NEW ORLEANS (Oct. 29, 2006) -- Blasted off his feet as he threw, Steve McNair lay on his back for a moment, then propped up his head, grinning after another first-down pass.
In his return from a concussion and strained neck two weeks ago, McNair never shied away from contact, throwing accurately in the face of penetrating defenders or scrambling for key first downs.
"Feeling confident and having the will to go out there and execute" is what McNair said about getting off to a fast start. "Our offense has been struggling and today was a good day."
The Ravens' defense was dominant as well, accounting for two touchdowns on a pair of 12-yard interception returns by Louisiana natives Ronnie Prude and Dawan Landry. They also knocked Reggie Bush out of the game in the fourth quarter. Bush went to the locker room favoring his left ankle, but later said he did not expect to miss a game.
"I particularly like the play calls of the two interceptions for touchdowns," Billick joked. "Today was players knowing what it is they needed to do, having worked it properly in practice."
The Ravens used crisp play-action fakes out of running formations to pass for several key first downs and took a 7-0 lead on a 5-yard quarterback draw.
McNair gave Baltimore a 14-0 lead on a quick third-down slant to Clarence Moore early in the second quarter. He finished 17 of 23 for 159 yards, which was more than enough with Ravens running back Jamal Lewis gaining 109 yards on 31 carries.
"He is running hard and physical and that's the style running game we're going to have," Billick said. "It's great to get him cranked up."
Even when McNair made a mistake that should have resulted in an interception, it worked out for a score. Late in the first half, his pass for tight end Todd Heap was underthrown and linebacker Scott Fujita was set to intercept it. But cornerback Jason Craft got a finger on it, tipping it over Fujita and straight to Heap, resulting in a 28-7 lead for the Ravens at halftime.
"It was a combination of them kind of beating our butt a little bit and us not getting any breaks," Fujita said.
New Orleans (5-2) kept fighting, but the deficit was far too large against Baltimore's hard-hitting defense.
Drew Brees was intercepted three times, twice on deflections, and sacked twice. Ray Lewis, who made six tackles, also thwarted the Saints' first decent scoring chance when he intercepted Bush's halfback pass intended for Marques Colston in the end zone. That was the second turnover for Bush, who fumbled at the Saints 43 when he was hit by blitzing safety Gerome Sapp as he took a handoff on the Saints' opening drive.
"When you make mistakes on your end of the field, they result in points for the opponent," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "In this case, if you look at the turnovers, that's what happened. It's not any magic formula. It went against everything we've been trying to accomplish and we've just got to go back and make the corrections."
Brees finished 24 of 45 for 383 yards and three touchdowns. Joe Horn became the Saints' all-time leader in touchdown catches when he hauled in a 32-yard scoring pass in the second quarter, passing Eric Martin. His 49th touchdown catch as a Saint made it 21-7, but New Orleans wouldn't get any closer. Rookie Colston had touchdown catches of 47 and 25 yards in the fourth quarter and has six TDs this season.
The Baltimore secondary, meanwhile, did not miss an opportunity to punish the Saints for making mistakes.
Landry's touchdown on the first of his two interceptions made the score 35-7 about midway through the third quarter, prompting an initial flow of disappointed fans to the exits. His second interception early in the fourth quarter all but cleared out the place.