1) With their playoff hopes already in peril, the Ravens stepped up big.
Let's face it: the Ravens' season felt on the verge of slipping away after Sunday's loss in Minnesota. The offense, devoid of a single healthy front-line receiver, appeared helpless. The defense, expected to be dominant coming into the season, allowed a third 100-yard rusher in four weeks and couldn't beat a second-string quarterback.
If the Ravens lost to the Dolphins at home on Thursday night, they would fall to 3-5, and a third straight season with no playoffs would become a likelihood rather than a possibility.
Confronted with all that, the Ravens came out punching on both offense and defense.
With a healthier receiving corps and two subpar cornerbacks to attack, they scored two offensive touchdowns in the first half, more than they had in the previous two games combined. They exceeded their total yardage from the Minnesota game early in the third quarter.
On defense, they made eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage in the first half alone.
In short, they looked exactly like the team they aspired to be at the start of the season.
Now, all of that could be overshadowed by the concussion quarterback Joe Flacco suffered in the second quarter on an irresponsible hit by Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso. Flacco was playing either his best or his second-best game of the season, so the injury — awful under any circumstances — was especially ill-timed for him.
We likely won't know how long he'll be out until at least next week, though the Ravens are fortunate they have a 10-day break before their trip to Tennessee and then a bye week after that.
Regardless of the news on Flacco, the Ravens showed real competitive character in bailing out their season with a decisive victory over a 4-2 opponent.
They play just once in the next 24 days, which means they'll have plenty of time to heal and retool their attack. Even if they go into the bye week 4-5, they'd at least have a chance to make a run over the last seven games.
So this performance bought them a whole lot.
2) Alonso should have been ejected from the game for his hit on Flacco.
I don't know how the NFL can claim to be serious about combating head injuries if its officials won't eject a player for delivering a forearm strike to the head of a sliding quarterback.
What would Alonso, a Dolphins linebacker, have needed to do to get booted? Walk up to a prone Flacco and kick him in the face?
I understand a defender faces a difficult calculation, closing on a ball carrier at high speed. But in this case, Flacco was clearly beginning to slide, a sign to the defender to back off. And Alonso didn't just tumble into him. He delivered a blow.
It was a vicious play that could harm Flacco's career and derail the Ravens' season. Don't tell me 15 yards is a proportional response to such a transgression.
"It was a real dirty hit," Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley said. "Joe was obviously going for a slide. He was obviously intentionally doing something that was not a football move. That made us really angry. That's our quarterback. Our life is protecting him."
Alonso will probably be suspended, just as Minnesota safety Andrew Sendejo was for his head shot on Mike Wallace four days earlier. But such after-the-fact punishments don't make a sufficient statement in an age when head injuries are perhaps the greatest threat to the NFL's future.
Ejecting Alonso would not have wiped away his sin. But at least it would have suggested the league will not tolerate such reckless aggression.
3) The Ravens clearly took criticism of their run defense personally.
When Miami running back Jay Ajayi bounced to the outside for a 21-yard gain on his first carry of the game, it seemed the Ravens might be set to relive the same old nightmare. They came in with the worst run defense in the league, an unbelievable statistic for a franchise built on ferocious play at the line of scrimmage.
Instead of folding, the Baltimore defense delivered its most punishing performance of the season, eating Ajayi alive and pressing Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore into an ugly performance.
Almost every defensive starter contributed a significant play, with eight different Ravens making tackles behind the line of scrimmage. This was the defense we expected coming off an impressive preseason, a group defined not by a singular star but by an abundance of quality players at every level of the field.
"We can be a dominant defense when we play together," safety Eric Weddle said. "We shut down the run. Guys weren't really open at all. We pressured them. It was a good overall team defensive effort. And that's what we need to do."
The Ravens changed the narrative on Ajayi in a hurry after that initial run. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams stuffed him for a 3-yard loss to start Miami's second possession, and linebacker Terrell Suggs wrapped him up for a 2-yard loss during the next series.
Miami's feature back gained two yards on 12 carries the rest of the way.
The Ravens' hit parade continued all the way to cornerback Jimmy Smith's interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
It's important to remember they did this against the only offense that had been less productive than their own through seven weeks. But they delivered the kind of confident performance they needed against a limited opponent.
4) Give Flacco competent receivers and decent protection and he's still a capable quarterback.
The Ravens started the game with a better hand than they had four days earlier, simply because receivers Jeremy Maclin and Breshad Perriman were ready to play.
As he had in the Ravens' win over the Oakland Raiders, Flacco wasted little time attacking the defense.
On the team's second drive, he hit Maclin in stride for a 34-yard touchdown, dropping the ball neatly over two defenders. It was perhaps Flacco's best throw of the season, and it illustrated how limited he was by the Ravens' debilitated receiving corps in recent weeks. Give him a quality target like Maclin and sound protection from his line and he can still be a fine NFL quarterback.
It helped that he was picking on vulnerable cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley.
And it wasn't as if the Ravens suddenly transformed into the 2007 Patriots. They still played too conservatively at odd times.
For example, they had momentum in the first quarter, having scored a touchdown and backed it up with a three-and-out on defense. But then on third-and-short, they called a short pass to converted defensive lineman Patrick Ricard, who was stopped well short of the marker. That puzzling lack of ambition has hindered their offensive game plans all season.
Their overall effort was such a step forward from the previous two weeks, however, that it seems petty to complain.
5) Alex Collins deserves credit for addressing his fumbling problems.
Collins seemed in danger of flushing away a promising start to his Ravens career when he fumbled for a second time in three games in the team's 26-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He showed impressive maturity in discussing his troubles the week after the game. He said he wasn't disconcerted by the turnovers and would address ball security as another technical problem to solve in his burgeoning career.
Since then, Collins has made a point of keeping the ball clamped high on his chest, even during pregame warmups or the most mundane drills.
"He's about as good as he can be at it right now," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who said Collins was on a short leash after the Steelers game.
This high-and-tight approach is the same one Tiki Barber took when he fixed his fumbling problems during his heyday with the New York Giants.
Collins has now gone four straight weeks without losing the ball and in that time, he has emerged as the team's primary ground threat. He's a tough, decisive runner who generally gets the most he can out of a given play.
He delivered the best effort of his young career against the Dolphins, excellent timing considering the Ravens needed to put the game away without Flacco.
Beyond his talent and production as a runner, however, let's applaud Collins for his problem solving.
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