For the first time in several weeks, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco looked comfortable. He was going through his reads, moving around fluidly in the pocket and finding open receivers. On the team's second drive, he made one of his best throws all season, dropping the ball in between Miami Dolphins defensive backs Bobby McCain and Nate Allen and into the arms of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin for a 34-yard touchdown.
However, Flacco's night came to a premature end late in the second quarter on a nasty and illegal hit by Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso. As he slid feet-first to complete a 9-yard run, Flacco was struck in the head by a flying forearm delivered by Alonso. The blow knocked Flacco's helmet off and left him getting up woozily with blood dripping from his left ear.
Flacco went straight to the locker room with team medical personnel. He got his ear stitched up and he was ruled out of the game at halftime with a concussion. His condition marred the Ravens' best all-around performance of the season as they embarrassed the Dolphins, 40-0, in front of an announced 70,408 at chilly M&T Bank Stadium to improve to 4-4 on the season.
"Joe had a concussion and a cut ear," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after the game. "He was cut from his upper ear to his earlobe. They were stitching that up without any anesthesia, so he's a tough dude. That's as much as I know about it."
Harbaugh didn't elaborate on the severity of the concussion, and the reality is that the Ravens probably don't have a handle on that information this early anyway. What's clear is Alonso's hit, which several Ravens labeled dirty and felt should have resulted in an ejection, fueled the team's thorough dismantling of the Dolphins, who had won three games in a row heading into the game.
"He's walking off the field, got blood coming from his ear," said Ravens running back Alex Collins, who rushed for a career-high 113 of the Ravens' 174 rushing yards. "We're very passionate about our team and protecting the quarterback … so just seeing him go down like that, I could just see in everybody's eyes that we wanted to finish this game strong for him."
Maclin and Benjamin Watson each caught a touchdown pass, the latter coming three plays after Ryan Mallett relieved Flacco. Wide receiver Chris Moore recovered a mishandled Mallett-Buck Allen exchange in the end zone for another score.
The game was controlled by the Ravens defense, which battered and confused Miami fill-in starter Matt Moore, scored two touchdowns and eliminated the Dolphins' running game in registering its second shutout of the season.
C.J. Mosley scored on a 63-yard touchdown return early in the fourth quarter, and Jimmy Smith had a 50-yard interception return with under five minutes to play.
"We know how we are capable of playing," Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "Today, I think we got a little back to 'Raven football.' You can't take shutouts for granted. We have two of them this year, which is pretty good. But we also have been on the other side of that where we have been lit up."
Particularly satisfying for the Ravens was holding the Dolphins to 45 rushing yards after they spent all week hearing that they had the league 32nd-ranked run defense. Jay Ajayi had 21 carries on his first carry. On his next 12, he gained 2 total yards.
"It's not what we're about — giving up a bunch of yards in the running game," Harbaugh said. "Sure, they took it personally, and I'm proud of the way they responded."
In their past two matchups, the Ravens have outscored the Dolphins 78-6. The victory was just the Ravens second in the past five games and it prevented their first three-game home losing streak since the 2007 season, Brian Billick's last at the helm of the team.
It came at quite a cost as tight end Vince Mayle was forced from the game with a concussion in the first quarter and starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley injured his shoulder in the third. He returned to the game.
However, Flacco's status will loom over the team before it plays its next game Nov. 5 at the Tennessee Titans. It's believed to be his first reported concussion in his 10-year NFL career, and it came at a time when he was in the midst of one of his best performances during an extremely disappointing season.
"Gosh, I saw the hit. Everybody saw it. It's obviously not the game we intend to play," said Ravens right tackle Austin Howard, who was the recipient of an eye poke by Dolphins defensive lineman William Hayes later in the game as the play got increasingly chippy after Flacco's injury. "Obviously, that stuff happens. We're all upset about it. Right now, we're just hoping the best for Joe. I hope he makes a good comeback. We're all just praying for him. We hope he's OK."
When he was knocked out of the game at the 3:14 mark of the second quarter, Flacco had completed 10 of 15 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. That was good for a 107.9 quarterback rating, his highest of the season.
After the Ravens got one first down and then punted on their first drive, they took over on the Dolphins 40-yard line on their ensuing possession. On third-and-four from the 34, Flacco hit Maclin in between two defenders for the touchdown. It was Flacco's sixth touchdown pass this season, and three of them have been to Maclin, who returned after missing the previous two games with a shoulder injury.
"It was a play where I had the only deep route, so I knew I was getting the ball," Maclin said. "Joe put it right where it needed to be."
The Ravens extended their lead to 13-0 as Justin Tucker connected on field goals of 55 and 48 yards.
After Cody Parkey's miss of a 50-yard field goal, the Ravens took over on their own 40, looking for more points before halftime.
Flacco hit Maclin for 13 yards on the first play of the drive and then found Collins out of the backfield for a 27 yard gain on the next play. On third-and-10 from the Dolphins' 20-yard line, Flacco didn't see anybody immediately open but he did spot an open running lane off right tackle.
He took off and then slid down right at the 11-yard line when Alonso came flying in, drawing the unnecessary roughness penalty.
"It was a bang-bang play and I hope he's all right. I truly do," Alonso said.
Ravens center Ryan Jensen immediately went after Alonso and drove him the ground. Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh then jumped into the mix. Harbaugh screamed in Alonso's direction from the sideline.
"I felt it was a dirty hit," Jensen said. "He's our franchise, he's our franchise quarterback, and him getting cheap-shotted like that, I feel like I had to do something to protect him and show him that we got his back."
Several other Ravens, including Maclin and Stanley, also called it a dirty play.
The Ravens got the best revenge on Alonso three plays later when tight end Watson beat him to the corner of the end zone and caught a 2-yard touchdown to give the Ravens a 20-0 lead.
Alonso will surely be facing a fine from the league and possibly a suspension, but that will be little consolation for the Ravens if they lose their quarterback for an extended period.
"At the end of the day, our quarterback went down, and the whole team took it personally, Mosley said. "We were all right there on the sideline. That's just how we are. We're a family. That's our quarterback, and that really set the tone for the rest of the game. I hope he's OK and everything. We were just looking out for our family."