Few can run, pass, or hide from Ravens

MIAMI -- I'm sitting in the Dolphin Stadium baseball press box Sunday, two rows in front of New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison. Harrison is going to need a restraining order and I'm going to need ear canal surgery if he yells any louder.

"I told you!" he screams after Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed returns a Chad Pennington floater for a touchdown.

"More pressure! More pressure!" says Harrison, leaning forward in his seat as the Ravens sack Pennington.

"Ohhhhhh!" he wails as Reed steps in front of another Pennington pass for an interception.

Harrison's behavior is totally unprofessional -- there's no cheering in the press box -- and, yet, totally understandable. You can put Harrison in a suit and tie (he's moonlighting for the NFL Network), but you can't ask him to quit being a professional safety or owner of two Super Bowl rings.

"I'm sorry," he says later. "But I know what they're going through. I know their intensity."

No apologies necessary. That's how good the Ravens' defense was during Baltimore's 27-9 playoff jackhammering of the Miami Dolphins. You could have used a whisk broom and a dustpan to clean up what was left of Pennington and the Miami offense.

"Some days it's your day, some days it's not," said Ravens defensive tackle Trevor Pryce. "And today was not their day. Today was ours."

It wasn't Pennington's day. He completed 29 of 38 passes -- 25 to Dolphins, four to Ravens. He fumbled once. He was sacked three times. His former New York Jets teammate, Thomas Jones, would have benched him.

"I don't think it's Chad Pennington's fault," said Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. "It's probably Ed Reed and Rex Ryan's fault."

Ryan, who is in play for three head coaching jobs (Rams, Lions and Jets), is the Ravens' defensive coordinator. Reed is the guy who ruined Pennington's day with two interceptions, one that he returned for a 64-yard touchdown.

"That's why he's the greatest safety in the game," Suggs said.

"Probably the best playmaker that's ever been in this league as a safety," Ryan said.

"It's kind of expected at this point," Pryce said. "It doesn't impress us. It's kind of like, 'Oh, Ed got a pick.' It's kind of like Ray [Lewis] makes a tackle, or a head coach saying we have practice tomorrow. It's kind of expected."

OK, we get it: Reed is otherworldly. So is the Ravens' defense, which Saran Wraps anything that moves. Pennington had seven interceptions during the entire regular season. He never threw more than one in any single game. Then Reed and the Ravens show up and, as Harrison so eloquently put it, "Ohhhhhh!"

The Ravens' defense has scored six touchdowns off interception returns this season. It's a defense that almost thinks like an offense.

"We're always trying to score,'' Ryan said. "That's the way we play."

Go ahead, try to find a weak spot. The Dolphins couldn't. In fact, during the postgame locker room scene, I heard a Ravens player say, "The one thing [the Dolphins] have better than us is cheerleaders. The one thing."

Miami's Wildcat offense made a cameo appearance (two tries, 7 yards) and then vanished. The Ravens held the Dolphins to 52 rushing yards, which means no opposing runner has gained 100 or more yards in the past 36 games. Amazing.

So you can't run on them and you can't throw over the top on them. If you do, Reed is almost always there.

"The beauty of Ed," Lewis said, "[is] Ed understands his role."

Reed, 30, is The Fixer. You screw up, the former Miami Hurricane cleans up the mess.

"He covers everybody's mistakes," Pryce said. "It's like having 44 guys on the field."

Reed has to be a Hall of Fame lock. He has 12 career touchdowns. He can impact a game on all sorts of levels. He had nine of the Ravens' 26 regular-season interceptions this year.

"Statistically we know what happens when we get picks and score," Reed said.

They win (they're 4-0 when Reed scores). They overpower the Dolphins.

They advance to Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.

"That's what separates us from the rest," Reed said of a Ravens defense that scored only two fewer points than Pennington and his offense.

The Ravens remain alive in the postseason because they know the essential truth of January and February: Defense wins games. And because, said Suggs, of "how good our quarterback is."

He's right. Rookie Joe Flacco completed just 9 of 23 passes for 135 yards and no touchdowns against the Dolphins. His quarterback rating was like the temperature on a fall day in Baltimore: 59.1.

But Flacco threw four fewer interceptions than the veteran Pennington, scored on a 5-yard touchdown run and understands the value of a pass thrown harmlessly over the bench.

It's a simple equation: No rookie mistakes + the Ravens' defense = end of the Dolphins' season.

"When we're playing together, we're scary," Suggs said.

Scary good.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.