Five thoughts on the Ravens' 34-27 win over the New Orleans Saints Monday night at the Superdome:
High-Pressure Win Shows Ravens Are Playoff Contenders
This was a high-pressure game for the Ravens. Since they last played, the rest of the AFC North had repeatedly come through. The Cincinnati Bengals had registered two road wins, beating the Saints in New
Orleans and the Texans in Houston. The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers also had won on the road, Cleveland in Atlanta and Pittsburgh in Tennessee. That was nothing if not a collective challenge to the Ravens to keep pace and also win on the road, a task that has given them trouble recently. Coming into Monday night, they were 4-9 away from M&T Bank Stadium since they won the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the Saints had not lost a primetime game in the Superdome since December 19, 2009. See what I mean? This was serious pressure, the kind of night that can tell you whether you're for real as a playoff contender. The Ravens came through, scoring a huge win. In a game that amounted to a shootout, especially in the first half, when the two offenses combined for 601 yards, the Ravens had more firepower. Both teams moved the ball in the air, but the Ravens also ran it, with Justin Forsett gaining 182 yards. Most importantly, the Ravens continually delivered on third down, converting nine of 13 into firsts.
Will Hill Wins Battle Against Jimmy Graham
With five minutes left in the third quarter, the game was tied, 17-17, and completely up for grabs. Facing third-and-seven at his 41, the Saints' Drew Brees threw a pass over the middle, slightly behind tight end Jimmy Graham. Ravens safety Will Hill read the route, stepped in front of Graham, grabbed the interception and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown. The Ravens never trailed again. The fact that it was just the third interception of the season by a Ravens defensive back tells you how things have gone for that unit, and this game was no different, as Brees passed for more than 250 yards in the first half alone and 420 overall. But Hill's difference-making play was a major shot of redemption. And Hill had other moments. He was left alone on many plays with Graham, a matchup nightmare, but he survived the battle and possibly even won it, as Graham totaled just 47 receiving yards on 10 targets. How did he do it? "Get down, gets your hands on him, get physical, and talk trash," Hill said.
Ravens Slowed Brees With Run Game
Right away, the Saints realized they couldn't budge the Ravens' defensive interior, which features a top-five rushing defense this season. Ordinarily, that's what a defense wants, to take away one phase of an offense and force it to be one-dimensional. But in this case, it played right into the Saints' hands. Once he gave up on rushing the ball, Brees picked the Ravens apart, especially in the first half. Down by three points as the second half began, there was no doubt what the Ravens had to do to turn things around: Keep Brees off the field. Control possession. They did just that, running 31 of the game's first 42 plays after halftime. Not only did Forsett run wild, but Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had one of his best games, repeatedly finding open targets to pick up first downs. Brees did not get rolling again until the Ravens were ahead.
Looking Back On How Far Ravens Offense Has Come
When the Ravens outscore Brees and the Saints in a shootout – on the road, no less - it's time to stop and make note of how far the Ravens offense has come under Gary Kubiak. Remember how the Ravens won
their Monday night game a year ago in Detroit? They needed six field goals from Justin Tucker, including a 61-yarder, because their offense couldn't get the ball in the end zone. It was a rough year that led to Kubiak coming in and putting in an entirely new system. Well, it's working. The Ravens offense was downright electric on Monday Night Football this year. The line opened holes for Forsett and protected Flacco, who was sacked just once. "It all starts with what the guys up front are doing," Flacco said. The running backs made gains. Receivers were open. Flacco was sharp. Kubiak's play-calling kept the Saints guessing. Admittedly, New Orleans' injury-riddled defense is having a terrible season, but the Ravens offense took full advantage.
The teams combined for five plays of 38 or more yards in the first half. … The sellout crowd in the Superdome included thousands of Ravens fans who made a whole lot of noise. … While the Ravens played Monday night, the New York Jets took a beating from the Buffalo Bills, 38-3. If anyone can explain how the 2-9 Jets whipped the Steelers a week ago, let me know. … The Saints' first touchdown drive was kept alive by an illegal hands-to-the-face call on Hill that was dubious to say the least. … Justin Tucker's range is a serious advantage. Down by seven points in the fourth quarter, the Saints made a stop at their 38 and probably thought about getting the ball back and tying the score. Instead, Tucker nailed a 55-yard field goal to make it a two-score game. Huge. And honestly, did you have any doubt about Tucker making that kick in a dome? … Congrats to Terrell Suggs for hitting that big, round number with the 100th sack of his career.