Dolphins 26, Ravens 7

There were all sorts of pleasant prospects for the Baltimore Ravens as kickoff approached today, among them having all-pro linebacker Ray Lewis back for the first time in six weeks and the less-than-mediocre Ray Lucas at quarterback for the Miami Dolphins.

Other than Lewis being the game's leading tackler while wearing a harness to protect his left shoulder, little went as anticipated for the Ravens. Lucas was terrific in helping control a 26-7 victory that seemed safe midway through the third quarter.

"I have to admit that for the first time I feel like we regressed a little bit," Coach Brian Billick said.

Over and over, Billick talked about three problems: "Alignment, assignment and technique." And he admitted to being "shocked" at failures in these aspects, adding: "I would have been less shocked by being flat, just physically not playing well [but] the technical aspects of the game that I know they know better got away from us."

Before the game, the Ravens knew the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers had lost to drop to 5-4-1. But instead of gaining ground and actually moving into playoff contention, the Ravens (4-6) dropped to third place in the division behind 5-5 Cleveland.

The turnaround in about 10 months was obvious. Baltimore dominated the Dolphins during a 17-point victory here in the first round of the AFC playoffs last season. Today, Ricky Williams had 102 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns, and Lucas completed 18 of 26 passes for 221 yards and had the other touchdown on a quarterback sneak.

For the Ravens, tailback Jamal Lewis only had 47 yards rushing and quarterback Jeff Blake passed for just 127 yards and was sacked seven times. They converted just two of 13 third-down chances.

"Hopefully, they're not hitting that young-guy wall," tackle Jonathan Ogden said, referring to so many inexperienced players who mostly had played competitively before today.

"Old or young," Lewis said. "If you don't prepare right this is the type of result you get. There was a small, small, small, small lack of attention . . . I've never seen that many mistakes."

Lewis was returning to the area where he starred as a freshman at the University of Miami, and he had some 100 requests for tickets from family and friends. His introduction was greeted with respectful boos. He seemed comfortable and zestful before being pulled with about six minutes left.

"We played it safe all week, and I don't feel [pain] at all," he said. "When my pain medication that I don't like wears off I might not agree with the call. Right now I feel great."

The anticipated slugfest began tilting Miami's way near the end of the first quarter, as Lucas and Williams led three drives that produced a 17-7 lead at the half. Surprisingly, the touchdown drives were quite long, the first an 88-yard drive exceeded only by a 90-yarder on the first series of the regular season.

The major gainer on that surge was a 45-yard Lucas pass to the very open rookie tight end Randy McMichael over the middle behind Lewis and fellow linebacker Cornell Brown. Williams later scored from the 2.

Baltimore used the near-constant pounding by Jamal Lewis inside to set up the touchdown that earned a 7-7 tie midway through the second period. On fourth and about six inches from the Miami 28, Blake faked a handoff to Lewis and, to his pleasant surprise, found wide receiver Travis Taylor several yards behind cornerback Sam Madison for the easy touchdown.

But the Dolphins immediately struck back, going 61 yards on a drive that featured a 29-yard Lucas completion to backup tight end Jed Weaver to the Baltimore 21. On third and goal from about two feet, Lucas dived over left guard before Ray Lewis arrived in the small hole.

"I know I'm going to sleep tonight for the first time in a month," said Lucas, whose Dolphins had averaged just one touchdown in three games since he took over for injured quarterback Jay Fiedler.

"That really took it out of us," said outside linebacker Peter Boulware.

Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor celebrates a hit on Baltimore's Jeff Blake that led to incomplete pass.