Failing to hold that lead ultimately proved to be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.
What the Ravens also tried to put behind them is any notions of a divided locker room. Five days ago, cornerback Chris McAlister spoke of cracks in team unity, describing the locker room as "shifted" and "not a healthy situation."
In what seemed to be a response to those comments, the Ravens bypassed individual pre-game introductions and came onto the field as a team.
"It was just Coach [Billick] making a decision," safety Ed Reed said. "It doesn't matter to us who we introduce. We're a team regardless of who's coming out. We never stopped being a team. We never will."
The team was far from full strength, missing linebacker Ray Lewis (wrist), tight end Todd Heap (ankle) and left guard Edwin Mulitalo (triceps).
Still, the Ravens assumed control after a 76-yard touchdown pass to Miami receiver Chris Chambers, scoring 27 unanswered points mainly on the strength of their defense.
Backup defensive end Jarret Johnson tipped a screen pass to himself and scored on a 6-yard interception return midway through the second quarter. Reed then picked off his league-leading ninth pass to set the Ravens up at the Miami 2-yard line.
Lewis' short touchdown run off that turnover provided the Ravens a 27-7 lead and gave him a positive ending to a tumultuous season. He missed two games for a league suspension and another two because of an ankle injury from which he has yet to recover fully.
"After how everything went down this season and missing those games, I set my goals just to get to 1,000 yards and just to prove what type of back I really am," said Lewis, who finished the season with 1,006 yards. "Missing those games, I still came back and overcame a lot of adversity. That's a great accomplishment."
As a team, the Ravens fell short of their goals.
The Ravens jumped out to a franchise-best 7-3 record before facing a tough road stretch. They lost at three division winners -- New England, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh -- by a combined 64-20.
That second-half free fall left the Ravens needing Buffalo, Denver and Jacksonville to all lose yesterday in order to reach the playoffs.
The Bills lost at the same time the Ravens won, keeping the Ravens in contention until the late-afternoon games. In the end, the Broncos and Jaguars won, finally ending a Ravens season that never lived up to its promise.
"If there is anybody to blame for the situation," linebacker Terrell Suggs said, "it's definitely us."
Ravens year by year
Year Coach, Record, Div,. Playoffs
1996 Ted Marchibroda, 4-12, 5th, -
1997 Marchibroda, 6-9-1, 5th, -