SCHAUB HURTS SHOULDER LATE; DOLPHINS’ RUN GAME REVIVED
The 2015 Ravens will be remembered as a team good enough to play close games, but not good enough to win most of them.
The team’s 20th season will enter its homestretch as the Ravens’ 4-8 record comes with many heartbreaking moments, such as the most recent one, a 15-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins in front of 64,519 soaked and wind-blown fans at Sun Life Stadium.
Despite a 13-point rally and all the second-half momentum, the Ravens ended a five-game winning streak against Miami; the result gave the Dolphins (5-7) a 6-5 lifetime series lead against Baltimore.
With three wins in their previous four games, the Ravens had shown some pride as they attempted to salvage something out of an injury-riddled season that has placed 17 players on injured reserve.
During the game, the team’s tight end corps and its offensive and defensive lines took a few more knocks, as did quarterback Matt Schaub, who completed 17-of-21 passes in the second half.
Schaub’s banged-up shoulder -- suffered late in the second half -- hampered his efforts to bring the team back on a final drive that ended without the team crossing midfield.
Baltimore’s secondary limited Miami standout receiver Jarvis Landry to two catches, and Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill also struggled mightily, but he managed to avoid the Ravens’ pass rush that had dumped him 12 times during the last two meetings.
Miami, last in the league in rush attempts, managed to revive its moribund running game to the tune of 137 yards on 26 carries and halt any momentum caused by the Ravens’ ability to control the ball for more than 38 minutes.
In fact, Baltimore accumulated 22 first downs to Miami’s eight and outgained their hosts, 375 yards to 219. But the Dolphins forced two late first-half turnovers and turned them into the touchdowns that would decide the game.
“It’s a little frustrating,” said rookie running back Javorius ‘Buck’ Allen, who had his finest day of the year with 63 rushing yards on 17 carries and 12 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. “I’m very comfortable with what the coaches are asking me to do. When my number is called, I just have to make the best out of it.”
At halftime, the Ravens were a team in crisis, forced to reshuffle an already injury-plagued offensive line and trailing, 15-3.
But early in third quarter, Allen caught a flat pass and wove through traffic for a 41-yard touchdown that capped off a 78-yard, six-play drive and cut Miami’s advantage to five points.
Justin Tucker -- the second Raven to reach 500 career points and the fastest to do it in NFL history (60 games) -- brought the Ravens closer with a 31-yard field goal early in the final period, one during which Baltimore had outscored its foes, 98-69, coming into the game.
The Ravens defense forced four straight second-half punts, held Miami to 26 yards on its first 13 plays over the final two periods, and made what appeared to be the game’s biggest play.
With just over four minutes to go, Kendrick Lewis stripped Dolphins running back Lamar Miller -- only his second fumble of the season -- and Courtney Upshaw recovered it at the Dolphins’ 41-yard line.
But after Schaub’s injury, Tucker was forced to try a 55-yard field goal in rainy, windy conditions on loose turf, and the kick sailed wide right, his fifth straight miss from beyond 50 yards and his seventh unsuccessful kick of the year.
As expected, both clubs tried to establish the run early in the game, but for different reasons.
Miami wanted to save face after gaining just 12 yards on nine carries a Week 12 loss to the New York Jets. Working against the Dolphins’ bottom-ranked run defense, the Ravens wanted to continue acclimating Schaub (32-for-46, 308 yards, touchdown, two interceptions) to game action in his second start in place of the injured Joe Flacco.
The Dolphins seemed to get a foot in front, unveiling a no-huddle offense installed by promoted play-caller Zac Taylor and relying on running back Lamar Miller (113 yards, 20 carries, TD).
Even without an early run game, Kamar Aiken (48 yards, six catches) -- the most targeted Ravens receiver since Steve Smith Sr. was lost for the year -- was able to make two first-down catches to get the Ravens into Dolphins territory.
But the promising drive fizzled after a 52-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Brown was nullified by an offensive push-off call. The Dolphins defender slipped on the loose turf without help from Brown, but the flag took away what would have been his first NFL reception and career score.
The teams combined for five punts and 112 yards in a scoreless first quarter, the first involving the Ravens all season. Baltimore would soon attempt to shake the game out of its doldrums.
A 15-play, 80-yard drive put the Ravens on the Dolphins’ 2-yard line, where they faced fourth-and-1, a familiar spot for the team this season. After having held the ball for almost nine minutes, the Ravens rode a Schaub sneak that was spotted short of the first down.
But worse for the Ravens was the fact that tight end Crockett Gillmore had to leave the game with a back injury, rendering a second player at that position to the bench after Maxx Williams was declared inactive.
Not only that, Schaub appeared woozy late in the first half after getting hit in the pocket by pass-rusher Olivier Vernon. After the two-minute warning, a subsequent pass was tipped and intercepted by Rashad Jones at the Ravens’ 38-yard line.
Tannehill (9-for-27, 86 yards, touchdown) took instant advantage, finding lanky rookie receiver DeVante Parker (63 yards, three catches, TD) on a post pattern past Lardarius Webb for a touchdown and a 7-0 Miami lead.
Defensive lineman Derrick Shelby would soon extend the lead, coming unblocked off the right side to bat a Schaub pass back in his face, intercept it and run it in for a 22-yard score and a second touchdown in 20 seconds.
It was the 14th pick-six in Schaub’s checkered career and the sixth in his last nine starts.
The bizarre sequence continued when the Ravens were twice called for being offsides on the conversion. The second penalty nullified a Lawrence Guy blocked kick that Terrence Brooks ran back for what would have been two points, as Jay Ajayi promptly ran the ball into the end zone on the next snap for a 15-0 advantage.
Schaub regrouped to find Chris Givens (68 yards, three catches) downfield twice as the Ravens managed a 38-yard field goal before halftime.
Baltimore would draw closer, but not close enough, providing another signature moment in a season in which no one wants to sign off.
Joe Platania has been covering professional football since 1994.