- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2009

MIAMI | The Miami Dolphins tied an NFL 16-game record with just 13 turnovers this season. The Baltimore Ravens forced a league-high 34 turnovers. Something had to give Sunday.

That something turned out to be AFC East champion Miami.

The Ravens forced five turnovers, including four interceptions of Chad Pennington, on their way to a 27-9 victory in an AFC wild card game at Dolphin Stadium. Pennington had won comeback player of the year honors after throwing a league-low seven interceptions, but he was battered, bamboozled and embarrassed by the ever-opportunistic Baltimore defense.

All-Pro Ed Reed, fellow safety Jim Leonhard and cornerback Fabian Washington picked off Pennington in a span of six passes in the second and third quarters. On the Dolphins’ next drive, Terrell Suggs recovered a fumble by running back Patrick Cobbs at the Miami 19. Reed added the exclamation point with another interception at the Baltimore 8 late in the third quarter.

“We heard all week about [how] they don’t turn the ball over, but the bottom line is we force turnovers,” Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said.

The Ravens will meet top-seeded Tennessee on Saturday in Nashville, where they pulled off a 24-10 divisional round upset Jan. 7, 2001, en route to their only Super Bowl title. Lewis and kicker Matt Stover are the only healthy players left from that team.

“Deja vu, man,” Lewis said. “Playing with guys like Rod Woodson and Shannon Sharpe, these guys knew the importance of winning the championship. Now … I’m trying to really educate these young guys that these opportunities don’t come every day.”

Neither do defenses like Baltimore’s. The Ravens worked over Pennington like a boxer exploiting every opening in his opponent’s defenses. They sacked him three times and hurried him seven times.

“If you get a nice pass rush, the ball’s going to be in the air for the defensive backs to get because quarterbacks don’t want to get hit,” Washington said. “Our defense is special. Everybody’s defense can’t do what we do. [Our] defensive line gets after the quarterback. You got Ed Reed on the back end, so you know if you mess up, he’s got your back. The linebackers are probably the best in the NFL. They make everybody who plays on this defense raise their level of play because you have to fit in. You can’t be the weak link.”

Leonhard, who signed in April after not being retained by Buffalo, certainly hasn’t been a weak link since replacing the injured Dawan Landry in Week 3.

“Jimmy is a great athlete,” Reed said. “His interception got us going. Any one of us can score with that ball once we get it. It’s just a matter of time.”

It always is with Reed, who led the league with nine interceptions and 264 return yards off those picks. He has 43 regular-season interceptions in seven years and five more in three playoff games. Between defense and special teams, Reed has 12 touchdowns. The 64 yards he recorded on the interception return were only 13 less than Pennington passed for in the first half.

Baltimore didn’t convert Leonhard’s interception into points, but on the Dolphins’ next possession, Reed was bound for the end zone. The Ravens again failed to take advantage after Washington picked off Pennington’s first pass of the third quarter, but after Suggs’ recovery, they needed just four plays to extend their margin to 20-3.

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