BALTIMORE, MD – The Miami Dolphins found themselves in a very rare situation – they controlled their own destiny heading into this week’s game at Baltimore to take on the first-place Ravens. Had they won the game, the AFC East would be theirs and then next week’s game against Buffalo could determine first place in the whole AFC.
But Miami had their hands full against one of the best-built teams (And the potential MVP) in the NFL, not to mention the injury bug late in the season that has hindered their offense. As a result, the Fins started off hot but couldn’t keep up with the Ravens in an eventual rout by a score of 56-19 in a game they definitely want to leave back in 2023.
All Is Not Merry In Maryland For Miami
On the defensive side of the ball, Miami entered the contest against the Ravens with a relatively healthy defense with the return of Jevon Holland, but the offense suffered two massive players out – Jaylen Waddle and Raheem Mostert. Two of their biggest playmakers for both their air and ground game being out meant others had to step up.
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) December 31, 2023
But the bigger question on the day was how the Dolphins defense could maintain Lamar Jackson and this Ravens offense through four quarters. Against the Dallas Cowboys last week, the Fins were able to hold Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense to just 20 points. But Baltimore’s offense rivals Miami themselves in overall scoring this season, including a blowout victory against San Francisco last week.
The game began as if both defenses took the week off, with Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins storming down the field thanks to the efforts of De’Von Achane and Tyreek Hill, with a dart to Cedrick Wilson Jr in the end zone sealing the drive. Right afterward, the Ravens overcame an early 3rd and 16 for Jackson to send a 20-yard pass for another touchdown.
But the next few drives, in retrospect, defined the rest of the first half for how the Ravens began to pull away and give themselves a commanding lead heading to halftime. Miami had to settle for a field goal on their next drive. When Baltimore found themselves on Miami’s side of the field again, they drove down and scored another touchdown, taking a 14-10 lead.
After another Dolphins field goal, the Ravens only needed one play – a 75-yard catch in blown coverage – to score another touchdown.
After an interception by Tua, the Ravens capitalized with another touchdown right after.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 31, 2023
So while Miami struggled to find success of offense in the red zone, settling for field goals against a stout Baltimore defense, the Ravens had no problem against a struggling pass defense, torching the secondary to bump their lead to 28-13 at halftime.
This game felt like a repeat of Miami’s blowout loss to Buffalo back in Week 3 of the season, in which the offense found their groove early on but failed to keep up as their defense gave them no opportunities to work with a lead. Also similarly, the team made mental errors through the course of the half, including a mind-boggling drop by Hill in the end zone that should have been their second touchdown.
The High-Scoring Hunter Becomes The Hunted
The second half was short in retrospect but was defined by the Ravens being unable to make mistakes and the Dolphins playing inept football on both sides of the ball – the type of football that will net you no success in the postseason.
Miami’s offensive drives consisted of a punt, another interception, (right after a Ravens fumble) a near-seven minute drive that ended with a touchdown from Braxton Berrios, a turnover on downs, a fumble, and one more turnover on downs for good measure.
All the while, Vic Fangio’s defense was helpless in all aspects of the game against the best team in the NFL. Baltimore went on to score four more touchdowns, including three in the fourth quarter and one with minutes to go in the game. Call it stat-padding if you want, but this is the same Miami team that dropped 70 points earlier this season, so you be the judge.
What I feel was uncalled for was keeping the starting defensive players in a blowout with minutes to go, because you risk injury in the process. This was proven true when Bradley Chubb appeared to suffer a knee or Achilles injury and was carted off the field and will likely miss the rest of the season and then some.
AWFUL: #Dolphins star Bradley Chubb went down SCREAMING IN PAIN with an apparent non-contact knee injury.
The game was always WAY OVER🤦♂️
He was immediately carted off the field.
Chubb has already suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in 2019.
— MLFootball (@_MLFootball) December 31, 2023
On the topic of injuries, Xavien Howard left the game early with an apparent foot injury, and Tua appeared to suffer an injury to his left shoulder on an awkward hit during a slide, though he did acknowledge postgame that it feels bruised at the worst and that he’ll be good to go next week.
Overall, this game was a disaster for the Dolphins. It wasn’t just because they suffered an embarrassing loss in one of the most important games of the season, but now they’ve suffered some major injuries that could carry over to next week’s game and then the playoffs. And keep in mind that if Miami loses against the Bills next week, then the Dolphins would fall and be forced to play on the road in the Wild Card.
All of a sudden, this same Dolphins team who was competing for first place in the AFC might not host a playoff game. December collapses have been an unfortunate staple with this team in years past, but this one would be one of the worst in decades.
It All Comes Down To Buffalo…Naturally
The statistics for this game are horrible from the perspective of the Miami defense, who allowed 491 total yards, 24 first downs, and a perfect 5-5 from the red zone. Lamar Jackson had one his best games in the NFL in the process, achieving a perfect passer rating of 158.3, 321 passing yards, 35 rushing yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Tua didn’t have an awful game, but compared to his last few outings it left a lot to be desired – 237 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. Hill was in the same boat, achieving just 76 yards and no touchdowns. Perhaps the most positive stat line was that of Achane, who racked up 107 well-earned yards after Mostert was unavailable to play in this game.
Miami will have to move on, standing with an 11-5 record with one game left to go. Indeed, the 10-6 Buffalo Bills are coming to town in a game that will decide the winner of the AFC East. That’ll be at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, January 7th at 1 pm.