Flacco carves up Dolphins D in lopsided Ravens victory

Leave it to Ravens wide receiver to perfectly encapsulate the Baltimore-Pittsburgh rivalry.

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In an interview with reporters Wednesday, he called it “professional hatred.”

“Our fans hate them, their fans hate us,” he said, via ESPN.com. “You know … it’s a great divorce.”

While the NFL takes chances by loading the back end of the schedule with divisional rivalries, the payoff can be extraordinary. Having the Ravens (8-6) and Steelers (9-5) play on Christmas Day (exclusively airing on NFL Network) with the AFC North — and realistically, the playoffs — on the line is something that Howard Katz and Co. dream of every year when they begin the massive undertaking of crafting the perfect schedule.

According to NFL Media research, the Steelers can clinch the AFC North with a win on Sunday. The Ravens, though, can also theoretically “control their destiny” with a win. Should Baltimore win on Sunday and defeat the Bengals in the season finale, they will win the division and waltz into the playoffs. In that scenario, the Steelers could still sneak in as a wild-card team but would need some help from the , who finish their season with difficult games against the Bills and Patriots.

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As generous as the matchup was for Flacco, Ryan Tannehill was bedeviled by a top-five defense which shuts down the run and feasts on opposing quarterbacks in Baltimore. The Ravens took away Tannehill’s first read, forced three interceptions and allowed DeVante Parker’s toe-dragging touchdown only after ’s fumble placed the Dolphins’ offense eight yards from the end zone. Tannehill’s progress over the previous three weeks was undone by 11 possessions that resulted in six punts, three turnovers, a missed field goal and the one score on a lay-up. Now that their six-game winning streak has been snapped, the Dolphins face an uphill battle in a stacked wild-card field. Their remaining games are versus the Cardinals, at the Jets, at the Bills and versus the Patriots.

In a season of increased scrutiny for kickers, it’s easy to see why Baltimore’s booming metronome has inspired examination. With the clock ticking down from 15 seconds late in the second quarter, Flacco took his sweet time, secure in the knowledge that he didn’t need to run another play from the 38-yard line. The Ravens approach 55-yard field goals with more nonchalance than other teams treat point-after-touchdown attempts.

The Ravens’ ongoing dereliction of the running game is truly baffling. was fired in early October due in large part to his lack of interest in the ground attack. Even though Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon are averaging a respectable 4.1 yards per carry — including a gaudy 6.6 on Sunday — Mornhinweg has shown no more inclination to establish a balanced offense. Up 24-0 late in the third quarter versus Miami, Mornhinweg had called just six tailback runs versus more than 40 Flacco passes. Until Sunday, neither coordinator had been able to unlock this offense’s potential. If Mornhinweg doesn’t start trusting his backfield duo in December, it’s going to haunt him in January — provided his team keeps playing well enough to reach the postseason.

Hester joined the Ravens on a one-year, $4 million deal just one week before the season opener and three months after being cut by the Falcons.

The former Bears legend never quite regained his spark in Charm City, having fumbled five times and averaging just 7.2 yards per punt return and 24.5 yards per kick return in 2016. Hester failed to record a single return touchdown in 12 games with the Ravens.

With three games to go, the Ravens will look to other options in the return game to spur a late postseason charge. Potential replacements on punt and kick returns include , and Lardarius Webb.

For Hester, his next destination, if he doesn’t land with another team, is likely Canton. His 19 career return touchdowns are a league best, a superlative worthy of the Hall’s recognition.