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Ravens end Saints’ 6-game run with 30-24 victory

Per SI.com:

The Baltimore Ravens spent the first 13 games of the season trying to get their passing game established.

With the playoffs approaching, they determined that their standard formula for victory - a solid running game backed by a relentless defense - was even more sufficient.

Ray Rice ran for 153 yards, caught five passes for 80 yards and scored two touchdowns to lead the Ravens over the New Orleans Saints 30-24 on Sunday.

Baltimore (10-4) ran for 208 yards and limited the defending champion Saints (10-4) to 27 on the ground.

“You saw what happens when we run the ball effectively. Our offense really gets things going,” said Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, who had seven tackles. “Ray Rice, it’s hard for anybody to deal with him in the open field. Anytime he touches the ball that many times, we’re going to have the success that we have.”

Rice carried 31 times and was targeted with seven passes from Joe Flacco, who finished a pedestrian 10 for 20 for 172 yards.

“I saw the game plan. I knew we were going to run the ball today,” said Rice, who moved over 1,000 yards rushing for a second straight season.

Coming in, Rice did not have a run of more than 30 yards and reached the 100-yard mark only once. Against the Saints, he peeled off a 50-yard run in the fourth quarter and finished with his most yards rushing since a 154-yard effort on Nov. 2, 2009, at Cleveland.

The win provided Baltimore with some momentum entering its final two regular-season games, both against two AFC North foes: Cleveland on the road and Cincinnati at home.

“It was a great team victory, but it also has ramification for the playoffs,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We keep the pressure on (first-place) Pittsburgh this way. They have the edge because they beat us, but we’re not conceding that just yet.”

The Saints had their six-game winning streak broken and failed to score 30 points for the first time in six games. The Saints, who remain in second place in the NFC South, finish against first-place Atlanta and Tampa Bay.

“The next two games are very big. They don’t get any bigger,” said quarterback Drew Brees, who went 29 for 46 for 267 yards and three touchdowns. “We control our own destiny, and we have a lot to play for. It’s too early to look at the playoff picture right now, but if we are a wild-card team, the road to the Super Bowl will be on the road. We can handle that.”

New Orleans fell to 5-2 on the road in its first defeat since Oct. 24.

“We knew coming in that they were going to try to protect the football, try to run the ball. We just couldn’t stop it,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said.

The Baltimore defense, on the other hand, reversed an annoying trend of fading down the stretch. After blowing eight fourth-quarter leads in the first 13 games, the Ravens forced New Orleans to punt on its last two possessions and scored the game’s final six points.

“I think everybody on our defense was thinking, ‘We can’t let this one go,”’ Ravens tackle Haloti Ngata said. “Throughout this year, we’ve always let teams finish us off instead of us getting off the field and letting our offense finish the game. It just felt great to have our defense stop a great offense like that.”

With the score 27-24 and the Saints facing a fourth-and-8 on their own 17, Ngata batted a pass thrown by Brees and Cory Redding got the interception to clinch the victory. A field goal by Billy Cundiff created the final cushion.

“I thought we did some good things today; we just didn’t do enough,” Brees said. “From a confidence standpoint, it’s unwavering for us. We’re as confident as any team out there and we know how good we can be and how great we can be.”

Brees went over 4,000 yards passing for the fifth consecutive season, a feat performed previously by only Peyton Manning.

But the Ravens, not Brees, celebrated a victory.

“It just don’t get no better,” Lewis said. “This team has been through so much. We’ve done been through every up, every down, every peak, every valley. We knew this was the defending champs coming in here.”

The champs stumbled in this one, but remain upbeat.

“Everything is ahead of us,” safety Darren Sharper said. “If we win the next two games, we are in good position. We just need to come back from today. This was a tough loss to a tough team.”

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