- Associated Press - Saturday, November 22, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco enjoyed a productive visit to New Orleans when the Ravens met the Saints in a preseason game in late-August.

He didn’t play, but he did get a chance to take in the sights and sounds of the Big Easy and reminisce about his triumphant stay in the city during the 2013 Super Bowl.

This weekend, Flacco intends to stay focused on what the Ravens (6-4) need to do to beat the desperate Saints (4-6) on Monday night. No planned bike rides into the French Quarter for beignets at Cafe du Monde this time.

“We came down in the preseason and I had my opportunity to do that,” Flacco said. “It was nice to be able to do that and get that out of the way. This week, not so much.”

Flacco has only fond memories of playing in the Superdome.

“I want to keep them that way, too,” he added.

Doing so may not be so easy.

While the Saints have lost two straight at home, there seems to be something different about the Superdome at night.

That was certainly not lost on the Saints, who were pumping out theme music to “Monday Night Football” as they warmed up for practice this week.

New Orleans has won 14 straight night home games by an average of nearly 20 points.

Even during what has been a season rife with inconsistency and disappointment, the Saints managed to win a Sunday night game last month by three touchdowns over a Green Bay team that had arrived on a four-game winning streak.

“Anytime you go on the road in the NFL, in the dome with a crowd that is very into the game, it obviously presents its challenges,” said Flacco, whose team is 2-3 on the road.

“The bottom line is it is going to be up to us to go out there on Monday and stay within ourselves and not let the environment get the best of us.”

Drew Brees, by contrast, figures the always raucous nighttime environment in the dome can only help the Saints.

“Our fans always seem to rise to the occasion. Our team always seems to rise to the occasion,” Brees said. “We need it more than ever right now.”

Here are some things to know about the Ravens’ return to the site of their second Super Bowl title:

MISSING COOKS: Behind tight end Jimmy Graham, the Saints’ second-most productive receiver this season has been rookie Brandin Cooks. Not anymore. He broke his thumb during a late-game punt return in New Orleans’ 27-10 loss to Cincinnati last week and has been placed on injured reserve, ending the season of a receiver who caught 53 passes for 550 yards and three TDs.

RUNNING RAVENS: Saints coach Sean Payton figures the Raven’s zone running scheme, overseen by offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, is so in sync that a number of ball carriers could succeed in Baltimore’s backfield. Yet he also has been impressed by rookie Justin Forsett’s individual skill. “You still have to have the talented runner,” Payton said, noting that Forsett’s 5.4 yards per carry leads all running backs. “He is having great production.”

NORTH vs. SOUTH: Ravens coach John Harbaugh downplayed the fact that the AFC North is 8-1-1 against the NFC South, and that the Saints are a below-.500 team coming off their second-most lopsided loss of the season against Cincinnati, the AFC North leader. “The record, what’s the difference? It’s two games. It’s nothing,” Harbaugh said of the difference in wins between Baltimore and New Orleans. “It’s just a very balanced league, it always is, and it’s a week-to-week league. That gets proven over and over again.”

DEPLETED SECONDARY: The Saints entered the weekend with three safeties on injured reserve, the latest being free safety Rafael Bush, who this week joined a list that also includes Jairus Byrd and Vinnie Sunseri. Meanwhile, New Orleans also was unsure how effective top cornerback Keenan Lewis would be as he recovers from a knee bruise that has limited him for two games. That could give Flacco some new players to attack with top receivers Steve Smith and Torrey Smith. “Any time you play guys that haven’t played a lot, you have to go out there and test them and see what they are made of,” Flacco said.

ONE TO GO: Brees, who beat the Saints when he was San Diego’s quarterback, has at least one win over every team in the NFL except Baltimore, against whom the Saints’ record-setting QB is 0-3. The previous two losses came in 2010 and 2006, when Brees was with New Orleans. Brees was well aware that he’s never beaten Baltimore when asked, but didn’t find it particularly relevant to this week’s matchup because a lot of personnel have changed on both teams in the past four years. Still, when asked if his record against the Ravens could serve as motivation, Brees allowed, “Maybe a little bit.”

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL


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