For most observers, preseason games mean nothing.
But for coaches and players who want to establish a winning attitude in a winning atmosphere, it means everything in the world.
Plus, no matter how many injuries or question marks are dotting the roster at the moment, it obviously means something to the Ravens.
Baltimore continued its successful preseason habit with a last-second 30-27 win against the visiting New Orleans Saints before an announced crowd of 70,501 fans that enjoyed a picture-perfect 81-degree night Aug. 13.
Third-string quarterback Bryn Renner, whose interception set up a Saints’ go-ahead score with 1:56 left, capped a late 80-yard, 14-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with two seconds remaining, setting off a wild celebration on the Ravens’ bench.
“Guys were into it,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “The starters were into it right to the end. Their attention was on the field. It wasn’t anywhere else. … They were focused on the game. That’s what a team does.”
It was the Ravens’ 11th win in their last 13 home preseason games. It was also Harbaugh’s 20th preseason win in 29 games.
The Saints, whose four-year playoff streak ended last year with a 7-9 finish, seemed to be a perfect quarry against which the Ravens could get off on the right foot.
“It’s hard to start the season any better than that,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “The only thing we could have done better is to have some turnovers. Having two three-and-outs from the [first string], I think we can live with that.”
Baltimore committed just one first-half penalty — the Saints had seven — and only six for the game. The home team didn’t need to punt until there were 45 seconds let in the third quarter.
Offensively, the Ravens got contributions from a variety of sources; a total of 21 runners and receivers found the yardage sheet.
“In the first preseason game, you always feel a few nerves,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “You always want to do well, because you’re not playing that many reps and you need to make the most of them.
“It was a great way for us to start off the game.”
As expected, the Ravens’ first-string offense was missing injured receivers Marlon Brown and Breshad Perriman. But they also expected to come out of the gate with the same kind of play-calling variety under new coordinator Marc Trestman as it had under Gary Kubiak.
All told, the team rode a possession consisting of 10 runs and six passes during an 80-yard, 16-play, eight-minute masterpiece that ended with a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead.
Flacco (5-for-66, 33 yards, 89.6 rating; 17 yards, one rush) dropped back into the shotgun a bit more often than was usually the case last season, but that didn’t stop his unit from displaying the kind of balance they usually want.
On the ground, backup running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (36 yards, 12 carries, touchdown) got the lion’s share of the carries and showed his newfound burst through the hole, one that came due to an offseason devoted to weight loss and conditioning efforts.
Even though the Ravens weren’t able to get a look at their kick-return candidates due to an opening-kickoff touchback, the offense did manage to put forth a good showing against a Saints defense that was ranked as the league’s second-worst in 2014.
The Ravens began the night with defensive-line standouts Timmy Jernigan and Chris Canty not playing, but conversely, the Saints decided to rest quarterback Drew Brees — who threw for 420 yards during a loss to the Ravens last year — and go instead with backup Luke McCown (7-for-10, 75 yards, touchdown. 125.0 rating)
As a result, the Saints — the league’s best third-down team last year, converting at a 48 percent pace — were held to a three-and-out by the first-string defense.
The Ravens didn’t allow a first down until 19 minutes had elapsed in the game.
Happily for Ravens fans, things didn’t change drastically for the offense when backup Matt Schaub (11-for-18, 134 yards, touchdown, interception, 79.4 rating) entered the game.
The author of an inconsistent-at-best training camp performance, Schaub unleashed a long pass to Jeremy Butler that went incomplete, then decided to let his receivers do the work.
Schaub found Michael Campanaro on a short crossing route, and the River Hill High graduate ran it the rest of the way for a 45-yard touchdown and a two-touchdown advantage.
Thanks to those two scoring drives, the Ravens were able to establish clear momentum with 12 minutes’ worth of first-quarter possession and 24 plays to the Saints’ six.
A broken ankle incurred by tight end Allen Reisner, New Orleans’ late comeback, plus an absence of any kick-return opportunities, were the Ravens’ low points.
Three punt returns — one by Campanaro and two by Asa Jackson — netted a total of just 27 yards.
Since coaches never seem to be satisfied anyway, allowing two late-half scoring drives especially raised the ire of the Ravens’ staff.
“It doesn’t matter who’s in there,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “We can’t give up a 90-yard drive at the end of the half, or a game. We had some guys tackling high and we didn’t cover the say we can.”
That’s what training camp is all about, getting things right.
Once the Ravens do, winning — whether in August or December — is usually inevitable.
Joe Platania has been covering professional football since 1994
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