"Getting to the playoffs is a big-time accomplishment, and to position yourself in December to play these meaningful games is also a big-time accomplishment, and you can't take it for granted," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "You've got to keep your focus 100 percent of the time.
"Somebody said it earlier this week. When you're a young player, sometimes you might think there is always tomorrow. In this league, you never know when you're going to get your golden opportunity, so you have to take every little thing as a big opportunity and make the most of it, and I think that's what we're trying to do with some of the guys."
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill agreed with Flacco.
"When you play meaningful games in December," he said, "every team's intensity level is higher."
Their winning record was suspect, because several of their recent wins were against teams such as Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. The Ravens have had their own softies on the schedule —Cleveland twice and Jacksonville — but they also have proven veterans such as quarterback Joe Flacco, guard Marshal Yanda, receiver Steve Smith Sr. and linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs.
Those guys have been in the playoff hunt throughout most of their careers. Miami's last playoff appearance was following the 2008 season. Some of the Dolphins might not have understood there is mental switch that must go off in December.
"We all understand it is December football, and you have to win a lot of games down the stretch to become relevant," Yanda said. "That playoff itch is definitely in the back of us, and bringing everybody along with us is as important as ever."
The Ravens know about that mentality. Maybe nobody talks about it more than Suggs. But it's obvious in other ways, such as how Yanda has worked with rookie left offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley.
Ravens safety Eric Weddle, who played nine seasons for San Diego before coming to Baltimore this year, talked about how the team challenged safety Lardarius Webb four weeks ago. Webb responded with a great interception in the end zone Sunday to stop a Miami scoring drive.
"We put a lot of pressure on him about four, five weeks ago, and said, 'Hey, you've got to pick it up. You've got to be a great player for us. He's the rangy free safety type that we need in this defense to make plays, to erase plays in the back end, and he's really coming into his own," Weddle said.
The Ravens, despite all their problems this season, have that type of camaraderie and chemistry. They also have more talent than Miami.
Let's face it. The Dolphins were pathetic. Their pass defense was atrocious, especially in the middle of the field. How many times did they allow tight end Dennis Pitta to get off the line of scrimmage cleanly without holding him up?
They were soft in press coverage. They looked confused at times. They had quit by the end of the third quarter and they made the Ravens look like world-beaters. But the Ravens did some nice things in this game.
The offensive line is in a groove, having played well for three straight weeks. Last week the Ravens kept Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins under control, and Sunday they had no problems with tackle Ndamukong Suh and end Cameron Wake.
And with time, Flacco picked apart the Dolphins. He looked poised in the pocket. He set his feet. He went through his progressions and looked off defenders. He threw passes over the middle for touchdowns inside the red zone.
Of course the Dolphins had issues, but the Ravens made progress. On defense, it has become expected now that the Ravens will shut down the other team's running game, but they did a good job on Miami, which has a decent receiving corps. Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young were aggressive, and Weddle and Webb tackled well. If they continue to improve, the Ravens will have a dominant defense all the way around.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. The Ravens put together a full 60-minute game for the first time this season. It's only one game. They've had moments of brilliance before, only to fall apart minutes later.
But because the Ravens have been in the postseason hunt before, December is usually a special month in Baltimore.
"We went the wrong way today," Miami coach Adam Gase said. "It was just one thing after another. We didn't execute and they pounded all over it. That's what they do. There is a reason why they've won divisions and they've won playoff games, they've won Super Bowls. Because they understand, at this part of the season, you've got to be on it early because it can snowball one way or the other."