The Ravens are ready for the real deal.
As the starters watched Thursday's matchup from the sidelines, the Ravens wrapped up the preseason with another sharp performance in a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints. The victory finished the Ravens' preseason with a perfect 4-0 record.
"We played with a lot of discipline and we played with a lot of heart," Head Coach John Harbaugh said after his team finished a perfect preseason for the fifth time in franchise history.
Baltimore rested the starters and veterans, which is standard practice in the final preseason game, and quarterback Tyrod Taylor played the entire first half behind the second-string offensive line.
Taylor had the offense humming.
The Ravens had* *good balance between the run and pass, and Taylor marched them down the field for scoring drives on four of their first five series. Kicker Justin Tucker was in midseason form as he hit field goals of 24, 27, 32, 36 and 45 yards, and wide receiver Deonte Thompson caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Taylor in the second quarter.
Taylor finished the game 10-of-17 passing for 105 yards, a touchdown and interception.
"It was encouraging," Taylor said. "Of course on some of those drives you want to finish those with touchdowns, but getting points on the board is always good."
His biggest gaffe was the interception in the first quarter on a pass intended for wide receiver Kamar Aiken. Taylor took a deep shot into double coverage on the pass, but the wide receiver eased up and wasn't able to track the pass as it sailed over his head for the pick.
The running game was also impressive, continuing a trend throughout the preseason. The Ravens held out top running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, but their younger counterparts made the most of their opportunities.
Rookie running backs Lorenzo Taliaferro and Fitzgerald Toussaint split the workload and proved to be a strong tandem.
The bruising Taliaferro carried 25 times for 88 yards. Toussaint, an undrafted prospect who has played sparingly in the preseason, capitalized on his playing time. He was shifty out of the backfield and racked up a game-high 103 yards on 17 carries. The Ravens finished the game with 217 rushing yards, making it the second time this preseason that they've topped the 200-yard mark.
"Both of those guys ran the ball downhill," Harbaugh said. "I thought our offensive line was absolutely dominant for tonight's game. They got after it."
Defensively, the Ravens limited the New Orleans for much of the game. The Saints scored a touchdown on their first drive, but then the Ravens clamped down and limited them to just six points the rest of the contest. Baltimore forced the Saints to punt five times, and dominated the time of possession.
One player with a standout performance on defense was outside linebacker John Simon, who brought a consistent pass rush and finished the day with a sack and three other quarterback hits.
The defense held the Saints scoreless throughout the second half, and the Ravens continued to build on their lead after halftime.
Rookie quarterback Keith Wenning entered the game to open the third quarter, and he was much-improved compared to his first preseason action against the Cowboys two weeks ago. Wenning orchestrated a 16-play scoring drive to open the third quarter, and he finished the game with 8-of-13 passing for 117 yards.
"I feel like I made some plays," Wenning said. "The more you're out there the more comfortable you get, and the extended time definitely helped."
Coming into the game, much of the discussion centered on the competition at wide receiver. The young receivers kept the competition close. Aiken finished with four catches for 57 yards, Campanaro had three catches for 55 yards, Jeremy Butler had three catches for 24 yards, and Thompson had three grabs for 25 yards and the touchdown.
"They were four-for-four," Harbaugh said about the strong overall performance from the wideouts. "Nobody is making it easy for us."
Celebration of Thursday's victory will be short-lived, as the Ravens' front office will have to quickly decide which of those receivers they* *keep, as they have to trim the roster to 53 players by Saturday's 4 p.m. deadline. Cuts could start happening as early as Friday.
Once the roster is finalized, the Ravens will immediately turn their focus to the regular season, knowing that a Week 1 matchup against the division rival Bengals is looming in 10 days.
"We're going to have some tough, tough decisions to make to put this football team together," Harbaugh said. "I'm proud of them and I'm ready to get back and start getting ready for Cincinnati."
The Baltimore Ravens travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints in the Superdome for the final tune up before the 2014 regular season.