Ravens 26, Dolphins 23: Postgame takeaways & observations

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins are OK with perfect seasons coming to an end, but going from unbeaten to one game over .500 reflects concerns.

Playing after a short week of rest, the Dolphins dropped their second straight contest Sunday, 26-23 to the Baltimore Ravens.

Miami’s offense struggled from the outset but came alive during the end of the second quarter to take a 13-6 lead during halftime. The game plan slowly came apart during the second half. Ryan Tannehill, who started 14 for 21, completed just seven passes in the final 30 minutes.

The Dolphins defense, despite a pick-six, surrendered 17 points in a span of just less than 15 minutes.

At 3-2, Miami knows there are areas to improve, and its bye week could not come at a better time.

Here are some thoughts from Sunday’s contest …

1. The running game is still missing …

Don’t let anyone fool you. The Dolphins do not have a running game to set up the pass. They use the pass to set up the pass.

Miami has shown improvement on the ground since it registered just 20 yards against the Cleveland Browns in its season opener. But to say that aspect of its game is reliable is a great stretch.

The Dolphins finished the first quarter in the red on six carries and had just seven yards on the ground after 30 minutes. Their 22 rushing yards were the second-worst total put up this season.

2. … and the offensive line is not helping.

The offensive line simply is not opening up holes for the team’s running backs, and when they do, Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas are not taking advantage.

But the lack of protection also impacts Ryan Tannehill, who was dropped six times on Sunday.

Miami’s offensive line has now allowed 24 sacks this season, second only to the Cleveland Browns.

3. Is Brian Hartline becoming a forgotten man?

The Dolphins second-quarter scoring drive came to life on two plays: back-to-back passes of 30 and 21 yards to Brian Hartline. That put Miami in the red zone for the first time.

Until those the two passes in the second quarter, Tannehill targeted the wideout just once. And after Hartline’s two catches, top wideout Mike Wallace suddenly had more room to work with.

Hartline was a top target during Tannehill’s rookie season, and it looked like that trend would continue when the receiver hauled in nine passes against the Browns. Since then, though, he’s been getting fewer and fewer looks.

Hartline finished Sunday with four receptions for 60 yards.

4. When the Dolphins’ offense sputters, their defense continues to keep them in the game.

Miami’s defense started off so well, it looked as if the Dolphins might force the Ravens to rely on their kicking game. Miami limited Baltimore to 131 yards in the first half, 33 on the ground.

During the third quarter and into the fourth, the Dolphins defense looked as if it were gassed from a short week. The Ravens came alive during this stretch, taking a 23-13 lead on two touchdowns by Ray Rice and a field goal by Justin Tucker.

A key stop in the fourth quarter set up good field position for Miami to tack on a 48-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis.

With Baltimore pinned deep in its own end, first-round pick Dion Jordin sparked his teammates with a near pick in the end zone. Two plays later, he got his hands on a Flacco pass, forcing it high into the air for Reshad Jones to catch and run back for an easy touchtown to tie the game at 23.

5. Sometimes you can’t get out of the way.

The Ravens got back into the game during the third quarter with a six-play, 80-yard drive that included two questionable pass interference penalties on the Miami secondary.

On the first, Nolan Carroll went up against Deonte Thompson, lost his balance in mid-air and came down on his right shoulder. Referees called interference on Carroll, who left the field with a rib injury.

Two plays later, Brent Grimes outran Baltimore’s Torrey Smith to the right pylon, turned and put his arms out to play the pass but drew a flag instead.

That penalty set up Baltimore at the 2-yard line, and Ray Rice followed with his second touchdown of the season to square the game at 13.

You can follow Erin Brown on Twitter @rinkside.