NEW ORLEANS — Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce was a little-known undrafted rookie out Samford when the preseason began.
He was among the stars of Baltimore’s preseason finale, sacking and stripping Saints backup quarterback Luke McCown, then recovering the loose ball for a touchdown in a 23-14 Ravens win on Thursday night. That it happened in a stadium just two hours’ drive from his hometown of Daphne, Alabama, made it all the better.
“It was great to have that happen with family and friends watching,” said Pierce, who celebrated by running toward the sidelined holding the ball above his head while teammates chased him. “I hope I’ve proved to the coaching staff that I deserve a spot on the team.”
Baltimore’s Josh Johnson passed for 181 yards and rushed for a 2-yard touchdown while helping keep the Saints winless for a second-straight preseason.
The performance was an important one for Johnson, who is competing with Ryan Mallett to back up Joe Flacco.
Mallett, who started, was 8 of 12 for 65 yards before Johnson was given a chance to finish the game.
New Orleans has now lost nine straight preseason games, a streak that began against Baltimore in the Superdome at the end of the 2014 preseason.
Saints coach Sean Payton had said when the preseason began that he thought it was important to try to win preseason games in order to cultivate a competitive edge on the heels of back-to-back 7-9 regular seasons. So following a sluggish outing by starters in a preseason loss to Pittsburgh a week earlier, Payton elected to play his starters early against the Ravens.
But the offensive line, which has struggled this preseason, continued to do so. Baltimore’s defense registered three sacks — one of which resulted in a fumble for a touchdown — and held the Saints to 259 total net yards.
“My experience is you just can’t turn a switch,” Payton said. “We played a lot of starters to start the game on both sides of the ball and it’s been a while since we’ve done that.”
Drew Brees started at quarterback for New Orleans and led the Saints to a field goal on his only drive, going 3 of 6 for 40 yards. Luke McCown replaced Brees but struggled, completing only two passes on four attempts. Garrett Grayson finished the game for the Saints at quarterback, completing 11 of 16 passes for 98 yards and a late touchdown on a 3-yard pass to fullback Austin Johnson.
Ravens: Pierce finished the preseason with six total tackles, 1 ½ sacks and a quarterback hit to go with his forced fumble, fumble recovery and touchdown. Linebacker Kamalei Correa, a second-round pick, started at inside linebacker. He assisted on one tackle. Outside linebacker Victor Ochi had a sack. Rookie defensive tackle Willie Henry was flagged for roughing the passer on a failed fourth-down pass, setting up Grayson’s TD pass on the next play.
Saints: Defensive tackle David Onyemata, a fourth-round pick out of Manitoba, had what appeared to be a sack of Johnson, but it was wiped out by rookie cornerback Ken Crawley’s illegal contact penalty. Receiver Jordan Williams-Lambert caught two passes for 41 yards, including a late 30 yarder to set up New Orleans’ lone TD.
Ravens: Alex Lewis started at left guard with John Urschel nursing an undisclosed “contusion.” Receiver Breshad Perriman, a 2015 first-round draft pick who has been riddled with knee injuries, finally took his first live game snaps for the Ravens. He caught two of four passes thrown his way for 25 yards.
Saints: Kicker Kai Forbath hit a 36-yard field goal. He’s competing to keep his job against Connor Barth, who made a 40-yarder. John Jenkins, who is competing for snaps at defensive tackle, was credited with two sacks.
Ravens: “It felt just like a sigh of relief. … For me to get that first catch and just being out there with my teammates, it was great.” — Perriman on his first game action.
Saints: “It’s an awful feeling any time you lose. That being said, there is a ton of winning experience in that locker room.” — Payton on going 0-4 this preseason.
Ravens: Defensive back Carrington Byndom left the game with a hamstring injury. Defensive tackle Carl Davis left with a left ankle injury.
Saints: The Saints did not report any injuries and none were apparent during the game.