MIAMI — When Chad Pennington threw his third interception of the game at the start of the second half, everyone sitting around me in the press box had the same thought: This game is over.
The Ravens only led, 13-3, and didn’t even convert that turnover into points.
But there was an overwhelming sense the Dolphins were headed nowhere but home. The three interceptions were nearly half the total Pennington had thrown all season (he would throw a fourth, his second to Ed Reed, later in the third). Miami’s miraculous turnaround season was defined by its ability to avoid mistakes, and no player on the team embodied that credo more than Pennington, a.k.a. Mr. Efficiency. The same Ravens defense that had made life so miserable for him and the rest of the Dolphins offense here in October was showing its typical dominance.
When the Dolphins fumbled on their next series — giving them four turnovers in six possessions — and the Ravens cashed it in for a touchdown, there was no doubt at all in the press box, or anywhere else in Dolphin Stadium, that the Ravens would advance.
I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that this incredible ride from 1-15 to the AFC East championship was coming to an end.
How long has it been since the Dolphins were good enough to generate enthusiasm among their fans? The answer is in all of those white towels that fans were waving in the stands before the opening kickoff and mostly through the early part of the game.
It’s a Miami tradition that began in the early 1970s, when then-Dolphins radio play-by-play announcer Rick Weaver would encourage fans in the Orange Bowl who were listening to him to indicate as much with a wave of a white handkerchief. He began doing the same after each score.
Eventually, when the Dolphins stopped appearing in the playoffs, the hankie-waving began to subside. It wasn’t until this year — when the team demonstrated it was a legitimate postseason contender — that it came back to life.
Perhaps the saddest lasting image from this game is that of T.D., the Dolphins’ mascot, collapsing on his back and staying on the ground for a couple of minutes after Joe Flacco’s touchdown run made it 27-9 with 3:53 left and the stands quickly emptying.
– Vic Carucci is reporting from Dolphin Stadium