Notebook: McAlister held out of game

MIAMI -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Chris McAlister had differing accounts of why the Pro Bowl cornerback was sitting on the bench for the majority of a 27-13 win over the Miami Dolphins. Addressing rampant rumors that McAlister had been benched for disciplinary reasons stemming from a violation of team rules, Harbaugh denied that was the case.

He said the issue was confined to McAlister's problematic right knee, which has plagued him all season.

"No, not at all," Harbaugh said when asked if McAlister had been punished. "Chris has played well. He's really worked hard this year. There hasn't been a situation where there has been an injury, but there has been some wear and tear on it. It's not a matter of starting or not starting, it's what packages we put him in to be most effective .

"You've got to practice all week to play on Sunday, but we can't overload that knee. He could be out there starting next week. We're always looking to put the best players on the field. We had a tough game last week, we didn't play as well as we wanted to, but Chris had a great week at practice last week."

Not listed on the injury report, McAlister appeared in a handful of plays and didn't register any statistics as Fabian Washington and Frank Walker started at cornerback for the NFL's top-ranked defense.

McAlister emphatically denied that his knee was why he wasn't playing.

Asked to specify the reason behind him not starting, McAlister had a terse answer: "Go ask the coach. I don't have an answer for you." McAlister added that he wasn't being punished.

"I wouldn't have been on the field if I were suspended," McAlister said.

DISASTER AVERTED: Thanks to Dolphins cornerback Will Allen's shaky hands, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco avoided a potential interception at the goal line.

The pass went directly to Allen's hands, but caromed off. On the ensuing play, Flacco connected with wide receiver Derrick Mason for an 11-yard touchdown pass.

Mason said he was supposed to be at the spot where Flacco nearly was intercepted. While trying to draw wide receiver Mark Clayton's defensive back toward him, he fell out of position.

"I kind of threw Joe a curveball," Mason said. "It was kind of me so I had to do something to break it up. We lived to play another down."

During a period of 8 minutes and 22 seconds, a 3-3 tie became a 17-6 Ravens advantage as they didn't turn the football over like Miami did on Chad Pennington's interception that linebacker Terrell Suggs returned 44 yards for a touchdown.

"We needed some type of spark," Mason said. "We were able to catch them off-balance."

BIG PLAY: Suggs' touchdown gave the Ravens a 10-3 lead, and it demonstrated how much he learned from a 23-20 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers where quarterback Ben Roethlisberger connected with running back Mewelde Moore on a swing pass.

This time, Suggs accelerated in front of running back Patrick Cobbs in the flat for the biggest play of the game. It was the fourth interception of his career, and his first since 2005.

"I was like next time, I'm going to jump it," Suggs said. "If I miss it, I miss it. If I make it, I'm going to the crib."

Pennington acknowledged that he never should have thrown the ball with safety Jim Leonhard wrapped all over him.

"I shouldn't have made that decision, bottom line," Pennington said. "I did see Suggs. I felt like Cobbs got past him, but I just didn't have the right angle. I shouldn't have made the throw."

WILDCAT TAMED: The Dolphins' trendy Wildcat formation was completely shut down by the Ravens, so much so that they stopped running it.

"You're not going to force a square peg into a round hole," Miami coach Tony Sparano said.

Harbaugh said the Ravens spent about 10 percent of their time last week preparing for the unusual scheme.

"It's still one football, no matter how many formations," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "That's what I kept my defense's focus on. It's only one football, no matter who's carrying it. Just carry out our assignments."

FILLING IN THE GAP: Chris Chester had a solid game in his first start at right guard in place of Marshal Yanda, who is out for the season with three torn knee ligaments.

"It looked like Chris Chester came in there and played really well," Harbaugh said.

Chester helped the Ravens protect Flacco, and Baltimore gained 140 rushing yards on 35 carries with Willis McGahee leading the way with 105 yards and a touchdown run

It was Chester's eighth start since being picked in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft.

"I did feel comfortable," Chester said. "I thought I played pretty good. You can always try to be perfect, but it's never as good as you want it to be. Overall, I felt good about it."

FLAGGED: Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes claimed that officials mistook his actions when he was penalized for taunting wide receiver Ted Ginn after safety Haruki Nakamura's big hit.

"I'm still confused by what went on," Barnes said. "I was just helping Haruki up. You never know what to expect. I thought more than likely that someone else would get the call."

Meanwhile, tight end Edgar Jones was blindsided by Dolphins wide receiver Brandon London on a hit in front of the Ravens' sideline. It didn't draw a flag, though.

Jones was down for a while, but it was just a leg cramp.

"I thought it was a clean hit," Jones said. "It happens." QUICK HITS: The Ravens didn't report any new injuries, but deactivated return specialist Yamon Figurs (left knee contusion), cornerback Samari Rolle (neck surgery), strong safety Dawan Landry (spinal cord concussion), cornerback Derrick Martin, offensive tackle Adam Terry (sprained right knee, lateral meniscus), wide receiver Marcus Smith, defensive tackle Lamar Divens (illness) and Todd Bouman as the third quarterback. Former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith operated as the backup quarterback and has apparently leapfrogged Bouman after a long convalescence from a tonsil infection. ... Rolle said his neck feels much better and he's hopeful of playing next week against the Oakland Raiders, but still has to be cleared by doctors for contact. ... Tight end Todd Heap surpassed 4,000 receiving yards for his career. He's the Ravens' all-time leader in yardage, catches and touchdown catches. ... The Ravens had problems in kickoff coverage as Ted Ginn gained 93 yards on five returns. Kicker Matt Stover hit field goals from 47 and 28 yards, but was consistently short on his kickoffs. ... The Dolphins deactivated wide receiver Ernest Wilford, fullback Casey Cramer, offensive guard Shawn Murphy, offensive tackle Nate Garner, wide receiver Derek Hagan, defensive end Rodrique Wright, defensive tackle Paul Soliai (suspended for violating team rules) and quarterback John Beck.


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