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Call Ravens what you will, but say this: They're back

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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BALTIMORE -- The Ravens have been called every name in the book over the past few weeks: overrated, overly mouthy, Super Bowl fakes, error-prone, and the s-word. S-s-s-soft.

Last week, the normally stout-hearted Baltimore defense lost a gigantic halftime lead to the normally heartless Houston Texans. An alleged tough Ravens defense rolled over like the family dog. That set off a roasting of the team from coast to coast. Enter the New Orleans Saints on Sunday and the expected beatdown of Baltimore.

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But this was a different Baltimore team from the one that nearly lost to Houston. Not perfect. Not indefatigable and certainly not Patriot proof. But good. Really good. This was the tough, smart Ravens from years past that spit and clawed and submitted opponents.

Baltimore's 30-24 victory at M&T Bank Stadium over the defending Super Bowl champions was a response to those who spent last week calling the Ravens pretenders and phonies. We're back, they said. Talk smack about us all you'd like but understand this: We're back.

"Forget what everybody is saying from the outside," linebacker Ray Lewis said, explaining what he told his teammates before the game. "Just keep piling up wins and at the end of the day let's look up and see where we are."

The Ravens never would admit this publicly but there was a sense of desperation enveloping this team as they readied to face Drew Brees. The desperation was expressed in the tone of a riveting speech to the team on Saturday night from Lewis, who stated he didn't want to go down without a fight. He asked the Ravens a simple question.

"What would you give for the man beside you?" Lewis said as he recounted parts of his talk.

As many of Lewis' speeches could be characterized -- save his body wash commercials -- it apparently was highly moving.

Lewis added one more thing. If we're going to run the ball, run it, and let's not stop running until they stop us.

Rice is finally sent out of bounds after another punishing attempt. (AP)  
Rice is finally sent out of bounds after another punishing attempt. (AP)  
Orders given and received. What unfolded was a bloody and blistering Baltimore ground attack. The Ravens rushed for 208 yards while holding New Orleans to only 27. Ray Rice ran for 153 yards on 31 carries and added five catches for 80 yards and a score including a corner end zone grab in which he looked like Jerry and not Ray.

"There was some doubt if we could beat the defending champions because of what happened last week," said Rice, referring to the Houston game.

This was, at times, a chippy game with at least one highly questionable act by the Saints. Once when Joe Flacco was taken down, Saints defensive lineman Remi Ayodele appeared to knee Flacco in the head as the QB lay on the ground. There was no flag and Flacco, whose blood pressure normally never rises above iceberg, later was livid on the sideline.

"You have to protect our quarterback," Baltimore wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "I know his last name is not Brees or Manning or Brady but our quarterback is very good. He needs to be protected just like the rest of the bunch. You can't allow our quarterback to be hit after he throws the ball or he's on the ground. That's just not called for ... "

The maligned Ravens defense frustrated New Orleans for significant chunks of the afternoon and was big in the end. With less than two minutes remaining in the game and Baltimore clinging to a 27-24 lead with the Saints at their own 17, Brees had a pass attempt tipped at the line of scrimmage by Haloti Ngata. The ball was plucked high out of the sky by Baltimore's Cory Redding. The Ravens then added a 27-yard field goal.

Is this a Super Bowl team? Who knows.

But by beating the Saints one thing is certain: The Ravens are back.

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