BALTIMORE (AP) — The Miami Dolphins were sleepwalking through another lackluster season when the unexpected happened: They grew up.
After losing four of their first five games — defeating only the miserable Cleveland Browns in overtime — the Dolphins finally realized winning in the NFL requires commitment and responsibility.
That, according to first-year coach Adam Gase, is why Miami (7-4) will bring a six-game winning streak into Sunday’s matchup with the Baltimore Ravens (6-5).
“We’ve eliminated all of the type of nonsense that most of the teams around the NFL doesn’t have during the week: guys being late, guys getting fined, having practices that really are not energetic and you’re not getting things done the way you need to,” Gase said. “We’ve really turned around as far as a maturity standpoint of our younger guys doing things right (and) our veterans doing a good job of showing these guys the right way to do things day in and day out.”
It took Gase to change a culture that had been prevalent way too long in South Florida.
“I think that’s how it has been here for the last how many whatever years. That’s just what it was,” Gase said.
“He makes it fun for us to come to work,” running back Jay Ajayi said of Gase. “At the same time, he stresses a lot of accountability for us.”
In a move that backed up that assertion, Gase cut defensive tackle Leon Orr during practice Wednesday after the team learned of his arrest on marijuana charges.
The Dolphins’ new attitude, along with strong performances by Ajayi and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, have turned the team into a contender.
Like Miami, the Ravens have rebounded from a poor stretch. After losing four straight in October, Baltimore won three of four to climb into a first-place tie in the AFC North.
“We didn’t make the mistakes that we made in some of those earlier games,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re improving as a football team. We’re starting to play good, complementary football. Each phase is playing to the strength of the other phase – field position, offense and defense playing to each other.”
Some things to know about the Dolphins-Ravens matchup:
HE GOT A BETTER JOB: Gase interviewed with Harbaugh in 2015 when the Ravens were looking for a new offensive coordinator to replace Gary Kubiak. The three-hour meeting took place in Harbaugh’s office and lasted until 1 a.m.
“I was kind of getting pressured as far as making decisions on some other places,” Gase recalled. “The fact that he did that to at least give me an opportunity to come interview there was something I’ll always be appreciative of.”
Harbaugh gave the job to Marc Trestman, who was fired in October.
“It would have been great to be able to bring (Gase) here, but I think we knew at the time that he was destined to be a head coach very soon,” Harbaugh said.
TOUCHDOWN DROUGHT: Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta has returned this season from a second hip surgery and leads the team with 52 catches. But he has not yet reached the end zone.
“No, he has not. I have actually thought about it,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw seven TD passes to Pitta in 2012 before connecting with him for a score in the Super Bowl.
Flacco says he can’t press to get Pitta his first touchdown since 2013.
“There is only so much I can do and he can do,” Flacco said. “You cannot try to make those things happen; they just start happening.”
NOT DONE: A slow start this season by Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake prompted rumblings he was in decline at age 34, but he has a sack in each of the past six games.
The streak has increased his season total to 8½ and his career total to 78½.
Wake is the only NFL player with at least seven sacks each of the past seven years.
“I may pat myself on the back later on in the year, or after I’m done playing,” he said, “but for now I’m still striving for more.”
RUNNING QB: Tannehill is the first Dolphins quarterback to rush for more than 1,000 yards in his career. He has been especially effectively recently, with 69 yards on 11 carries in the past three games.
“It’s a weapon for us,” he said. “It keeps the defense honest up front when they have to stay in their run lanes.”
Tannehill has never missed a start in his five NFL seasons. He took several hard hits last week carrying the ball and acknowledged he probably should have slid on a couple of plays.
“Obviously, you have to be smart and not put yourself in harm’s way too much,” he said.
AP Sports Writer Steven Wine in Miami contributed.
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