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Ravens beat the Dolphins then improved

In the week leading up to the Jets victory, I made the point that the boys from Gotham would be surprised if they expected to see the same Dolphins they defeated in the regular-season opener. The December Dolphins, I argued, had become a far superior team.

Well, this week the Dolphins face the Baltimore Ravens, a team they lost to 27-13 on October 19. And unfortunately for Miami, the Ravens they play in the wild card round of the playoffs Sunday are a far superior team than they were two months ago.

The Ravens came to that first game on a three-game losing skid and searching for an identity and a direction. They come to Sunday's game as winners of five of their last six games and nine of 11 overall. They've gotten better, folks.

When the teams first met, Baltimore rookie quarterback Joe Flacco entered the game with only five games of NFL experience. He had one touchdown and seven interceptions to show for those five outings. But Flacco played well against the Dolphins despite his Big Bird looks.

And he's gotten better ever since. He's thrown six touchdowns and three interceptions in his last six games and that includes a meltdown game against Pittsburgh (Pitt has a good defense) in which he threw two interceptions without a touchdown.

So that's not great news for Miami.

The Ravens have found a solid running combination in Le'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee since that October game. Ray Rice is there also and contributes.

And on that defense that is the lifeblood of Baltimore's playoff life, there has been a drastic tightening against the pass. When the Ravens last came to South Florida, their cornerbacks were troubled. Chris McAlister did not play and the Dolphins exploited the void.

But in Week 7, the Ravens inserted Fabian Washington, a former first-round pick in Oakland, and he has solidified the left cornerback spot. Suddenly that gaping hole in the Baltimore secondary is not there anymore.

So the Ravens are better than they were that indian summer Sunday in October.

Sure, the Dolphins also are better than they were then. But I would tell you Baltimore's leap has been just as significant. If not more.

Oh, about that game that was played in October ... Here are some factoids from the Miami loss that may interest only me: 

The Dolphins used the wildcat formation 5 times, all of them rushes. They gained four yards, which delivered a depressing .8 yards per rush.

The tale of the third down play was an interesting one: The Dolphins converted 5 of 13 attempts against the Ravens vaunted defense for a 38.5 percent success rate. That was, believe it or not, higher than the 37 percent success rate Miami averaged the entire season.

The Ravens offense, meanwhile, converted 6 of 13 third down plays against Miami's defense for a 46.2 percent success rate. That was well higher than the 37.8 percent success the Dolphins allowed throughout the season.

The Dolphins forced and recovered one fumble, that by McGahee. The Ravens had one interception by Terrell Suggs which he returned for a touchdown.

The Dolphins have outscored their opponents 82-62 in the fourth quarter this season. The Ravens outscored the Dolphins 7-0 in the fourth quarter in October.

One major difference for the Dolphins this week should be found right in the middle of the defensive line. Jason Ferguson missed that first game with an injury. Then Paul Soliai was suspended for breaking unspecified team rules. So it was Randy Starks at nose tackle most of that day -- a position he played without working there during the week.

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