Except for 1 kick, Saints, Ravens are evenly matched
BALTIMORE (AP) — In a matchup between the league's highest-scoring offense and top-ranked defense, the New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens played to a near draw.
New Orleans didn't come close to matching its average of 36 points, and the Baltimore defense finally wilted in the second half — thanks to the stellar play of Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
At the end of New Orleans' 24-23 victory, players from both teams had plenty reason to feel good about how they performed.
Everyone except Justin Tucker.
Tucker was 222 for 222 on conversion kicks until he shanked one to the right with 24 seconds remaining and overtime seemingly waiting for these two evenly matched teams.
"I can't tell you exactly what happened," Tucker said, "but at the end of the day I feel like I cost us the game."
The missed kick gave Brees his first career victory over the Ravens, the only team he had not defeated. He joins Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to beat every club.
Brees threw his 500th TD pass to help the Saints (5-1) extend their winning streak to five. Manning, Favre, Tom Brady and now Brees are the only members of the 500 club.
Joe Flacco went 23 for 39 for 279 yards for Baltimore (4-3) and fashioned a wonderful late drive to put the Ravens just an extra point away from overtime.
Some other things to know about the Saints-Ravens game:
THE FOURTH ESTATE
Coach Sean Payton had the Saints go for it on fourth down four times during a 20-play game-opening drive, the lone unsuccessful attempt coming on the final try, when a fumble by Taysom Hill was recovered by the Ravens' Michael Pierce at the Baltimore 6-yard line.
New Orleans was 4 for 5 on fourth-down conversions for the day, something Brees said set the tone early for the kind of offensive game they wanted to play.
"It gives you a lot of confidence, you know?" Brees said. "Feeling like he's putting the ball in our hands to make the play and he's got plays he likes. That makes us feel like we're playing to win, not just playing."
Ravens receiver John Brown bounced back from two uneventful games with seven catches for 134 yards and the potential game-tying score with 24 seconds left.
Brown signed with Baltimore as a free agent in March after playing four years in Arizona. He leads the Ravens in yards receiving and touchdown catches (4).
"It was good just to be able to make the plays. The opportunity came to me," Brown said. "You can take all those yards back, the touchdown back. I'd rather get the win."
A DIFFERENT LOOK
Brees is a pure passer, so teams know what to expect from him. But Payton continues to integrate Taysom Hill, a second-year man out of Brigham Young, into the offense to give opponents a different look.
So far, the ploy has paid dividends.
"He made some big plays," Payton said of Hill, who rushed three times for 12 yards. "He had a toss and he kept the ball. Look, he does so many different things. He's a football player. When the game is over and it's a grass field, his uniform is dirty."
Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson scored his first NFL touchdown and gave the Ravens the lead when he carried the ball into the end zone with four seconds remaining in the first half.
"It was amazing. I'm in touchdown heaven, or football heaven, whatever you want to call it," he said. "Man, I'm taking this ball right to the sideline and keeping it."
Jackson was the second of Baltimore's two first round draft picks this year. The Heisman Trophy winner in 2016 has appeared in every game but had not contributed a scoring play.
HOLD THAT LINE
With Josh LeRibeus subbing for Andrus Peat (head injury) at left guard and reserve tackle Jermon Bushrod inactive following the death of his infant daughter, the Saints knew they'd have to get a cohesive effort from the offensive line to prevent Baltimore's barrage of blitzes.
Well, Terrell Suggs' sack of Brees in the fourth quarter was the lone blemish on an otherwise spotless day of protection. And that came with LeRibeus missing time due to an ankle injury.
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