NEW ORLEANS — Inside the Ravens’ locker room late Thursday night, wide receiver Kamar Aiken broke into a smile as he reflected on how to handle the anxiety of waiting to learn whether he has made the team.
With Saturday's 4 p.m. deadline for the 53-man roster closing in on the Ravens, Aiken and his fellow wide receivers likely made one decision even more difficult with their performances in the team's preseason finale, a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“Our job was to go out there and make it tough on them when they make the decision,” said Aiken, who led the Ravens with four receptions for 57 yards. “Hopefully, it’s in my favor. That’s all I can do. I’m going to be with my family. They kind of ease my mind. That’s pretty much my game plan.”
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A journeyman no longer eligible for the practice squad — he exhausted his three seasons of eligibility in previous stints with the Ravens, Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots and Chicago Bears — Aiken wasn’t the only wide receiver to make a strong case for a roster spot as the Ravens ended the preseason undefeated for the first time since 2009.
Wide receiver Deonte Thompson also impressed. In the second quarter, he broke sharply into his pattern across the middle of the end zone, creating separation behind the Saints’ secondary. Thompson made himself an easy target as backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor hit him in stride for an 8-yard touchdown pass.
“Deonte is real fast and he does a good job of getting and out of his routes,” Taylor said. “He did a good job, especially on the touchdown. That’s a play we’ve been practicing for a while. He came open at just the right time.”
The touchdown, Thompson's third in his past three preseason games, likely further cemented his place on the roster. Arguably the Ravens’ fastest player, Thompson is a strong candidate to survive Saturday’s final roster cuts for the third consecutive year.
The Ravens like Thompson’s explosiveness and, after he had some lapses in concentration over the past few years, are encouraged by his improved hands. Thompson caught a touchdown pass against the Washington Redskins in the third preseason game and returned a kickoff 108 yards for a score against the Dallas Cowboys the previous week.
“Deonte’s been playing so well. He’s done it, and stacking week after week,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s done the same thing in practice. It just says so much about where he’s at as a football player.”
Should the Ravens keep six wide receivers, Thompson and River Hill graduate Michael Campanaro are expected to have a slight edge over Aiken.
“These are tough decisions,” said Campanaro, a seventh-round draft pick out of Wake Forest. “There’s a lot of good players in our room. The competition has brought out the best in us.”
This was a relatively low-key affair in which players such as Thompson made their case to the Ravens’ brass that they deserve a place on the regular-season roster. The Ravens' only non-special teams starter to play in the game was rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley
Except for the uncertainty at wide receiver and in the secondary, little drama surrounds the Ravens’ looming roster decisions. The most interesting aspect of their next few days is the possibility of a trade for a cornerback, where injuries have hit Jimmy Smith (chest bruise, lungs), Lardarius Webb (lower back) and Asa Jackson (sprained ankle), or of waiver-wire claims as the Ravens try to improve the back end of their roster.
On the field Thursday, Taylor followed through on a vow he made days before to prove he can manufacture drives with his arm and feet.
Aside from a first-quarter interception in the Saints’ end zone on a pass to Aiken, which Aiken said he lost in the overhead lights of the domed stadium, Taylor had a generally solid performance. He completed 10 of 17 passes for 105 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a 71.9 quarterback rating.
He led the Ravens on four scoring drives, also displaying his ability to buy time with his elusiveness. The fourth-year player rushed for 24 yards on three carries, converting a pair of third downs on scrambles. Three plays before his touchdown pass to Thompson, Taylor’s 9-yard scramble gave the Ravens a first down at the Saints’ 10-yard line.
“I thought we played great. We moved the ball well for most of the game,” Taylor said. “We did some positive things. The line gave me time to throw, and we gained a lot of yards.
“I was encouraged. I would rather have touchdowns, but as far as critiquing the offense, we can getter if we turn those drives into touchdowns.”
Taylor was replaced after halftime by rookie quarterback Keith Wenning, a sixth-round pick from Ball State. Wenning completed four of his first six passes on his openiong drive but had a third-down pass at the Saints’ 14-yard line batted down by defensive end Tyrunn Walker.