MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. — As Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson stood at the line of scrimmage late Thursday night, he seemed to have accepted his fate.
The Ravens were down two scores late in the fourth quarter, and they had just passed for a first down, and they needed to move fast against the Miami Dolphins. And yet there seemed to be little urgency. Jackson would keep fighting, keep hoping, but almost nothing had gone his way for three-plus hours. There wasn’t enough time on the clock at Hard Rock Stadium to save the worst game of his team’s season.
The Ravens’ 22-10 loss to the woebegone Dolphins was a stunning setback for a team with aspirations of securing the AFC’s top seed, for a quarterback in the running for NFL Most Valuable Player honors, for a roster that must steel itself for a brutal second-half schedule. The offense was wasteful. The defense was leaky. There was little redeemable about the night.
“We were not prepared the way we needed to be prepared,” said coach John Harbaugh, who repeatedly blamed himself for the team’s poor performance. “Our schemes weren’t up to snuff, and we weren’t prepared to execute the way we needed to. So that’s it — not on one player. Our players played their hearts out. … We just weren’t ready, and that’s on me.”
Two years after he posted a perfect passer rating in his South Florida homecoming, a blowout win over another Dolphins team with low expectations, Jackson rarely stood out. He finished 26-for-43 for 238 yards, a touchdown and an interception, much of which came late in a desperate comeback bid. He added nine carries for 39 yards, the leading rusher for an ineffective and largely abandoned ground game.
Ravens players said afterward that they knew what the Dolphins’ defense would do — blitz regularly and heavily, especially on obvious passing downs — but that made their offensive struggles all the more jarring. The Ravens finished with a season-low 304 yards. They went 2-for-14 on third down. They committed two turnovers, including Jackson’s first career red-zone interception. They looked not like a championship-level attack but one in a rebuild. In other words, they looked like the Dolphins (3-7) were supposed to.
But on a night of many indignities, maybe none was greater than watching Tua Tagovailoa, a quarterback asked to play with a fractured finger, and starter Jacoby Brissett, a journeyman backup turned caretaker starter, walk off the field with a comfortable win and 290 yards of net passing. Miami’s offense entered the night without a play longer than 42 yards all season. They had two that went for 50-plus Thursday — the sixth and seventh such plays the Ravens have allowed this season.
“We just didn’t play a good football game,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “We need to watch the tape and get a feel for it. At the end of the day, they played better football than us today.”
Said cornerback Marlon Humphrey: “I guess you are what you put on film in the game. And that [big-play pattern] has kind of been our Achilles’ heel.”
With the loss, the Ravens dropped to 6-3 and saw their AFC North lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3) cut to half a game. The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, both 5-4, are a game behind.
The Ravens will have a week and a half to regroup and recover. They could get back tight end Nick Boyle and defensive tackle Brandon Williams for their Week 11 trip to face the Chicago Bears, and maybe some more help from their injured ranks.
It will take some time to move past Week 10. This was an ugly game, even by “Thursday Night Football” standards, with punt after punt after punt. But for much of the night, it was also a close game. Tight end Mark Andrews’ 5-yard catch with just over four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter capped a defensive-penalty-powered touchdown drive. The Ravens’ first trip into the end zone all night drew them to within 15-10.
The Ravens just couldn’t get out of their own way. Facing second-and-long on the ensuing drive, the Dolphins sent wide receiver Albert Wilson in motion on an apparent run-pass-option play. As he turned upfield near the left sideline, none of the Ravens bothered to keep track of him, their attention focused on the run fake.
Tagovailoa found him wide open for a 64-yard catch-and-run down to the Ravens’ 11-yard line. When Tagovailoa scored from a yard out a minute later to re-establish a double-digit lead, the Ravens’ chances were slim. When Jackson threw a jump-ball interception in the end zone with less than a minute left, the upset was secured.
“We weren’t ready,” Harbaugh said of Wilson’s big play. “We didn’t do a good job of it. The boys weren’t coached up well enough.”
The Ravens’ offense was an eyesore for much of the night. They didn’t convert a third-down opportunity until seven minutes into the third quarter. Over the first three quarters, they didn’t get past Miami’s 30-yard line. At one point, excluding an end-of-the-first-half kneel-down, they punted seven times in a row. After Jackson was sacked to end the Ravens’ final drive of the third quarter, his fourth and final takedown of the night, he spiked the ball from the seat of his pants.
Even when Jackson did find receivers, success wasn’t guaranteed. On a third-and-10 early in the fourth quarter, with the Ravens trailing 9-3, Jackson connected with wide receiver Sammy Watkins, breaking over the middle for a potential first-down completion. But cornerback Xavien Howard ripped the ball out as Watkins fell forward, gathered the fumble and was off. With a convoy of blockers, he eluded Jackson on his way to a 49-yard scoop-and-score. After a failed 2-point conversion, the Dolphins led 15-3.
Sideline cameras captured Jackson yelling in frustration, and he acknowledged afterward that he was feeling “hot.” He was disappointed to let down a defense that he said played “lights out.”
“We just weren’t getting it done on offense,” Jackson said after the Ravens’ lowest scoring output in his nearly three years as a starter. “So that’s why I was mad. Because if you were on offense, you would be mad, too.”
Miami was not supposed to make it this tough. The Dolphins entered the game rated 22nd in pass defense efficiency, 18th in run defense efficiency and 25th in overall defensive efficiency, according to Football Outsiders. They had the NFL’s second-worst third-down stop rate.
But Miami owned the line of scrimmage, denying the Ravens’ ground game any daylight. They were aggressive on third down, regularly blitzing defensive backs, from whom Jackson couldn’t run away. They crowded the line of scrimmage, daring Jackson to throw quickly and counting on their defensive backs to make tackles in space.
“They did kind of what we thought they were going to do,” center Bradley Bozeman said. “They blitzed us a lot. They brought a lot of [Cover] 0″ — a man-to-man defense in which there are no safeties in zone coverage — “[and] we tried to pick it up. We didn’t do a great job of picking it up. We have to make adjustments and go forward from here.”
Some defensive wrinkles might have been less expected than others. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Dolphins safeties Jevon Holland (21 blitzes) and Brandon Jones (17) blitzed more times than any defensive back in a game since 2016 when the stat was first tracked.
Jackson said the Dolphins’ heavy blitzes often left him “hot,” meaning it was his responsibility to get the ball out on time. But no matter what the Ravens tried — wide receiver screens and deep shots, bunch formations and spread looks — nothing seemed to work. Jackson, the NFL’s newly dubbed comeback king, could not lead another one.
“I tried to get the ball out to the receivers to make a play,” Jackson said. “You know, sometimes it was tipped passes, the ball was getting batted down. They just played a great game. They played a great game.”
Miami started the game with its own first-round quarterback pick, Tagovailoa, in safety on the sideline. A sack by Ravens outside linebacker Justin Houston early in the third quarter — the 100th of his career — changed those plans, with a knee injury forcing Brissett out of the game.
A sack on Tagovailoa one quarter later nearly changed the game, too. After inside linebacker Patrick Queen took down Tagovailoa for a blind-side strip-sack with about 10 minutes left and the Dolphins leading 15-3, he had a chance to pick up the fumble, maybe even run it back. But before he could get both hands on it, left tackle Liam Eichenberg had covered the ball, leaping from out of nowhere. Three plays later, the Dolphins downed a punt at the Ravens’ 1.
Brissett, like Tagovailoa, did what he had to in the first half. He avoided mistakes. He didn’t have wide receivers DeVante Parker or Will Fuller available — both were sidelined with injuries — but he did have the occasional target left unmarked downfield.
Wide receiver Isaiah Ford, whose career-long catch was 28 yards, had a 52-yard catch-and-run in the final minute of a hurry-up drive after the Ravens appeared to botch a coverage assignment on a blitz. Miami kicker Jason Sanders’ 22-yard field goal put the Dolphins up 6-3 at the half. Two years earlier, in their last matchup, they trailed 42-10 after two quarters.
“It seems like we’re getting to the game and there’s kind of a disconnect, at times,” Humphrey said of the Ravens’ struggles in pass defense.
In Week 5, the Ravens had also managed just a field goal in their first 30 minutes against the Indianapolis Colts. Over the rest of regulation and overtime, they scored 28.
There would be no repeat of that Thursday. And no one could really explain why.
“We’ve just got to do a better job out there,” Jackson said. “Like I said before, [there were] things we left out on the field, the mishaps. We have to get that fixed, regroup, get ready for Chicago.”
Nov. 21, 1 p.m.
TV: Chs. 13, 9 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 6