It’s a top versus bottom affair on Thursday Night Football this week, as the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens (6-2) seek to keep their momentum with a win on the road against the struggling Miami Dolphins (2-7), rooted bottom of the AFC East.
Yet both teams will run out at the Hard Rock Stadium fresh off a win – Sunday seeing the Ravens bounce back from a 41-17 Week 7 pummeling at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals with a dramatic 34-31 overtime victory against the Minnesota Vikings, while the Dolphins halted a six-game losing streak following a 17-9 win against the Houston Texans.
The caveat to that Dolphins triumph was that it came against a Texans side in total freefall – their eighth consecutive defeat following a season-opening win against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Yet the Dolphins can take heart from the victory regardless, and there may be another boost ahead of the Ravens clash with the potential return of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Tagovailoa missed Sunday’s victory over the Texans due to a finger fracture sustained the previous week – with Jacoby Brissett replacing the injured signal caller – and Dolphins head coach Brian Flores told reporters on Tuesday that he has since made “progress.”
“[Tagovailoa] is definitely making progress,” Flores said.
“There’s definitely discomfort. The swelling is down. It’s getting better. There’s progress from last week but there’s still limitations.
“Obviously, availability is very important. There’s a lot of factors that play into that. It’s not the only factor. The person, the player, the talent – I think Tua is competitive. He’s smart. He wants to be out there. I think he’s getting better.”
On the subject of progress, Flores is looking to improve upon his team’s performance the last time they faced the Ravens – a 59-10 mauling in the 2019 season opener.
“You look back, you go and watch that film and see some of the things that they were doing then. Some are similar to what they’re doing now, some things aren’t,” Flores said.
“I just try to learn from that experience. We didn’t play well that day – the goal is always to be better and improve – but there’s always motivation in this league.”
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was in incredible form that day – throwing for a career-high 324 yards and five touchdowns to emphatically kickstart a historic personal season that would see him voted the 2019 season’s unanimous Most Valuable Player (MVP).
In receiving all 50 votes from media personnel, he became just the second player after Tom Brady in 2010 to be voted MVP by unanimous decision, and at 22 years and 356 days old, the second youngest after Jim Brown’s consecutive titles in the late 1950s.
Quizzed on that 2019 thrashing ahead of Thursday’s game, Jackson reminisced on wide receiver Marquise Brown’s first touchdown on his regular season debut.
“I remember ‘Hollywood,’ [Brown] his first catch was a touchdown,” Jackson said.
“That was crazy. It was his NFL debut – a touchdown? That’s what I remember the most about that game and the score.
“Oh, at the end of the game – in the locker room, that too. But that was two years ago, I don’t really care about that.”
Class of Kentucky
On Saturday, the Louisville Cardinals – Jackson’s college team – are set to retire his former number 8 jersey in his honor, though Jackson is focused firmly on the task at hand.
“I’m locked in on the Dolphins right now. I’m not trying to worry about Saturday,” Jackson said.
“But it’s going to be touching, honestly. Hopefully, I don’t cry or anything like that.”
Jackson won the Heisman trophy in Louisville before being selected in the first-round by John Harbaugh’s Ravens in 2018, and the head coach joked that Jackson’s honoring had led him to reflect on his own college legacy from his days playing at Miami University in Ohio.
“I think it’s going to be really meaningful for him,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “We were joking about it – you have to be a really good player to get your jersey retired.
“So, they’re still wearing No. 8 at Miami of Ohio, right? But they’re not wearing No. 8 at Louisville. So there you go – that’s the difference. But we both wore No. 8.
“He’s just a great guy and such a humble guy. He was really surprised by it, wasn’t he? It was really cool to see. So congratulations to him and to Louisville for believing in him. That’s neat. I’m happy for him.”