MIAMI – Chad Pennington waited in front of his end zone, the last line of defense for the Miami Dolphins. A blocker buried him – just like the Baltimore Ravens treated Pennington and the Dolphins all day.
The block allowed Ed Reed to complete a 64-yard interception return for a touchdown, and the Ravens came up with four other takeaways Sunday to win 27-9, spoiling the Dolphins first playoff game in seven seasons.
Baltimore stuffed Miamis ground attack, had no problems with the Wildcat, and harried Pennington into uncharacteristic mistakes. After throwing only seven interceptions during the regular season, Pennington had four.
With a rookie coach in John Harbaugh and a rookie quarterback in Joe Flacco, wild-card entrant Baltimore (12-5) won for the 10th time in 12 games and will play Saturday at AFC South champion Tennessee. The playoff victory was the first for the Ravens since they beat Miami in a first-round game in January 2002.
Our defense gave us a bunch of chances today, Flacco said.
The result put the brakes on this seasons remarkable resurgence by the Dolphins (11-6), who won the AFC East after going 1-15 in 2007.
A soft schedule contributed to Miamis turnaround, and there was nothing soft about the Ravens. They forced a flurry of turnovers against a team that tied an NFL record with only 13 during the regular season.
Reed had two interceptions, and Jim Leonhard and Fabian Washington made one apiece. Terrell Suggs recovered a fumble by Patrick Cobbs early in the second half at the Miami 19, and four plays later LeRon McClain scored on an 8-yard run for a 20-3 lead.
Pennington, playing his first game since being chosen the NFL Comeback Player of the Year, went 25-for-38 for 252 yards. Baltimore allowed just 52 yards rushing, and the Dolphins were limited to 7 yards on two plays from the Wildcat, the innovative formation that helped jump-start their revival.
Field position hurt the Dolphins, who started consecutive possessions at their 20, 6, 20, 20, 20 and 2. But the biggest problem was Baltimores ball-hawking defense, which led the NFL during the regular season with 26 interceptions, including a league-high nine by Reed.
He made an over-the-shoulder catch of Penningtons deep throw after intended receiver Ted Ginn Jr., fell. Reed headed toward the left sideline, eluded a tackler, reversed his field and sprinted for the right corner of the end zone, scoring after Suggs leveled Pennington at the 5-yard line.
Trailing 20-3, the Dolphins tried to rally with a 58-yard drive to the 13 before Reed again intercepted Pennington late in the third quarter.
It was a defensive performance reminiscent of the Ravens 27-13 victory at Miami in October. The Dolphins won nine of 10 after that defeat to earn their improbable playoff berth.
But Miami finally ran out of surprises. After Ronnie Brown made a one-handed catch for a 2-yard score to make it 20-9, Willis McGahee ran 48 yards to set up the Ravens final touchdown with 3:53 left.
Baltimore offensive coordinator Cam Camerons unit didnt have to do much else. Baltimore totaled 286 yards, and Flacco was only 9-for-23 for 135 yards.
But with the result, Cameron won more games at Dolphin Stadium this season than in 2007 as Miamis head coach.