There's something spectacular about the Ravens in the Superdome.
Two years after winning Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, Baltimore came to town needing a win to stay up to speed in their drive for a playoff appearance. And it was going to be a tough one to get.
Thanks to an offensive explosion by running back Justin Forsett and timely pick-six by safety Will Hill, Baltimore did just that, out-running the Saints on Monday Night Football for a 34-27 victory.
The Saints had won 14-straight primetime games at home, dating back to 2009. They rarely lose at home. They almost never lose under the bright lights.
The Superdome is home for the Ravens too though. And the Ravens left it victoriously again, this time with a 7-4 record that keeps them only a half-game out of first place in the hotly-contested AFC North.
"Obviously a great, great win for the Ravens," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "That was a really special win."
Baltimore trailed 17-14 at halftime, but gained a lead they would never relinquish on a 44-yard interception returned for a touchdown by Hill, who had his best game yet as a Raven while matched up one-on-one with Saints Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham.
Forsett did much of the damage on offense, running 22 times for 182 yards and two touchdowns. His storybook season wrote its finest chapter on primetime. He called it his best game of his well-traveled career.
"It's crazy just thinking about where I was last year, doing a lot of scout work and coming in every once in a while on third down," Forsett said. "I'm just thankful for the journey."
Monday night's game started with a bang and was a track meet throughout as the two teams combined for a whopping 974 total yards. And it didn't look good early for the Ravens.
On the Saints' second play from scrimmage, seldom-used wide receiver Joseph Morgan took a reverse end around 67 yards, only to be tracked down just before the end zone by cornerback Lardarius Webb. It turned out to be a huge tackle.
After what appeared to be a fumble recovery on the goal line was overturned by review, the Saints went for it on fourth down from the 1-yard line. The Ravens defense is used to fourth-down stops in the Superdome, however.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata stuffed the Saints' Mark Ingram as the running back tried to leap over a pile, turning the ball over to the Ravens.
Baltimore's offense made the stop count.
Forsett ran 38 yards up the middle on the unit's first snap. The unit moved down the field to the New Orleans 15-yard line.
That's when Steve Smith Sr. made the Ravens' catch of the year. With cornerback Brian Dixon all over him, Smith cradled in a pass as he fell to the ground and held onto it with one arm as he slid out of bounds.
"To make that fade catch back there was about as good of a catch as you're going to see," Harbaugh said. "He was tackled while making the catch and he still comes down with it. That was pretty amazing."
After looking like they were going into an early deficit, the Ravens marched 97 yards to go ahead, 7-0, and they had a surge of early momentum.
Harbaugh pointed to the early stop and resulting long drive as the tone-setter for the game.
"To me, that was a statement right there about our football team," Harbaugh said. "That's courageous. After that, it was just a dog fight like you knew it was going to be."
The Saints weren't going to go quietly. Not with Brees under center on Monday Night Football.
A New Orleans drive was extended because of a hands to the face penalty that came on a third-down incompletion. Brees made the flag hurt by hitting another big play against the Baltimore defense. It was Morgan again, who entered the game with just one catch for 7 yards on the year.
Morgan beat Webb deep down the middle and Brees lofted in a perfect pass for a 62-yard gain. The Saints didn't stall this time. Brees found Graham for a 10-yard score to tie the game at 7.
Baltimore's offense rallied, again leaning on Smith. A Bernard Pierce 26-yard run started things off, then Smith hauled in a 40-yard catch on third down, putting the Ravens in the red zone.
This time, however, it was the Saints who got a stop on the 1-yard line. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk bulldozed his way to just outside the goal line, but was hit and fumbled. He was called down on the play but it was overturned after review, giving the Saints the ball.
The defense got the ball back via a pair of sacks from C.J. Mosley and Elvis Dumervil, and the offense went back to work. This time, it was the other Smith.
Flacco connected with Torrey Smith on a crossing route on the first play and he stretched it to a 40-yard gain. Quickly, Baltimore was in the red zone again. Forsett took it from there, hitting an 11-yard run, then cruising into the end zone from 13 yards out.
The Saints' porous run defense was getting mauled by Baltimore's offensive line, and the Ravens had a 14-7 lead with about nine minutes remaining in the second quarter.
On the next drive, New Orleans got another couple breaks via the yellow flag. Ngata was flagged for roughing the passer on a third-down incompletion, extending another drive.
On the next third down, Brees lobbed a 33-yard pass to wide receiver Kenny Stills, who caught it along with cornerback Danny Gorrer. Both had their hands on the ball as they hit the turf, and it didn't appear that Stills had clear possession. Harbaugh challenged the play, but the call was upheld.
The Saints were forced to settle for a 20-yard field goal, however, when Hill knocked away a pass intended for Graham in the end zone.
New Orleans got the ball back again before the half and Brees took aim at Baltimore's undermanned secondary. With less than two minutes remaining, Brees drove the Saints 81 yards in one minute, 34 seconds.
It was capped on a 26-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marques Colston, who made the catch between safeties Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks, who was in good position for a possible interception. The Ravens went into halftime trailing, 17-14.
Baltimore came out swinging in the second half – literally. Smith Sr. got into a tussle with Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, which spilled into a melee on the Ravens sideline. Vacarro was flagged for a personal foul penalty.
That put the Ravens in field-goal position and kicker Justin Tucker connected on a 31-yarder to tie the game at 17 nearly midway through the third quarter.
Check out the best photos from New Orleans as the Ravens battle the Saints at the Superdome on Monday Night Football.
"I'm just here to play ball, man. Play ball and have fun," Smith said. "Take some people's lunch money in the process."
Then came the game-breaking play Baltimore has been looking for on defense. And it came at just the right time.
Baltimore entered the game with just two interceptions by defensive backs this season. Hill was inserted as the full-time starter with the hope that he could add more playmaking. With the game tied and Brees threatening to reclaim the lead, Hill turned the tide.
Hill undercut Graham and intercepted Brees and raced down the Ravens' sideline to the end zone, stunning the crowd at the Superdome. Hill was assigned specifically to cover Graham, and said his strategy was to "beat him up" and talk trash.
"They put me on the No. 1 guy," Hill said. "As he threw the ball, it was behind him. I saw it and I just took it."
Considering Hill knocked away a pass in the end zone also intended for Graham (which forced a field goal), he directly made an 11-point difference.
Baltimore's defense ramped up the pressure after that as Terrell Suggs notched his 100th career sack and Dumervil followed up with his second of the game (12.5 on the season), forcing a punt.
"It felt good to finally get it. It would have been unfortunate to celebrate it without a win," Suggs said.
The offense converted on a couple key third downs and Torrey Smith put the Ravens into Saints territory, setting up Tucker for another big-time kick on the primetime stage. Tucker boomed a 55-yard field goal through the uprights, giving Baltimore a 27-17 lead with 11 minutes left.
The Saints drove back down the field, but had to settle for a 34-yard field goal, in part because of another pass breakup by Hill, pulling them to within a touchdown with 6:33 remaining. Baltimore needed one more drive.
Torrey Smith and Forsett did the damage. Smith caught two passes for 32 yards and Forsett ripped off a 35-yard run, then stretched for a key first down with three minutes remaining to keep the clock running.
Then Forsett dealt the final blow, rushing off the left side for a 20-yard touchdown to give the Ravens a 34-20 lead with less than three minutes left.
The Saints went 80 yards and scored a touchdown on a 2-yard pass to Graham with 40 seconds left, but it was too little too late. Wide receiver Kamar Aiken secured the onside kick and Baltimore left with a hard-earned road victory.
The Ravens are tied with the Steelers and Browns at 7-4. The division-leading Bengals are 7-3-1.
"It's huge," Harbaugh said. "You're going to have to win a lot of games to win the division and you're going to have to win a lot of games to make the playoffs in our conference. It's just a fact. We needed it."