Ravens clinch No. 1 seed in AFC with convincing, 56-19 blowout of Dolphins

The road to the AFC’s Super Bowl berth now goes through Baltimore.

The Ravens clinched the No. 1 seed in the conference with a 56-19 win over the Miami Dolphins six days after a statement win against the San Francisco 49ers.

Credit Lamar Jackson’s perfect (passer rating) day, with the Ravens' franchise quarterback earning the top 158.3 efficiency rating as he threw for 321 yards and five touchdowns to just three incompletions.

The Ravens’ dream day couldn’t have gone much worse for the Dolphins. Not only did the Dolphins struggle against a conference team, but they also failed to clinch the AFC East and suffered concerning injuries in the process.

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa sustained an injury to his left, throwing shoulder in the fourth quarter, shortly before Dolphins star pass-rusher Bradley Chubb was carted off due to a non-contact leg injury.

Lamar Jackson had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (three) as the Ravens dominated the Dolphins to clinch the AFC's No. 1 seed. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The injury bug hit Miami early when starting cornerback Xavien Howard exited due to a foot injury on the Ravens’ first pass of the day. The injuries contextualize but don’t mute the completeness of the Ravens’ win.

Dolphins started strong, then faltered

The Ravens' first defensive drive against Miami looked less promising. Perhaps hurting in part without star safety Kyle Hamilton, Baltimore let Miami march handily up the field.

Tagovailoa connected with running back De'Von Achane, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and fullback Alec Ingold each for double-digit gains on the first drive alone. Then, facing third-and-goal from Baltimore’s 8, Tagovailoa pump-faked his first throw before nailing receiver Cedrick Wilson on a high-low concept that forced the Ravens’ defense to wonder whether Hill or Wilson was the intended receiver.

But Baltimore answered. Despite Rashod Bateman's failing to survive the ground on a 42-yard pass that was reversed and offensive pass interference nullifying a 26-yard completion to Justice Hill, Jackson distributed the ball a la Tagovailoa, with chunk plays to three targets on the way to the red zone. With 6:39 to play in the first, Jackson dropped back and let a ball rip amid pressure, finding running back Justice Hill between two defenders on the right sideline for a 20-yard touchdown.

The Dolphins stayed alive with a Tyreek Hill 25-yard catch on fourth-and-5 their next drive but ultimately settled for a field goal. Soon after, Baltimore took off.

An Odell Beckham toe-dragging, 33-yard catch set up running back Gus Edwards to punch in a go-ahead touchdown with 7:21 to play in the second quarter, a lead the Ravens would not again cede. The Dolphins’ next field goal wasn’t competition for the Ravens’ attack, which exploded when rookie receiver Zay Flowers seemed to confuse the Dolphins defense with a jet motion, subsequently sprinting down the right sideline.

Jackson hit Flowers on a 38-air-yard go-ball that Flowers took 75 yards home in full.

The pressure was on Miami, and the Dolphins seemed to know it, hurrying a play before the two-minute warning that linebacker Roquan Smith intercepted with one hand.

Four plays later, Ravens tight end Isaiah Likely joined the We-Can-Beat-You-One-Handed movement with his own one-handed highlight, a 35-yard touchdown on fourth-and-7.

The second half went no better for Miami, with Justice Hill immediately ripping off a 78-yard punt return to set up Baltimore’s offense in the red zone.

A seemingly still-misdirected Dolphins defense left Likely wide open for a touchdown three plays later – which felt, in some ways, emblematic of the two teams’ difference in caliber.

Dolphins, Ravens rebound from injuries differently

Sure, entering the game, the Dolphins were slowed by injuries. Emerging from the game, however, they should be downright concerned.

But for the bulk of the contest, the Dolphins’ injury deficit was no more extreme than the players without whom Baltimore competed. In addition to Howard leaving the game for the Dolphins, injuries kept receiver Jaylen Waddle and running back Raheem Mostert from playing Sunday.

For its part, Baltimore built a conference lead behind MVP favorite Jackson without tight end Mark Andrews, right guard Kevin Zeitler, running back J.K. Dobbins or running back Elijah Mitchell. Cornerback Marlon Humprey left Sunday’s contest early, too.

Jackson overcame all of this to play a perfect game by the most well-rounded NFL measurement. Tagovailoa made a bulk of great throws but couldn’t complete as consistently in big moments, taking three sacks and throwing six deflected passes on his 22-of-38 day, passing for 237 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

One of his interceptions extinguished the Dolphins’ glimmer of fleeting, second-half hope. One play after Zach Sieler stripped Edwards, the Ravens intercepted Tagovailoa’s next pass as it sailed past its intended target of Hill.

While both teams’ rookie skill players flashed — Achane compiled 137 yards and a touchdown from scrimmage, Flowers posted his own 106 yards and a score with the 75-yard touchdown, no less — the Ravens otherwise dominated the matchup.

Baltimore’s schemes, coaching, high-end talent and roster depth rolled through a Miami team that had been riding high after toppling the Dallas Cowboys. No longer.

So long as Jackson is healthy, the Ravens should be clear favorites to win the AFC. And Jackson, with another stellar performance, is the clear favorite to win MVP.