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Resurgent Ravens host Saints in Baltimore

(Sports Network) - The New Orleans Saints head up to Baltimore this weekend for a Week 14 showdown with the Ravens.

The Saints are coming off an impressive 23-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- a triumph that gave New Orleans the season sweep over its NFC South rival. Aaron Brooks completed nine passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns before leaving with an arm injury in the fourth quarter, while a banged-up Deuce McAllister tallied 99 rushing yards and a score.

"We beat Tampa Bay twice and Atlanta beat us twice, and hopefully Tampa Bay beats Atlanta twice and that will put us in a better position to make the playoffs," said Saints head coach Jim Haslett.

"I thought we played one of our better games on offense, defense and special teams against Tampa Bay. It was probably the best we played as a unit all year. I thought special teams were outstanding in the coverage units and the return units had the chance to get some big plays. Our defense probably played their best game of the year. We did a great job against the running game and we played hard every snap. We were very physical on offense and we did exactly what we wanted to do. We did not get a lot of yards, but you are not going to get a lot of yards against a quality defense like Tampa Bay's. We wanted to run the football, play very physical and get some big plays and I thought we accomplished all of those things."

The Ravens picked up a 27-23 victory over the lowly Cincinnati Bengals last week. QB Jeff Blake finished 10-of-19 passing for 115 yards and threw two TD passes, including a 22-yarder to Todd Heap with 5:12 left in the fourth quarter.

"It's a lot easier to get up for a game against Pittsburgh than it is against a team like the Bengals," Blake said. "You try not to play at their level. You want to play at a higher level, but it's very difficult."

SERIES HISTORY: The Ravens have a perfect 2-0 record against the Saints, including a 31-8 victory in December 1999 when Baltimore QB Tony Banks passed for 298 yards and three touchdowns.

Haslett has never faced the Ravens, while Baltimore's Brian Billick is 1-0 lifetime against the Saints.


Brooks sustained an arm injury when he was hit by a helmet in the second quarter of last week's game versus Tampa Bay. While he has no structural damage, Brooks had to leave before the Saints' final possession because of the intense pain in his throwing arm.

There's no question the hit took a toll on Brooks, who completed just 9-of-25 passes against the Bucs. However, Brooks is expected to at least start Sunday's game in Baltimore with Jake Delhomme on stand-by duty if needed.

"It's getting better, but it's still sore and fatigued," Brooks said in the days leading up to this game. "There's no need to throw right now. We don't need it to get worse at this point. In order to play against the Ravens I need to give it time to rest. I can do everything I need to do. I wouldn't miss [the game] for the world."

Last week, Delhomme completed his only passing attempt for a first down. The first down allowed the Saints to kneel on the ball to end the game.

Brooks isn't the only member of the offense nursing an injury. McAllister, who missed a game two weeks ago with a sprained ankle, is still bothered by the injury. He played last week and found some success against a very stingy Tampa Bay defense.

"There were certain things that I could do well and certain things that I couldn't," said McAllister. "There were a couple of cuts that I couldn't make that I wanted to get into."

McAllister's durability and heart impressed his coach.

"That was a great defense we were playing, and he stuck it up in there and ran hard," Haslett said. "He came out of piles and knocked people backward.

"Everyone said the big knock on him in college was that he was always hurt. Running backs get hurt. But no one ever bothers to say that he plays when he's hurt."

The other leader of the Saints' offense is WR Joe Horn, who had a very impressive game against the Buccaneers with five receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown.

The Saints have had a well-balanced offensive attack all season. They have the third highest scoring team in the NFL, averaging 28.8 points per game, and they move the ball with great proficiency, averaging 341 yards per game (14th). But this week they could have trouble running the ball. The Ravens allow an average of just 106.2 yards per game on the ground, and they give up just 20.8 points per game.

The Ravens' biggest problem this week could be applying pressure on the quarterback. Michael McCrary was placed on the injured reserve, as the 32- year-old can no longer play on his reconstructed knee.

"I think, collectively, the doctors have told him, ‘Mike, you’re just at too much of a risk here. At some point, you need to think more long-term,’" Billick said. "But this was clearly Michael’s decision.

"Mike’s a tremendous warrior and he’s basically at the end of it. He recognizes that. He’s exhausted all medical opinions as to as what the prudent thing to do is. The fact that we had no pending issue to go get somebody else, we wanted to do this on Michael’s time table and he wanted to exhaust every avenue possible. It’s been one of the highlights of my professional career, working with Mike McCrary."


Billick has decided to keep Blake at the quarterback position for the final four games of the season, even though the original starter, Chris Redman, has recovered from his back injury.

"Right now, given our situation, 6-6 and battling for playoff spot, Jeff Blake is our starting quarterback and will remain that way," Billick said. "I don't know that Jeff has done anything to deserve being replaced.

"The other factor I have to keep in mind is when Chris comes in, there's going to be some rust in there. I don't think that's fair to put this team in that situation. As long as this team is clearly part of the playoff picture, I can't imagine that situation changing."

Blake hasn't played well as of late, but the team has won two straight. In those two games, Blake has completed 49 percent of his throws for a total of 224 yards.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed," Redman said. "I think I can go out there and compete. But I'll do what's best for the team. If that's going out there and being the backup, I'll be the backup. There's nothing I can do about it. I'm disappointed because I thought we were headed in the right direction."

While the Ravens' passing game has been inconsistent all season, averaging just 157.2 yards per game (31st in NFL), the running game has done a good job. Jamal Lewis, who is coming off an ACL tear, has already rushed for 1,044 yards this year, and has been the one of the only weapons on a very weak offense.

"I'd shudder to think where we would be without him," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said of Lewis. "Obviously, we're not tearing it up in the passing game. He's given us at least one part of our offense that we can count on.

"This is crunch time. We want the ball to be in the hands of the people we've got the most faith in and he's certainly one of them. He's our star."

The Saints' defense, which allows an average of 117.2 yards per game (16th in NFL) must find a way to contain Lewis. Last week, New Orleans did a good job of denying the Buccaneers rushing yards, as it yielded just 34 yards on the ground.

Another area of defense that the Saints have improved upon has been their pass rush. Last week, New Orleans sacked Tampa Bay's Brad Johnson four times, giving the Saints' defense 29 for the year. This week, they could find more success because the Ravens have already allowed 34 sacks on the year.

12/05 20:00:58 ET

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