The Ravens' offensive mentality heading into Sunday's matchup with the New Orleans Saints was simple.
In a return to the smashmouth rushing attack that served them so well towards the end of their 2009 playoff campaign, the Ravens punished New Orleans at the point of attack, keeping the ball in the hands of Ray Rice and Willis McGahee en route to 208 rushing yards and a 30-24 victory.
"We knew one thing we would be able to do was run the ball," said Rice, who led all backs with 31 carries for 153 yards. "It wasn't anything against their defense. Their defense is ranked pretty high.
"Late in the year, it's a mentality thing. It just felt good to know that we said we were going to do something and went out and did it."
The Ravens were determined even after Rice's first two carries of the game went for -2 yards.
There were flashbacks of last week's game in Houston, where the Ravens averaged only 2.6 yards an attempt and fell to the NFL's 21st-rated rush offense.
But since their one-week experiment with Oniel Cousins starting at right tackle and Marshal Yanda sliding inside to guard against the Texans, the Ravens returned to their lineup of Chris Chester at guard and Yanda at tackle.
"The past four or five games, we haven't really gotten things going like we wanted, and finally today, everything clicked," said Yanda. "Ray ran hard, Willis was running hard, we were blocking well. We took a big step today.
"There is definitely a lot of things we need to work on, but that was progress. We got this thing back rolling. We wanted to be physical and get after those guys."
Putting the opening series behind them, the Ravens began to chip away at the Saints, piling up 4-, 5- and 6-yard gains before breaking a few big ones.
With one first-half drive potentially stalling at midfield, the Ravens went for it on fourth-and-1. Quarterback Joe Flacco pitched the ball to Rice, who scampered through tackles for a 20-yard conversion.
Five plays later, Rice scurried off blocks from Chester and Yanda – with left guard Ben Grubbs pulling through the hole and several receivers blocking downfield – for a 10-yard score.
McGahee – who posted seven attempts for 53 yards (7.6-yard average) – popped a 28-yard run in the third quarter to set up a Billy Cundiff field goal.
And in the fourth, Rice's 50-yard jaunt up the right sideline set up another Cundiff field goal.
Even though the Saints kept coming back, knotting the game at 24 with 11 minutes, 34 seconds left in regulation, the Ravens never wavered from their plan.
"We just kind of said to our men, 'We've got to get the run game going,'" said center Matt Birk. "We really had a laser focus this week in practice. We practiced hard as an offensive line. I mean, we were hitting each other and doing some things.
"The run game helped us win today… We're at our best when we're balanced on offense, so establishing the run game is important for us."
The Ravens' 208 rushing yards (Flacco added two) was Baltimore's second-highest production of the season, behind a 233-yard day against the Denver Broncos in Week 5.
Rice's 153 yards (not including his 80 yards receiving) are the third-most of his career and pushed him to 1,051 on the season, making him the first Raven to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons since Jamal Lewis did it three times from 2002-04.
Just like last year around the holidays, it seems that the Ravens are revving up their rushing attack for another playoff push.
"I actually came into the game joking with [the offensive line], but I was [kind of] serious when I told them, 'I only need 102 yards to get 1,000. Let's make it happen,'" Rice said with a big smile. "I don't know what I have to do for my guys.
"That's two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Maybe a steak or some early Christmas gifts."