"I knew we were going to run the ball today," said Rice, who is going to sign his shoes and give them to his mother for Christmas. "It felt good that we said we were going to do something and then we went out and did it. If I have to be a sparkplug, so be it."

This also wasn't the same Ravens defense that played the safe route by rushing three players and dropping everyone else into coverage. The Ravens blitzed more than they have all season, sending linebackers, cornerback Chris Carr and safety Ed Reed.

The Ravens defense didn't give up anything easily. Two of the Saints' three touchdowns were the result of acrobatic catches (a one-handed grab by tight end Jimmy Graham and an outstretched one by Moore) to reach the end zone.

The Ravens -- who improved their record against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks to 2-12 under Harbaugh -- caught Brees off guard.

"It was a lot different from Monday night when we watched them against the Texans," Brees said. "The defense played a lot less conservatively."

Another unexpected development was the outburst by Flacco on the sideline. Late in the third quarter, Saints defensive end Will Smith landed on Flacco after the play ended and appeared to put his knee into the quarterback's helmet.

TV cameras caught Flacco using some salty language as he complained to the officials.

"I have my things on the sidelines sometimes," Flacco said. "I don't know that they always get caught. But apparently this one did. I wasn't too happy at the time. It happens. I feel like it was a late hit."

The Ravens were the ones who delivered the final blow and find themselves in a strong position to make the playoffs for a third straight season. With two regular-season games remaining, the Ravens carry a two-game lead over the San Diego Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars for a wild-card spot as well as a boost of confidence after beating the Saints.

Asked whether this was a signature victory, Harbaugh said: "I don't know. That's a fair thing for you guys to talk about, but for us, it's a win we needed this week. We needed to get 10, and we have 10. Now, we need to get to 11."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jamisonhensley

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