Ravens, fans should relish win over Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints

December 19, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

This was one of the great scenes of this Ravens season, and it came in the moments immediately after that huge 30-24 win over the New Orleans Saints Sunday.

John Harbaugh had just finished his post-game interview and burst through the door of the Ravens locker room. Smiling radiantly, the Ravens coach made a sharp right turn and headed straight for the showers.

"HOW 'BOUT THEM RAVENS?!" he screamed.

And from the gushing water and swirling mist there came this joyous hooting and howling as a dozen players, including Ray Lewis, still the heart and soul of this team, took up the cry: "HOW 'BOUT THEM RAVENS?!"

Oh, yes, how 'bout them Ravens indeed?

You wanted a statement game, Ravens fans? You wanted a big win over a good team, late in the season when it matters most, when good teams assert their will on their opponents and reaffirm their identities for a post-season run?

Well, you got it Sunday at frigid M&T Bank Stadium.

You had Joe Flacco making some big throws (10-for-20 passing for 172 yards and two touchdowns) to continue his hot hand. You had Ray Rice running wild (153 yards rushing, 80 receiving) for a career day that re-affirmed how valuable he is to this offense.

And finally you had the Ravens holding off the Saints in a tumultuous second half marked by big plays from a defense that has been maligned this season as never before.

This is how good the defense was: In the third quarter, it held the Saints to a field goal, Garrett Hartley's 47-yarder that cut the Ravens lead to 21-17 with 6:24 remaining.

(The D, by the way, has now allowed only 24 points in the third quarter all season.)

Then came the thrilling fourth quarter, when two plays in particular defined this win over the defending Super Bowl champions.

There was Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs' blowing up the Saints dangerous running back, Reggie Bush, for a 10-yard loss with 7:19 remaining and the Saints driving, a play that seemed to deflate the New Orleans offense right before your eyes.

And there was Haloti Ngata reaching up with a beefy paw to tip a Drew Brees pass with 1:56 left on the clock, the ball floating into the hands of big Cory Redding at the Saints 18-yard line to seal the win.

Let's face it: Redding, the 6-foot-4, 300-pound tackle, has all the mobility of the Washington Monument. But for one brief, shining moment, he apparently channeled Barry Sanders — or maybe Ray Rice — and had visions of lugging the ball in for a score.

"I was looking at him and I saw that he caught it, and the first thing I was thinking was 'When is he going to get down, please?" said Suggs, smiling. "He made a great play, but that play was actually made by Haloti Ngata.

"Haloti's been making plays like that for us all year," Suggs continued. "We knew that all we had to do was get our hands on one ball, and that it would pop up, and one of our guys would pick it. It was just a great play."

Yes, it sure was. And it illustrated how well the Ravens kept their poise down the stretch against a talented Saints offense that can score from anywhere.

When it was all over, before he bounded into the showers to cheer-lead, Harbaugh was asked if this was a signature win for the Ravens.

For a moment, he seemed to hesitate, a pensive look on his face.

"I don't know," he said finally. "I think it's a fair thing for you guys to talk about. For us, it's a win we needed this week, a win to get to 10. And now we have 10 [wins] and we need to get 11."

Ten wins and four losses — that's not too shabby for this Ravens team, not with two very winnable games against Cleveland and Cincinnati remaining.

But, oh, has it been a rough two weeks for Harbaugh and his coaches, dating back to that soul-wrenching 13-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Bank and continuing through the less-than-inspiring overtime win over the Houston Texans.

For two weeks, Harbaugh and his staff have been ripped for everything from their allegedly conservative play-calling to their timid pass rush to their tactical decisions late in games.

The outcry from the fans stunned and hurt Harbaugh — he doesn't shy away from that. So maybe all that post-game howling in the showers was redemption of sorts for the Ravens coach.

"I think the fans care," he said. "I think they matter. Look, I was disappointed with our consistency. I think that's what they're saying: 'We need to be more consistent.' And we're trying to get that every single week. And to see it happen today against this team, yeah, it feels good."

Then, before heading off to celebrate with his coaches, he delivered one final message for Ravens fans.

"I want them to believe in us as a football team," he said. "Yeah, [the criticism] stings a little bit. But I know where they're coming from. Because they care."

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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