MIAMI (AP) – Ryan Tannehill’s efficiency is a major reason the Miami Dolphins have a prime opportunity to end a five-year postseason drought, though they realize they’ll have to improve to make it out of the logjam of contenders in the AFC.READ MORE: Jimmy Butler, Heat Seeking To Take A 2-0 Series Lead Over Celtics
The Baltimore Ravens know they’ll have to make things difficult on the third-year quarterback if they want to improve their own position in the playoff race.
Tannehill has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in five straight games, a streak he’ll look to extend when the Dolphins host the Ravens – who will be without starting defensive tackle Haloti Ngata due to a drug suspension – in a crucial matchup Sunday.
The last two who had similar runs were Brett Favre in 2007 and Peyton Manning, who had six-game streaks in ’08 and ’12. That’s some impressive company for Tannehill, who went 25 for 35 for 235 yards in Monday’s 16-13 win over the New York Jets and has thrived in an offense that features shorter, conservative passes.
Though he failed to throw a touchdown for the first time this season, the Dolphins (7-5) sit in the AFC’s second wild-card spot due to tiebreakers. They haven’t made the postseason since losing 27-9 to Baltimore in the 2008 wild-card round.
“Their offense is a spread-option type of an offense that Tannehill runs very effectively – a lot of weapons,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “They spread the ball out, they spread the formations out, they run the read option, they run the dive, quarterback keepers, quarterback-follow plays.”
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said he notices Tannehill’s confidence rising, which is something he’ll need entering a crucial month. Miami faces New England next week before hosting Minnesota and the Jets to close the season.
“We’ve talked to them more about the month of December and the importance of each and every game in December,” Philbin said. “This one that we have coming up, Baltimore, both on paper and on film, is as good as team as we’ve seen.”
The Ravens (7-5) need a victory just as badly to keep up in the AFC North race. They’re tied with three teams behind Cincinnati, which stands at 8-3-1, after missing an opportunity to improve their playoff position last week.
Joe Flacco threw a pair of touchdowns to Torrey Smith as the they entered the fourth quarter leading visiting San Diego by 10 before falling 34-33.
The Ravens allowed Drew Brees to throw for 420 yards and three TDs in a 34-27 win at New Orleans on Nov. 24 before Philip Rivers finished with 383 and three scores last week.
The Dolphins rank last with one touchdown pass of at least 20 yards and 29th with 27 completions of that distance, but they could be more tempted to take chances against Baltimore’s struggling pass defense.
“We’ve got to make some plays (in the secondary),” Harbaugh said. “That’s really what it boils down to.”
Baltimore could get some help this week, though, as starting cornerback Asa Jackson returned to practice. He is eligible to return after being placed on injured reserve with the designation to return in Week 6 because of a toe injury.READ MORE: Inter Miami CF, Philadelphia Union Draw 0-0
“We have a huge game down in Miami this week,” Harbaugh said. “There will a lot on the line and they’ll be ready and they’re good. We’ll have a great opportunity to make a move.
“It’s going to be very competitive (and) down to the wire to make the playoffs, to win the division, and we are in the thick of it.”
Harbaugh’s team, though, was stunned by Thursday’s four-game suspension of Ngata for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
He’ll miss the rest of the regular season but will be eligible for the playoffs, the league said.
Ngata said in a statement released by the team that he took Adderall, a drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“I made a mistake, and I own this,” said Ngata, who two sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles this season.
Rookie Timmy Jernigan, a second-round pick out of Florida State, likely will take his place in the starting lineup.
Though Flacco, Smith and fellow receiver Steve Smith present challenges for the Dolphins, Philbin may want to focus on stopping the run. Miami has allowed two straight opponents to rush for more than 200 yards for the first time since 1990, and the 277 it allowed against the Jets were the most since 2007.
Justin Forsett leads all running backs with an average of 5.6 yards per carry and has rushed for 400 yards and four touchdowns in Baltimore’s last three. The Ravens rank sixth in the league with 27.3 points per game, and Flacco has thrown for four touchdowns and zero interceptions over the past three.
“It’s hard to overload the box (to stop the run) because they have those threats on the perimeter,” Philbin said. “I think the key for them has been balance.”
Tannehill went 21 of 40 for 307 yards and a touchdown as Baltimore won 26-23 in Miami last season for its third straight victory in the series. Torrey Smith caught six passes for 121 yards.
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