BALTIMORE, Jan. 2 -- There was nothing more the Baltimore Ravens could do to improve their playoff chances after their 30-23 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday afternoon, other than find a television and root against the Denver Broncos and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
At 9-7, the Ravens needed four things to occur to back into the final AFC wild-card spot: a victory over Miami and losses by Buffalo, Denver and Jacksonville. Baltimore got the first two -- Pittsburgh edged the Bills, 29-24 -- but Denver beat Indianapolis, 33-14, and Jacksonville beat Oakland, 13-6. The final playoff spot went to the Broncos.
Baltimore's Jamal Lewis tries to break away from Miami's Sammy Knight. Lewis rushed for more than 1,000 yards despite missing four games.
(Joe Giza -- Reuters)
The Bills-Steelers game was played at the same time as Baltimore's, though the M&T Bank Stadium scoreboard did not give updates on that game at Coach Brian Billick's request. But the Ravens knew after the game that the Bills had lost, and they left their locker room in the awkward position of having to wait to find out their fate.
"To leave it in somebody else's hands, that's not good," linebacker Terrell Suggs said before leaving the locker room. "We just have to take what we can from it."
The Ravens, who issued no comment after being officially eliminated in the evening, did what they could against the Dolphins (4-12). They were without linebacker Ray Lewis, who was sidelined with a fractured wrist, but once again got a big play from his protege, safety Ed Reed.
Reed came up with his ninth interception of the season and the 21st of his career -- both franchise records -- and his 41-yard return after the third-quarter pick helped him break the 43-year old NFL record for interception return yards in a season. Reed finished with 358 yards on interception returns, which surpassed Charlie McNeil's mark of 349 yards, set in 1961 with San Diego.
"He threw me the football," said Reed, who just finished his third professional season. "It's just another record. It's going to be up there for however long it'll be up there, until someone breaks it -- hopefully it'll be me."
Running back Jamal Lewis, playing with a painful right ankle, ran for 167 yards, which put him over the 1,000-yard mark. He finished the regular season with 1,006 yards, the lowest output of his five-year career, but it was an achievement considering the year he has had. Lewis was suspended by the NFL for two games in October and missed two entire games and much of a third with a sprained right ankle.
"The way the season was going, I had to prove what kind of back I was, in overcoming adversity, getting a lot of yards," Lewis said. "So it was a great accomplishment."
The afternoon didn't start off particularly well for the Ravens. On the very first play from scrimmage, Miami quarterback Sage Rosenfels -- a former Redskin making his first start -- connected with wide receiver Chris Chambers down the left side for a 76-yard touchdown pass.
Baltimore responded with a seven-play, 64-yard scoring drive that was helped along by a 25-yard pass interference penalty that gave the Ravens first and goal from the 1. Quarterback Kyle Boller's shovel pass to tight end Terry Jones tied the score at 7.
The Ravens extended their lead to 20-7 by halftime on two field goals from Matt Stover and a six-yard interception return for a touchdown by defensive end Jarret Johnson -- the Ravens' seventh defensive touchdown of the season, and the eighth interception returned for a touchdown against the Dolphins (a team record). Johnson leapt to deflect Rosenfels's pass and was able to corral the ball and run into the end zone.
"We have a [tip] drill every Friday that the D-line does," said Johnson, who said he scored his first touchdown since he was a fullback in high school. "We kind of get made fun of because everyone says, 'You're never going to tip one and catch one.' "
Baltimore wasn't able to put the Dolphins away, even after Reed's third-quarter interception set up a two-yard touchdown run from Lewis that gave the Ravens a 27-7 lead. Miami rookie Wes Welker returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.
Miami's next offensive possession turned into a 90-yard drive capped by a 35-yard touchdown run from Sammy Morris, in which he eluded two would-be tacklers in the backfield. Suddenly, the Dolphins trailed 27-21 with 5 minutes 10 seconds left in the third quarter.
Stover's third field goal (a 33-yarder) pushed the Ravens' lead to 30-21 at the end of the third quarter. The Dolphins thought they had scored on Travis Minor's run early in the fourth quarter, but officials -- after initially indicating a touchdown -- ruled that he did not cross the goal line. Two plays later, Rosenfels threw his third interception, this time to defensive end Anthony Weaver.
Lewis had the ball ripped from his hands on the very next play from scrimmage, and Boller managed to dive on it in the end zone just before the Dolphins did, resulting in a safety that completed the scoring.
After the game, all that was left to do was go home, hope for the best, and wonder what could have been.
"It's been a disappointment in the fact that we have to sit here on Sunday and watch two games to see if we make the playoffs," Boller said. "Those couple of games [that Baltimore lost], we've got to learn from them. Every game matters."
Ravens Notes: Cornerback Deion Sanders (foot) and tight end Todd Heap (ankle) were inactive, Sanders for the seventh time and Heap for the 10th. . . . Billick abruptly ended his postgame press conference when asked about the status of some of his coaches, including embattled offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh. "Obviously, if you're not interested in talking about this game, my part of the news conference is over," Billick said as he walked off the podium.