MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Ray Rice had welts on his forehead and upper right arm. He needed to douse his eyes with drops to clear them of dirt and sweat. After more than three hours of playing in stifling heat and humidity, the Ravens’ diminutive running back looked like a man who needed a shower followed by a long nap.
Rice’s afternoon mirrored that of the Ravens, who were able to exhale only after Miami Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis sent a 57-yard field goal attempt wide left with 38 seconds to go. The miss, which came a little over a minute after Justin Tucker’s 44-yard field goal had given the Ravens a three-point lead, secured the Ravens’ 26-23 victory in front of an announced 68,342 at Sun Life Stadium.
“We do make it difficult at times but it just feels good to win on the road, especially with what we went through last week,” Rice said. “It was definitely a grind against a good football team.”
In improving to 3-2 and earning their first road win in three tries this season, the Ravens reaped the rewards of a commitment to the run game. A week after running the ball just nine times in a loss to the Buffalo Bills, the Ravens ran 40 times for 133 yards, 100 of the yards coming in the second half.
Rice, who carried the ball just five times against the Bills, had 27 carries, persevering through a shaky first half that included his fifth lost fumble in his past eight games to score two rushing touchdowns and gain 102 all-purpose yards.
“We are a very good team when he touches the ball,” said rush linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had three of the Ravens’ six sacks, all of his coming in the fourth quarter. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I love it when [Rice] and also [Bernard Pierce] is toting that thing. When you got a two-headed monster like that, [our] defense loves it when we’re using them.”
Rice’s second touchdown of the day — this one from three yards out to finalize an 11-play, 94-yard drive — gave the Ravens a 23-13 lead with just over 12 minutes to play and provided another opportunity for their purple-clad supporters who descended on South Florida in droves to drown out the Dolphins fans.
But a flurry of mistakes, some by players and one big one by the coaching staff, allowed the Dolphins (3-2) to score 10 points to tie the game in just 1 minute 35 seconds, setting the stage for the frantic finish.
On third and six from the Miami 24, Dolphins tight end Charles Clay got free of safety James Ihedigbo and caught Ryan Tannehill’s pass for a 45-yard gain. Four plays later, Sturgis cut the Ravens’ lead to 23-16 with a 50-yard field goal.
On the ensuing possession, the Ravens faced third and 22 from their 9-yard line. It seemed like a perfect time to run the ball and send punter Sam Koch back on the field, putting the game back on the shoulders of the defense. After all, the Ravens were backed up to their goal line, quarterback Joe Flacco had been pummeled all day behind a shaky offensive line and the defense had allowed only a second-half field goal.
Instead, Flacco took the ball out of the shotgun and as he attempted to throw the ball to Deonte Thompson, Dolphins rookie Dion Jordan hit the quarterback’s arm. The ball fluttered and Dolphins safety Reshad Jones ran under it and returned it for a touchdown.
Following the score, the two teams traded punts before the Ravens got the ball back at their own 40 with 4:07 to go. Flacco handed the ball to Rice or Pierce on five of six plays with the only exception being a 14-yard completion to Torrey Smith (six catches for 121 yards). That set up Tucker’s 44-yarder which broke the deadlock. Tucker was 4 of 4, also hitting from 42, 50 and 25 yards.
“To be able to put ourselves in that position where we have the upper hand in the two-minute drill, that’s big time for us,” said Tucker, who is now 11 for 13 on the season.