NEW ORLEANS — His Ravens had already been through so much this season — all those season-ending injuries, their handful of fourth-quarter collapses, the glare of the NFL’s most watched contract situation — so on late Monday night, in the middle of a happy locker room, John Harbaugh shared some good news.
The Ravens had just manhandled the New Orleans Saints, 27-13. They’d extended their winning streak to three games and kept pole position in the AFC North. They’d watched their ground game run over a stout defense and their own defense stifle a capable offense before a “Monday Night Football” audience. And now, with a bye week upcoming, Harbaugh told them they’d get the rest of the week off.
In New Orleans’ Caesars Superdome, the Ravens were happy to let the good times roll. In maybe their most impressive performance of the season, a depleted offense and a restocked defense, led by another turn-back-the-clock masterclass from outside linebacker Justin Houston, kept the team marching along its most promising path of the season.
“I feel like [the win] puts us in a very good, comfortable position right now,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “We just have to keep doing what we’re doing, stay locked in, keep cleaning up the little details here and there. I feel like the sky’s the limit for us.”
Three weeks ago, the Ravens were coming off their third late-game flop in five weeks, a 24-20 loss to the New York Giants consigning them to the AFC’s muddled middle and another week of locker room inquisitions. A three-game winning streak has burned that stench of dysfunction off. The Ravens (6-3) enter Week 10 as one of five AFC teams with a conference-high six victories; only the Miami Dolphins have won as many games in a row.
After waiting a week and a half for Monday’s game, the Ravens won’t play again until a Nov. 20 matchup against the reeling Carolina Panthers, their first game in Baltimore since Oct. 23. With a soft second-half slate, the Ravens will be heavily favored to reach the postseason. The only team left on their schedule above .500 is defending AFC North champion Cincinnati (5-4), which the Ravens won’t face until Week 18, the final weekend of the regular season.
“If you lose, you think about it all week,” said fullback Patrick Ricard, a key cog in a rushing attack that pounded the Saints for 188 yards (4.7 per carry) and two touchdowns. “It’s a great feeling knowing we won. I know we’re going to have fun on the plane, too.”
No one had a better night than Houston, though. The 33-year-old, known around the locker room as “Yoda” and “Sensei,” showed a prime-time audience all of his teachings. His mastery extended not only to the pass rush — he had 2 1/2 sacks, becoming the first player in franchise history with three straight multi-sack games — but to coverage as well.
Houston’s fourth-quarter interception, his first pick since 2018, handed the Ravens’ offense a short field and set up a knockout punch. Three plays later, running back Kenyan Drake scored from 3 yards out, his second rushing touchdown of the night pushing the Ravens’ lead to 27-6. Before long, a crowd flecked with purple made itself heard as Saints fans trickled out of the stadium.
“He works really hard to keep himself in great shape and all that,” Harbaugh said of Houston after the Ravens held New Orleans to 243 yards overall, its fewest of the season. “He said it to the team: [It’s] not just him; all those other guys are setting [it] up. The coverage is really good; our secondary played exceptionally well.”
Ahead of kickoff, the Ravens seemed to be defined as much by who was missing as by who was returning. Jackson was without four top weapons for the first time all season. Gus Edwards (hamstring) was ruled out, and fellow running back J.K. Dobbins (knee) remained sidelined. Tight end Mark Andrews (knee/shoulder) missed his first game because of injury in his career. Wide receiver Rashod Bateman headed to injured reserve Monday with a season-ending Lisfranc (foot) injury.
The offense was far from ideal but also far from hopeless. The Ravens converted 76- and 81-yard drives for touchdowns on their second and fourth possessions, and they notched field goals on two of their three third-quarter drives.
Jackson was 12-for-22 for 133 yards, highlighted by a 24-yard touchdown to rookie tight end Isaiah Likely to open the scoring, and added his usual contributions on the ground. He finished with 11 carries for 82 yards and passed Steve Young for fifth place in career rushing yards by a quarterback with a 16-yard run midway through the second quarter.
“Lamar plays on a different level,” Harbaugh said. “You can’t just look at passing stats; the passing stats are good, but he made some plays, he made some third-down conversions (the Ravens went 9-for-15). Third down was key in this game; we did a great job on offense, and Lamar was really the driver of that.”
The Ravens’ newcomers didn’t need long to make their introductions. Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, making his first appearance since tearing his Achilles tendon 10 months ago in the Ravens’ 2021 season finale, hurried quarterback Andy Dalton (19-for-29 for 210 yards and a touchdown) into a drive-ending incompletion on the Saints’ opening possession.
On New Orleans’ next drive, inside linebacker Roquan Smith snuffed out a third-and-1 run by running back Alvin Kamara (nine carries for 30 yards) Teammates slapped the All-Pro gleefully on his helmet, strutting off the field with the stalwart the Ravens acquired from the Chicago Bears for a second- and fifth-round draft pick only a week ago.
“He’s going to help this defense a lot to be where we want to be,” Houston said of Smith, who finished with five tackles. “We needed a guy like that, and I am so happy we were able to get him. I think that was crazy for them to let him go. I think he is one of the best linebackers in the game and to add him to this defense, that’s scary.”
The Ravens’ just-hired help arrived on offense, too. DeSean Jackson, called up from the practice squad for his 2022 debut, chipped in with a 16-yard catch on the Ravens’ first scoring drive, becoming the oldest active wide receiver in the NFL to be targeted this season. He later left with a hamstring injury that Harbaugh indicated was not serious.
The Ravens finished with just 319 yards of total offense, but after the first quarter, they kept New Orleans at arm’s length, never really threatened. With a 1-yard touchdown run by Drake (24 carries for 93 yards) just before halftime, the Ravens took a 14-0 lead and became the third team in the past 20 seasons to hold a double-digit lead in nine straight games to begin a season, joining the 2009 Saints and 2011 Green Bay Packers.
From there, the Ravens seemed to shift into autopilot. The Saints’ lone touchdown, a 41-yard catch-and-run score by wide receiver Juwan Johnson that cornerback Marcus Peters should’ve stopped, came with just over four minutes left. By then, the Ravens had already drained the Saints’ spirits. On offense, they were pressed into passing downs only occasionally, charging ahead for chunks of yards behind one fleet of pulling blockers after another. On defense, they bothered Dalton with four-man pressures, compressing his throwing windows and batting passes at the line of scrimmage.
“The human will can only take so much,” Drake said. “It’s just pounding, down in and down out. … That’s just what this team is all about, is continuing to wear teams down, grind them out for four quarters of football, and we’ll see who’s victorious at the end of the day.”
The Ravens were, for the third straight game. As their players packed their bags in the locker room afterward, they could feel good about what lay ahead — or at least better about the blips that had marred their first six weeks. They knew there was a good team in there all along, somewhere, waiting to come out.
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The Ravens made that clear Monday. There was a lot to celebrate as they headed home, and not just their mini-vacation.
“It’s fun, man,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “We’re out here having a good time. This team is capable of great things, and at the end of the day, winning makes everything better. Playing football is so much more fun when you’re winning. And so hopefully, we can keep it going.”
Panthers at Ravens
Sunday, Nov. 20, 1 p.m.
TV: Ch. 45
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM