BALTIMORE — The storybook ending for the New Orleans Saints got twisted around Sunday, as they came up a few plays short and lost to Ray Rice and the Baltimore Ravens 30-24 at M&T Bank Stadium.
The defeat leaves New Orleans (10-4) virtually guaranteed of trudging a visitor’s path through the playoffs, and takes some shine off of what would have been one of the season’s marquee games next Monday night in Atlanta. But while disappointing, the loss neither dented the Saints’ confidence nor exposed a potentially lethal flaw in the team’s makeup as the postseason approaches.
In short, Baltimore (10-4) played better in its own building than the Saints did, and won before 71,432, the third-largest home crowd in Ravens history. Such things happen, Saints quarterback Drew Brees said.
“Regardless of what happens with those other teams, we still control our own destiny,” Brees said, when asked about the Falcons, Eagles, Giants and Bears, whose exact playoff status remains uncertain. “Whether that’s still a shot at an NFC South championship or a wild-card spot, the fact of the matter is we have a lot to play for, a lot to fight for. So you just keep grinding.”
The Falcons clinched a playoff spot Sunday, but not the division title or the No. 1 NFC seed, and the wild-card race remains unsettled. The Saints can lock up a postseason berth with a win in either of their two remaining games.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Brees said, when asked if Sunday’s game was an example of the kind of battle on the road the Saints will have to win now to make it to Super Bowl XLV. But he then quickly dialed that back into the team’s present focus.
“It’s too early to look at the playoff picture, other than trying to get as high a seed as possible for us,” he insisted. “So we’ll keep plugging away.”
Certainly the Saints knew they would have to grind Sunday against the Ravens, a team built around a formidable defense and competent offense. One statistic in particular encapsulates the Saints’ shortcomings: they finished with 27 net rushing yards, compared to the Ravens’ 208.
Rice accounted for the brunt of those yards, gashing the Saints for 153 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries and producing huge plays in the second half each time New Orleans had clawed its way back. Rice also caught five passes for 80 yards and a touchdown.