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Dolphins learn harsh lesson about December football

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Dolphins didn't have the intensity needed in loss (0:40)

ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker explains that Miami did not have the intensity it needed in a loss to the Ravens and comments on what the Dolphins need to change to win meaningful December games. (0:40)

BALTIMORE -- All last week, the Miami Dolphins talked about being ready for December football.

It had been a while since Miami, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008, played meaningful games in the final month of the season. Heightened pressure, intensity and stakes come with closing in on a postseason berth, and the Dolphins appeared excited about it.

However, the Dolphins fell embarrassingly flat in their first December test Sunday, with a 38-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Miami (7-5) looked awestruck, and its 32-point defeat was the largest of the season. Even worse for the Dolphins is that the Denver Broncos (8-4) beat the Jacksonville Jaguars and leapfrogged Miami for the final wild-card spot in the AFC with four games remaining.

The Ravens (7-5), who are also closing in on a playoff berth, are a veteran team that has been in this position many times. On Sunday, they showed a playoff-like urgency that the Dolphins failed to match.

“The intensity is taken up a notch,” Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “When you play meaningful games in December, everyone is fighting for the same thing. There’s limited spots to get into the postseason ... so I think in order for us to be there, we have to turn things up a notch.”

Or several notches.

The Dolphins were uncharacteristically sloppy. Players had problems with their footing, Tannehill was intercepted three times, and he added that there were “communication issues” on offense. The defense couldn’t cover Baltimore’s receivers or tight ends. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns, including three touchdown passes in the first half. Miami trailed 24-0 in the first half and didn’t give itself a chance after two quarters.

Miami’s run of six consecutive wins is now history. The streak put the Dolphins in position to make a playoff push, but what they do in the final month is critical.

The next step for the Dolphins is to avoid a streak in the other direction. With so many teams in the AFC wild-card hunt, a couple more defeats could end Miami’s playoff hopes.

“I told them one loss can’t become two,” Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said. “We have to go back to work. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have to come Monday ready to go to work. We have to make corrections and don’t be sensitive.”

The Dolphins were one of the hottest teams in the NFL and hadn’t lost a game in 56 days.

"It’s a weird feeling,” running back Jay Ajayi said.

But one loss doesn’t determine a season. The ugliness of Miami's play was alarming, but the Dolphins have a chance to get back on the winning track next week at home against the Arizona Cardinals. Miami then has three straight division games against the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots.

“We have a lot of football left, and I think everything we want is still on the table,” Tannehill said. “We just have to take advantage. We can’t let weeks slip by. We have to take advantage of every opportunity we get.”