5 KEYS TO THE GAME

1. In coach Brian Billick's play-calling debut this season after firing offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, the Baltimore Ravens' offense was cohesive and crisp in trouncing the New Orleans Saints 35-22 on Sunday at the Louisiana Superdome.

The victory, which represents the first by an opposing team against the Saints at home, was keyed by effectively blending play-action, spread formations and the most physical running game Baltimore (5-2) has demonstrated all season. In a major turnaround, the Ravens took advantage of opportunities in the red zone as they converted all three of those situations for touchdowns. Meanwhile, quarterback Steve McNair played his top game of the season following his recent concussion. He ran for a touchdown on a quarterback draw and passed for two more. He finished 17 of 23 for 159 yards and a 121.5 passer rating. Everything went McNair's way, even when it shouldn't have. His short-armed throw in the end zone deflected off cornerback Jason Craft's hands with linebacker Scott Fujita in position to intercept it. However, the carom fell directly into tight end Todd Heap's outstretched hands for a touchdown and a 28-7 advantage. It was Heap's eighth touchdown catch in the past 10 games and his team-high fifth of the season.
2. Rookie defensive backs and Louisiana natives Ronnie Prude and Dawan Landry accounted for two of the Ravens' touchdowns on a pair of 12-yard interception returns. For the game, Baltimore finished with four turnovers as quarterback Drew Brees, the NFL's seventh-ranked passer entering the game, was intercepted three times. He was sacked twice and hit multiple times, including on his two throws that the Ravens' rookie defensive backs returned for scores. Despite coming off a sprained medial collateral ligament, Landry intercepted two passes and has three over the past two games.
3. The Ravens knocked multi-dimensional rookie running back Reggie Bush out of the game with a left ankle injury on linebacker Bart Scott's open-field tackle. Bush finished with only 16 yards on five carries, caught four passes for a mere five yards and was intercepted in the end zone by middle linebacker Ray Lewis on an ill-advised halfback option pass. Regardless of who touched the football, the Saints couldn't run effectively as they were stonewalled for 35 yards on 14 carries.
4. Running back Jamal Lewis carried the football a season-high 31 times for 109 yards, marking the only time he's eclipsed the century mark or 30 carries this season. Lewis hadn't rushed for 100 yards since gaining 105 in a win last December over the Green Bay Packers. He hadn't carried the football over 30 times since the 2004 season finale when he rambled for 167 yards on 34 carries against the Miami Dolphins.
5. Despite allowing three touchdown passes as Brees piled up 383 yards on 45 throws one week before the Ravens will face off with the Cincinnati Bengals' explosive attack, the defense was good enough to win. Baltimore will need to upgrade its communication, coverage and tackling in the secondary next week against Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

Ravens Insider Top Stories