NEW ORLEANS (AP) — With a stutter step and shoulder fake to his right, Baltimore Ravens running back Justin Forsett seemed to throw New Orleans’ defense off balance for a moment.
That was all he needed to burst through a hole to his left and sprint 20 yards untouched for a game-sealing touchdown.
“The offensive line did a great job of making those lanes open for me,” Forsett said. “I just tried to seize the moment.”
Forsett rushed for a career-high 182 yards and two touchdowns, and Baltimore beat New Orleans 34-27 on Monday night to hand the Saints their third consecutive loss.
Will Hill had a 44-yard interception return for a go-ahead score in the third quarter. Steve Smith caught four passes for 89 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown, and the Ravens (7-4) stayed within a half-game of AFC North leader Cincinnati (7-3-1).
Forsett, whose 5.4 yards per carry coming into the game led all NFL running backs, averaged 8.3 yards per rush. His first scoring run went for 13 yards in the second quarter.
“Justin — awesome job, obviously, all year. The work he’s putting in, the results he’s getting and what he’s doing for this team was huge,” said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who passed for 243 yards and a touchdown. “He’s not letting the guy tackle him in the hole with his arms or anything like that. He’s breaking those little things.”
Drew Brees passed for 420 yards and three touchdowns for New Orleans (4-7), which remained tied for first in its anemic division with Atlanta, a loser against Cleveland a day earlier. Now, the Saints and Falcons have the dubious distinction of being the first teams in NFL history to occupy first place in a division while three games under .500.
“We’ve got to make sure we’ve got enough thick skin and be able to have the mental and physical toughness to bounce back and get ready to play next week, because we’re playing obviously an important game,” said coach Sean Payton, whose club visits Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Jimmy Graham had two TD catches for the Saints, who had won 14 straight home night games.
Brees was sacked four times, and his pivotal interception came as he threw under pressure from Terrell Suggs. The pass was behind Graham, allowing Hill to snag it with nothing but open field in front of him. The play broke a 17-all tie, and New Orleans never recovered.
“I’d seen Brees in trouble. He’s going to look for his No. 1 guy when he’s under that duress,” Hill said. “As soon as he threw the ball, I’d seen that it was a little bit behind him, so I took that opportunity and ran with it.”
By the end of the game, the chants of “Who-Dat,” for which Saints fans are known were replaced by the opening riff to the White Stripes song, “Seven Nation Army,” which Ravens fans also sang in the Superdome after their 2013 Super Bowl triumph over San Francisco.
The Saints carried a 17-14 lead into halftime on Brees’ 26-yard scoring pass to Marques Colston, who brought it in while leaping between two defensive backs.
Smith, a Saints nemesis during 13 seasons in Carolina, gave New Orleans fits again. His first-down catch in the third quarter precipitated a scuffle for which Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro was assessed a personal foul.
“He tried to tackle me. I tried to stiff-arm him to the ground,” Smith said. “He threw a punch so I kind of went after him after that.”
Baltimore’s Elvis Dumervil had two sacks, and Suggs and C.J. Mosley each had one.
Brees’ first scoring pass went for 10 yards to Graham. Brees also hit Graham for a 2-yard score with 40 seconds left, but an ensuing onside kick failed.
The Saints were in position to take an early lead after Joe Morgan’s 67-yard run on an end around. It took defensive back Lardarius Webb’s horse-collar tackle at the 2 to prevent Morgan from scoring.
The play gave New Orleans first-and-goal on the 1, but the Ravens stopped two runs by Mark Ingram and a scramble by Brees before stuffing Ingram again on fourth-and-goal.
Forsett then broke loose for a 38-yard gain to start a drive that culminated with Smith’s touchdown catch as he crashed down backward at the left edge of the end zone.
That gave Smith 11 career touchdown catches against New Orleans, more than he has against any other team.
NOTES: Baltimore improved to 4-0 against the NFC South. ... Saints NT Brodrick Bunley left in the first quarter with a right leg injury. ... Morgan had a 62-yard catch, giving him 60-plus-yard gains the only two times he touched the ball. ... Baltimore finished with 215 yards rushing.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL