A weird thing happened in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 30-24 Ravens win over New Orleans Saints.
There was no defensive meltdown. Not from the Ravens, anyway.
Baltimore got a pair of Billy Cundiff field goals in the 4th quarter and held off a spirited Saints comeback to win a huge showdown on Sunday and improve to 10-4, inching closer to a 3rd consecutive AFC playoff spot in the process.
This game – offensively – was about two people: Ray Rice. And Joe Flacco.
Rice ran through, over and around the defending Super Bowl champs, scampering for 153 yards on 31 carries. And when he wasn’t using his legs to dampen the Saints’ hopes, he used his hands, catching 5 balls for 80 yards including a superb 17 yard over the shoulder TD grab in the second quarter.
And Joe Flacco, asked to appropriately manage the game today as Baltimore’s running attack exposed a weak Saints defensive front, did just that in completing 10 of 20 passes for 172 yards. Flacco accounted for two TD’s in the air and was mistake free in compiling a QB rating of 112.9.
That Baltimore’s offense failed to score an offensive touchdown in the second half for the fifth straight game was of little issue afterwards.
This was a huge win for John Harbaugh and Company.
And it was also a day of recovery for the team’s offensive and defensive coordinators, as Cam Cameron and Greg Mattison were both spot on in their game plan and the execution thereof. Cameron looked at the stats, saw a New Orleans defense that was vulnerable against the run, and decided not to play games by out-fooling Sean Payton and his coaching staff. Cameron used the run to his team’s benefit and it worked magically all afternoon, as poor tackling highlighted the New Orleans defensive lapse.
Mattison, meanwhile, sent pressure early and often to start the game and gave Drew Brees fits throughout the first half. Brees, generously listed at 6’0″ by the Saints, struggled at times during the first 25 minutes based mainly on the fact that Baltimore’s outside pressure kept him in the pocket and limited his vision over the Ravens defensive line. Even in the second half, with Baltimore’s defense on its heels, the Ravens were able to make life difficult for Brees. And on the Saints final drive with three minutes to go, the Baltimore defense held firm and forced a 4th down attempt that was picked off by Cory Redding to seal the game.
This time around, unlike other Sunday’s (and a Monday) when the Ravens defense crumbled as the game moved into the final quarter, Baltimore got the win BECAUSE of their defense, not in spite of it. It was a good thing to see.
Chalk this victory up to a perfect storm of sorts. The players played well and the coaching staff coached well. This game was won on the field by Ray Rice and Joe Flacco, but it was sealed by Cameron and Mattison, who developed a strategy, stuck to it, and had their players execute it to near-perfection.
For as much grief as they’ve taken this year, a private “atta boy” hug was probably shared by the two coordinators after the game.
So the Ravens move on to Cleveland now, where the Browns await next Sunday, licking their chops and trying to win for the “hometown fans” who despise a visit from the purple about as much as we in Baltimore hate a visit from the horseshoe in the midwest.
For now, though, all is well in Baltimore, where the Ravens held off the defending Super Bowl champs today and looked awfully good in doing so.