For casual observers, it was a great game between two equally talented teams. A hard-fought, frigid December battle surrounded by playoff implications. In one corner the defending Super Bowl champions from the NFC, in the other a perennial playoff power that dwells in the AFC and who enjoyed their own World Championship a decade earlier.
Saints fans however will enjoy it a little less than those of the Ravens. Baltimore 30, New Orleans 24.
"I thought both teams played with great effort," said Saints head coach Sean Payton, "In the end, they made more plays than we did. And that's why they won."
So simple, yet so accurate.
"We just ran into a real good opponent," Saints quarterback Drew Brees added, "I thought the Ravens played very well. Especially after a Monday Night game."
The Saints certainly had their share of flaws in the game, but give Baltimore their share of credit. The Ravens played a clean game on offense with no turnovers and their defense smothered a punchless New Orleans rushing game that stumbled to an anemic 27 yards rushing on 14 carries. Running back Chris Ivory missed the game for the Saints with a hamstring injury and his power between the tackles was certainly missed. Reggie Bush's effort's were particularly disappointing ... -4 yards on 4 attempts.
The Ravens on the other hand hammered the Saints to the tune of 208 yards rushing. Former Rutgers' star Ray Rice gained 153 of those yards and also made New Orleans look foolish on 32-yard screen pass, in which he appeared to break tackles from every single defender.
"He's a good back," Payton said of Rice, "A REAL good back. And he ran hard today."
Saints linebacker Scott Shanle said wrapping up and tackling was a major issue.
"We have to do a better job in that aspect. That's the top aspect I would point to."
While Baltimore's potent ground game made things much easier for their quarterback Joe Flacco, too much pressure once again fell onto the shoulders of Brees. The Saints rushing problems forced their quarterback to throw the football nearly 50 times. And while Marques Colston did have 6 catches for 80 yards and likewise went over 1,000 yards receiving for the fourth time in his five-year Saints career ... he also had several drops that severely hampered New Orleans' comeback hopes. With the Saints down 27-24 near their own goal line in the final two minutes of the game, Colston had two passes in his hands that got away from him. Both could've been crucial catches and big gainers on the Saints way to a game-winning or game-tying drive.
"It comes down to me. I gotta make catches," a dejected Colston said in the locker room, "A clutch third down to keep the drive alive ... and I just didn't convert."
Predictably, Brees rallied to the defense of his top target.
"All of us have plays that we'd like to have back, whether it's a pass or a catch. He's made a plenty of great plays. And he'll continue to make great plays. I'm not worried about Marques Colston. He's one of the best in the league and he always responds well."
The Saints first and only turnover occurred shortly after those missed connections. Brees 4th and 8 pass deflected and intercepted at the New Orleans 18 yard line by the Ravens' Cory Redding. It marked the ninth straight game in which the superstar quarterback suffered an interception, pushing his season total to 19 after just 11 all of last year. On the flip side, Brees fired three touchdowns to push his season total to 31 and surpassed 4,000 yards passing for the fifth consecutive year.
The Saints savior likewise has a positive outlook on what's left for the Saints in 2010 into 2011.
"From a confidence standpoint it's unwavering," Brees says, "We know how good we can be. And how great we can be."
In 2006 10 wins not only clinched a playoff berth for the Saints, it also earned them a first round bye. Well, here they sit at 10-4 with two games remaining and still have not earned a postseason bid. It doesn't get any easier next week as New Orleans travels to division leader, arch-rival and likely #1 seed in the NFC playoffs Atlanta for Monday Night Football. Does that match up now lose some of it's luster?
"No, I don't think so," says Shanle, "You get a chance to go into their building and compete against them. Who's to say we won't have to do it again in the playoffs."
It appears postseason football in the Super Dome, at least early in the playoffs, seems highly unlikely for the black and gold.
"If we're a wild card, then obviously the road to the Super Bowl ... is on the road," Brees adds, "If that's what we have to do ... that's what we have to do."
So a disappointing defeat Sunday in Baltimore, but certainly not an embarrassing one for Saints fans. We're in a new era in which even the losses can be somewhat impressive.