When the New Orleans Saints board their plane later this morning and head to the city of Baltimore. Maryland to face the AFC North Divsion-leading Ravens, they’ll do so with the knowledge that not only will they have to face a tough opponent with the NFL’s #1 ranked defense; but they also will be playing in a city where the Saints franchise has won only one time in its ENTIRE 52-year history.
Dating all the way back to the Saints’ very first season in 1967, New Orleans has played in the city of Baltimore a grand total of 6 times — 2 times against the original Baltimore Colts (now in Indianapolis) and 4 times against the Ravens franchise, which moved to Baltimore from Cleveland (back when the Ravens were still the original Cleveland Browns franchise) in 1996.
In games against the Colts when they were still located in Baltimore, the Saints went (0-2); losing to the Colts in games played in 1967 and then again in the 1973 season, by identical scores of 30-10; at the old Baltimore Memorial Stadium.
In games against the Ravens in Baltimore since their 1996 relocation from Cleveland, the Saints are (1-3); and as Saints fans are well aware: neither QB Drew Brees or head coach Sean Payton have ever beaten the Ravens in their time together with the Saints organization.
However, as some older Saints fans might recall: the team’s ONLY win in the City of Baltimore was a memorable one; although in the “grand scheme” of things, it ended up all for naught when the Saints “collapsed” down the stretch of their 2002 NFL season and missed a golden opportunity to make the Playoffs that year.
The date was December 8th, 2002; and at that time, the (8-4) Saints were in the hunt for a NFC Wild Card berth, and they were hoping to gain at least a split in their final 4 games of the season, to clinch one of those spots.
The Ravens meanwhile came into the contest at (6-6) and were still trying to keep their faint Playoff hopes alive, with a win on their side of things.
A crowd of nearly 70, 000 fans (69, 334 to be exact) jammed into Baltimore’s Ravens Stadium (since renamed M&T Bank Stadium) to watch the contest between the two interconference rivals, since Playoff implications were on the line for both squads.
On this day however, it was New Orleans who would eventually emerge victorious.
Led by then Saints #1 RB (and now the team’s living legend) Deuce McAllister — who ran for 127 yards and three touchdowns — New Orleans was able to capitalize on a handful of Raven mistakes in a 37-25 victory.
Then-Saints starting QB Aaron Brooks left in the 3rd quarter with New Orleans up by a score of 20-7. Brooks had bruised his right shoulder one week earlier in a win over Tampa Bay at the Superdome, and although he wanted to continue, then-Saints head coach Jim Haslett decided that he had seen enough.
“We just felt he was struggling a little bit in the third quarter, and we decided to take him out,” Haslett said to reporters in the locker room after the game’s conclusion. “He didn’t have that much practice this week, and it’s tough on a quarterback when he doesn’t practice.”
Brooks was replaced by then-Saints back-up QB and former University of Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns star (and Breaux Bridge, Louisiana native) Jake Delhomme, who promptly helped the Saints convert a Jamal Lewis fumble by Baltimore, into a McAllister touchdown.
Delhomme then led a 10-play drive for the Saints offense that produced a John Carney field goal for a 30-17 lead with 6:28 left. As it turned out, Delhomme would reveal to reporters afterwards that Brooks — who completed nine of 25 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown — had actually warned Delhomme earlier that he might be needed.
“In the second quarter, he said to stay loose,” Delhomme said. “When he came out for halftime, he said stay loose. So I knew I’d be going in.” Delhomme then ended up completing his next seven of eight passes for 103 yards.
The Saints blocked two punts, recovered three fumbles and twice intercepted passes by Ravens QB Jeff Blake, who also lost a key fumble that aided the Black and Gold’s final path to victory.
Blake, who had actually been the Saints’ starting QB back during the 2000 Season before he got hurt and was replaced by Brooks that year (and was a back-up to Brooks the year before in the 2001 Season), completed 18 of 39 passes for 316 yards for Baltimore.
“If we don’t make any turnovers, if we don’t give them anything, we win this football game,” Blake said. “Everything they got, we gave them. You give a team like that that type of field position, they’re going to beat you.”
Blake’s assessment was indeed an accurate one, as the Saints improved to (9-4) with the win and essentially needed only one more victory to reach 10 wins and secure a Wild Card spot in the 2002 NFC Playoffs.
However, 3 consecutive losses — including one to the lowly (1-13) Cincinnati Bengals — would end up knocking New Orleans out of playoff contention, as the Saints completely COLLAPSED “down the stretch”.
Certainly it goes without saying that the current 2018 version of the Black and Gold will be hoping for a similar performance in that win over Baltimore 16 years ago, when they line up across from that tough Ravens defense tomorrow.
If the Saints can play in a similar manner that they did in that contest 16 years ago, then perhaps tomorrow’s contest can end up being another memorable win for New Orleans in the City of Baltimore.