Baltimore’s fearsome defense denied Miami another chapter in their storybook National Football League season on Sunday as the Ravens defeated the Dolphins 27-9 in a National Football League playoff game.
Ed Reed returned an interception for a touchdown and the Ravens pressured quarterback Chad Pennington and the Dolphins into a string of turnovers en route to a dominant victory in the American Conference first-round contest.
Baltimore intercepted Pennington four times — more than half his regular-season total of seven.
Le’Ron McClain had an eight-yard scoring run and Matt Stover kicked two field goals for the Ravens, who earned a trip to American Conference top seeds Tennessee on Saturday.
The Dolphins had won the competitive AFC East division in a dramatic turnaround from a miserable 1-15 campaign in 2007.
But they had no answer for the Ravens’ stifling defense, which has held an opponent to 13 points or fewer 11 times this season.
The Dolphins committed a league-low 13 turnovers during the regular season, but had five against the Ravens.
“We heard all week that they don’t turn the ball over,” Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. “But we force turnovers.”
Reed, who led the league in interceptions with nine during the regular season, had two and notched his 12th career touchdown interception return and first in the postseason.
He gave the Ravens the lead for good when he seized on a wayward throw by Pennington and returned it 64 yards for a 10-3 lead with 2:30 to play in the first half.
“It felt like a 200 from track, so it took a while to catch my breath,” Reed said of his zig-zagging return. “I don’t think I caught my breath until like the third quarter. It was fun.”
Jim Leonhard and Fabian Washington also intercepted Pennington, who hadn’t thrown more than one interception in a game this year.
Baltimore’s Joe Flacco was an unspectacular 9-of-22 for 135 yards, but also rushed for a late touchdown as he became the eighth rookie quarterback to start a postseason game since 1966.
McClain rushed for 75 yards on 19 carries and Willis McGahee added 62 yards for the Ravens, who snapped a three-game postseason losing streak and gave rookie coach John Harbaugh the victory.
Pennington, who is in his first season with Miami after he was released by the New York Jets in August, threw for 252 yards on 25-of-38 passing with one touchdown.
“It has been a special year, that’s why it hurts so much,” Pennington said. “You want to keep it going and see how far you can take it.”
The Dolphins trailed 20-3 when the Dolphins finally scored their first touchdown, as Pennington snapped a two-yard scoring pass to Ronnie Brown.
The extra-point attempt, however, was blocked by Frank Walker.
Nor did the Dolphins get anywhere on the ground as Brown was held to 19 yards on 12 carries and Ricky Williams rushed for just 17 yards on four carries.