In the Ravens' locker room, no one cared that it was just the winless New Orleans Saints. Players exchanged high-fives and coach Ted Marchibroda was slapping rear ends and shaking hands. Quite a few players talked about building momentum for the future and establishing a winning streak at Memorial Stadium.
The Ravens were so giddy about defeating the New Orleans Saints, 17-10, before 61,063 yesterday, that Dan Footman, the defensive tackle who brought you the Macarena sack dance during the preseason but never gives interviews, eloquently summed up the win in one word.
After two weeks of playing the AFC Central's elite on the road, the Ravens faced one of the NFL's worst teams and ran away with a victory behind the ageless legs of Earnest Byner (149 rushing yards) and a big-play offense that contributed two touchdown passes.
The Ravens (2-2) won on a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Vinny Testaverde to wide receiver Michael Jackson in the left corner of the end zone with 10 minutes, 27 seconds left in the game. They then stopped the Saints (0-5) at the Ravens' 31-yard line on a crucial fourth-down play on the next possession, before running out the final 6: 23.
"We knew coming in that New Orleans hadn't won a game all year and we didn't want them coming into our house and getting the first one off of us," said Ravens offensive tackle Tony Jones. "We got this one and we have the Patriots coming in next week. Hopefully, we'll use this one to get something started."
Marchibroda said: "Our guys were ready to win. People were starting to count them out a little bit. We haven't played our best football yet, but this was a good football team today. We had more big plays through the run and pass today than ordinary."
One of the biggest was Jackson's decisive touchdown catch. He was supposed to run a short fade on third down from the 6, but cornerback Eric Allen jumped the route and jammed Jackson at the line of scrimmage.
Then he bumped him some more before holding Jackson, who worked his way toward the back of the end zone, where Testaverde threw the 6-foot-4 Jackson a soft touch pass over the 5-10 Allen.
"There was a lot of holding and grabbing on the play," said Jackson. "Eric Allen played the play perfectly. But as we do in practice, we kind of ad-libbed after that. Vinny gave me the opportunity, and that's all I can ask him to do."
Said Testaverde: "It was sandlot football."
There was still enough time for the Saints to get back in the game, and New Orleans went from its 24 to the Ravens' 40. But on fourth-and-one with 6: 31 left, the Saints' Jim Everett was stuffed on a quarterback sneak by defensive linemen James Jones, Elliott Fortune and Footman, and middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
"I saw the life come out of them on that play," said Lewis.
Both teams were still talking about the play after the game. The Saints thought they got a bad spot by the officials. Everett thought the snap came too early, causing him to bobble the ball and slowing his progression. The Ravens thought left guard Jim Dombrowski jumped offside.
"The coaches in the press box told us that the officials on the other side clearly gave him the first down," said Saints coach Jim Mora. "The guy on our side didn't, and I thought we got a bad spot. There is no question we got a bad spot."
Everett said: "We got the snap a little bit early. They got the jump on us. I had to drop down and get it and make sure I had it seated before I made the push. It was a good effort by the Ravens, but I thought I had the first down."
Dombrowski had the bottom line: "You have to make a quarterback sneak so it doesn't become a judgment call by the official."
It was a game of big plays, and the Ravens made the ones that mattered most. On the team's first offensive series, Testaverde threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Alexander for a 7-0 lead.
Alexander hauled in the short pass over the middle at the Saints' 45 and went untouched down the left sideline.
"It was a crossing route and they got caught in man coverage," said Alexander. "Any time you have man coverage, it's hard. I was surprised I came out of the catch so clean, and when I did, I knew I had to take it to the house [end zone]."
The Saints took the ball all over the field in the first half by shoving the Ravens' front seven around for 85 yards rushing, but despite having possession for nearly 20 minutes, New Orleans managed only a 23-yard field goal by Doug Brien with 1: 07 left in the first quarter.
Aside from Everett's sneak, the only other Saints offensive play of consequence was a busted one early in the fourth quarter, when Everett scrambled to his left and found wide receiver Michael Haynes in the right corner of the end zone for a 31-yard touchdown that tied the score at 10-10 with 14: 48 left.
Even on that play, Haynes had to push cornerback Antonio Langham in the back to get open. There was no penalty.
"I went to talk to the official about it, but I knew it wouldn't do any good so I just said, 'OK, that one is over. There are going to be ups and downs in this game,' " said Langham.
No one had more ups than Byner, 34. He averaged 6.2 yards a carry with a long run of 42. He ran behind an offensive line that dominated the Saints and gave Testaverde maximum pass protection.
The offensive line also kept the Ravens in their game plan. Testaverde threw only 20 times, completing 11 for 186 yards and no interceptions. That means Testaverde is 1-0 since guaranteeing that he never would have another performance as dismal as the one two weeks ago against Houston.
"It's been a long time," said Byner of his 20th career 100-yard game. "It feels good. I think the offensive line did a great job of getting us going."
The offensive line was just as complimentary.
"Earnest works as hard as anybody, and it's nice seeing him get 100 yards and us running the ball to run out the clock," said Jones. "But on that 42-yard run, we had to get on him. He's got to take that long one to the house."
It was a good day to joke. Forget about the Saints being winless and having the 29th-worst rushing defense in the league. And so what if the Ravens' defense got pushed around a little bit? This was win No. 2.
"Vinny had a good ballgame, he really did," said Marchibroda. "In this game, we were able to run and pass and we didn't give the football up. This is a win we can build off of."
Ravens 17, Saints 10