," Tucker said of his seventh miss this year. "It just didn't go through. It's frustrating, but the only thing you can do is move on and hope you get another opportunity real quick. Unfortunately, we didn't. It just happens sometimes."
The loss ends the Ravens' two-game winning streak, drops them to 4-8, and means that to avoid their first losing campaign in coach John Harbaugh's eight-season tenure, they'll have to win their final four games. All of them are against opponents who have a .500 record or better.
It also extended the Ravens' NFL record-streak of having their first 12 games decided by eight points or fewer. However, while the outcome of this game was hanging in the balance until the final couple of minutes, it was a less than one-minute stretch late in the second quarter that ultimately was decisive.
With the game scoreless at the two-minute warning before halftime, Schaub's first-down pass was deflected by Jason Phillips and wound up in the arms of Dolphins safety Reshad Jones for the interception. On the next play, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, on really his only big play of the game, sold the play-action fake and hit DeVante Parker for a 38-yard touchdown pass.
Three plays from scrimmage later, Schaub had another pass deflected, this one by Derrick Shelby, and the big defensive end caught it and then outraced the quarterback to the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown. Following two offside penalties called on the Ravens, the Dolphins went for the two-point conversion and got it to take the 15-0 lead.
"That was the difference in the game," said Schaub who otherwise completed 32 of 46 passes for 308 yards and a touchdown.
As they always seem to, the Ravens rallied. A field goal by Tucker cut the deficit to 12 points heading into intermission. A 41-yard touchdown catch-and-run by running back Buck Allen, who accounted for 170 of the Ravens' 375 yards of total offense, on the their first drive of the second half cut the deficit to 15-10.
Tucker then made a 31-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to make it a 15-13 game. That was as close as the Ravens got. Their eight losses this season have come by a total of 34 points.
"At this point, even when they jump up 15-0, we already knew it was going to come down to the last play or come down to the last drive, which it always does," Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "We were already preparing for that. What is this, 12 games now where we've played to the wire? At this point, we're already accustomed to being in a dogfight and making that last play. Today unfortunately, we didn't come up with that."
After the game, there was plenty for the Ravens to digest. They had several more injuries to key players as tight end Crockett Gillmore, starting left tackle Rick Wagner and nose tackle Brandon Williams were forced to leave at different points of the game. Gillmore, who hurt his back, did not return.
Schaub also was beat up. He slammed his head on the ground in the second quarter before the two interceptions and then hurt his shoulder on a hit late in the fourth quarter.
"I just need to put everything back in place," said a weary-looking Schaub after the game.
The Ravens were also ticked off at John Parry's officiating crew. A phantom pass interference call on wide receiver Daniel Brown took away what should have been a 52-yard touchdown catch for the rookie. Then, there was what the Ravens felt was a bad spot on Schaub's quarterback sneak on fourth-and-inches in the second quarter.
Instead of finalizing a 15-play, near nine-minute drive with a touchdown, the Ravens came away with nothing.
"The surge clearly went across the six inches or less that we had to get and he didn't give it to us on the spot, and you can't challenge that because in New York, if they can't see the ball, they're not going to overturn it," Harbaugh said. "Whenever you get surge and the quarterback's got the ball right there up in his chest and he's behind that offensive line, that's a first down in football. Always is and always has been."
The Ravens, though, hurt themselves so many times, failing to execute when it looked like they were going to take over the game. How do you lose when you hold the opposing quarterback to nine completions and 86 passing yards?
You throw interceptions, including one that gets returned for a touchdown. Schaub's pick-six was his second in as many weeks, and his seventh since 2013. You go 5-for-15 combined on third and fourth down, and 0-for-2 in the red zone. You also commit costly penalties.
Left tackle James Hurst's holding call wiped away running back Terrance West's first-down run to the Miami 37 with less than six minutes to play in the fourth quarter. On the next play, Schaub was sacked and the Ravens had to punt.
"We played great all day except for those couple of plays" late in the second quarter, Ravens rush linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. "It's frustration, man."