The impetus behind the Ravens' best offensive performance all season came in a meeting room when the players
The impetus behind the Ravens' best offensive performance all season came in a meeting room when the players returned to work last Tuesday. Two days earlier, quarterback Joe Flacco had lamented the Ravens getting conservative in a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Those words stung offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
Mornhinweg stood his ground with Flacco during a quarterback meeting as the Ravens reviewed the Bengals game and began preparations for the Miami Dolphins. Flacco reiterated his criticism to Mornhinweg, believing if the Ravens were going anywhere this season, they needed to open up the offense. The two stubborn men went back-and-forth, amusing the other people in the meeting.
"One thing Marty has never been accused of is being conservative. That's not a label he takes too kindly to, as Joe can probably attest," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Iron sharpens iron. We challenge each other, and everybody is able to do it in a way that makes each other better. I thought Marty just had a phenomenal game."
From their first drive until well in the fourth quarter Sunday, when the outcome was no longer in doubt, the Ravens' offense stayed in attack mode against the Dolphins and the result was one of the most prolific performances of Flacco's career. Breaking from weeks of struggles, Flacco completed a team-record 36 passes and threw four touchdowns as the Ravens routed the Dolphins, 38-6, in front of an announced 70,916 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Flacco threw two touchdown passes to tight end Dennis Pitta, and one each to Terrance West and Breshad Perriman, helping the Ravens rack up 496 yards of total offense. The Ravens ran the ball just 20 times compared to 50 passing attempts, but who needs balance when you're moving up and down the field with little resistance?
"We did have a good conversation about it, and I felt that [Mornhinweg] would kind of do what he did today, and we responded well to it," said Flacco who threw 381 yards and misfired on only 11 of his 47 passing attempts. "It played out that way because we were able to take the ball down the field on the first couple of drives and do what we did, and it allowed us to continue to do those things."
For one of the few times all season, the Ravens, who have now won four of five games to improve to 7-5 heading into a showdown against the New England Patriots next Monday night at Gillette Stadium, looked like a team not only capable of getting to the playoffs, but making a run if they do.
Facing a Dolphins team that had won six straight games, the Ravens led 24-0 at halftime and then pounded the visitors into submission in the fourth quarter. The defense picked off Ryan Tannehill three times and sacked him twice, and might have pitched a shutout if Pitta had not fumbled deep in Ravens' territory early in the fourth quarter. Tannehill hit DeVante Parker for an 8-yard score on the very next play. As far as highlights, that was about it for the Dolphins (7-5).
Offensively, the Ravens did whatever they pleased. That was reflected in an 18-play, 88-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter that ate up nearly nine minutes. Flacco was 12-of-14 for 91 yards on the drive, which ended with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Pitta, his second score of the half after he went three years without one.
Perriman's 53-yard touchdown catch and West's 9-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter were virtually uncontested. The Dolphins, a team that built their winning-streak on fourth-quarter comebacks, looked as if they couldn't get out of Baltimore soon enough.
"I felt we ran the ball well at the end, but the idea was just to score points. That was our thing," said Harbaugh, whose team scored its most points since they put up 48 on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in October 2014. "We wanted to go after them, attack them and mix the run and the pass. I think once the game gets going, you kind of do what's working and just try to keep the pressure on as much as you can. That was really our idea and that's what happened. … It just looked like you want it to look."
The Ravens entered the game with the NFL's 23rd-ranked offense, averaging 334.2 yards per game. They had scored one or no offensive touchdowns in six of their first 11 games. Against the Dolphins, they scored a touchdown on three of their first four drives, and then kicked a field goal — a 55-yarder by Justin Tucker — on their fifth. They had 303 yards of offense and 19 first downs by halftime.
For the game, Flacco hit 10 receivers and wasn't sacked for just the second time all season.
"The line obviously did a really good job," Flacco said. "We felt like we could get behind their [linebackers] a little bit. There were people open. I mean, guys were running into pretty big, open holes."
West, who had a touchdown on the ground and through the air, said the game plan was to "run the ball, but Joe Flacco started off on fire. We stuck with it."
The performance called to mind a similar December game against the New York Giants during the 2012 Super Bowl season. The Ravens had lost three straight games and their offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, had just been fired two weeks earlier. The Ravens put up 33 points against the Giants, the reigning Super Bowl champion at the time, and had 533 yards of total offense. Players later cited the game as the start of their Super Bowl run.
"Hopefully, this will have a similar effect, and hopefully offensively, we can continue to put it together like we did today and come out with wins," said Pitta, who had nine catches for 90 yards and the two scores. "We are getting healthy at the right time, and we feel good, and we feel like we have the momentum going at the right time."
Of course, the Ravens also understand things are about to get more difficult. The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the New York Giants on Sunday, so the teams remain tied for first place in the AFC North. The Steelers, though, don't have to play the AFC-best Patriots on the road next week.
Harbaugh called it the Ravens' toughest challenge of the year. Few would dispute that, but with the way Flacco and the much-maligned offense played Sunday, the Ravens will at least go into Foxboro, Mass., feeling good about themselves.
"The guy who was throwing the ball, he was playing lights out," Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. said. "We go as he goes, and so when he does a great job, we all look better."