BALTIMORE MD - DECEMBER 19: Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates the Ravens victory as he walks off the field after the game against the New Orleans Saints at M&T Bank Stadium on December 19 2010 in Baltimore Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Saints 30-24. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
The key to the Baltimore Ravens 30-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints was the fact that for perhaps the first time all season, the team played a complete game for all sixty minutes. None of their recent second half collapses in this game, as the Ravens fought until the end and responded accordingly when the Saints managed to come back and tie the game in the fourth quarter.
After seeing the team lose leads late in past games, once the Saints tied it up, many Baltimore fans thought this was the beginning of the end as they were facing one of the best quarterbacks in the game in Drew Brees and the defending Super Bowl Champions. However, the Ravens never swayed from their solid gameplan, which was to run the ball down the Saints' throats and once they creep up and stack the box, throw for demoralizing completions against single coverage to extend drives, win the time-of-possession battle which keeps Brees off the field.
The Ravens executed those strategies as well as they have done all season long and it paid off in a huge way with the return of the vaunted rushing attack which gained over 200 yards combined between Ray Rice and Willis McGahee. Rice finished with 153 yards on 31 carries and McGahee added 53 on only seven carries.
In addition to his great day running the ball, Rice led the team in receiving with 80 yards on five receptions and a great TD catch in addition to a rushing TD as well. The running attack was so effective that QB Joe Flacco only had to put the ball in the air 20 times, completing ten, including a 34 yard TD pass and run to rookie TE Ed Dickson, who was open in the flat and took it to the house for his first career NFL touchdown.
The offense put up 30 points on the day, but it was the defense that clamped down in the end to preserve the victory when it looked like the Saints were poised to drive the ball down the field for the tying or winning score. The Ravens knew that keeping Drew Brees off the field would be a key to the game and they did their best to limit his chances. Five times the Saints went three-and-out, and the Ravens limited Brees and the Saints' offense to two short possessions in the third quarter.
The Ravens won the time-of-possession battle overall (31:29 to 28:31), including a dominating first half where they controlled the ball for almost 18 of the 30 minutes. The defense also prevented the explosive New Orleans offense from having those big plays that change the tone of the game. The Saints only had three plays over 20 yards, with a long of 27 yards. Conversely, the Ravens had six plays over 20 yards, including ones for 50, 42, 34 and 32 yards that broke the backs and frustrated the Saints defense, leading to pushing and shoving battles and untimely personal foul penalties against them.
In the end, it was the Ravens run defense that stepped up its game, forcing Brees to take to the air 46 times, virtually ignoring the run. The Saints could only manage 27 total yards on the ground on 14 attempts for a measely 1.9 yards/carry average, including eight carries for eight yards in the second half. The Ravens also put constant pressure on Brees when he either dropped back or rolled out to pass. Winners in the battle of the trenches on both sides of the ball translated into the best victory of the Ravens ten win season so far and keeps them a game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North and firmly in the 5th seed in the Wild Card race for the playoffs.
Great, great win, Ravens!