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From blowout win to grind-out win, Saints prove they're top contender

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Clark says Saints are the biggest threat to the Rams (0:30)

Ryan Clark explains in terms of beating the Rams for best in the NFC, the Saints have the best chance to do so. (0:30)

BALTIMORE -- It's hard to say which type of win is more impressive:

The New Orleans Saints' 43-19 rout of the Washington Redskins at home on Monday Night Football two weeks ago, when the offense was firing on all cylinders.

Or, their comeback from a 17-7 deficit in the fourth quarter on Sunday for a 24-23 road win against the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense.

But the type of team that can win both of those games? Well that's a bona fide Super Bowl contender – and that's the 5-1 Saints right now after their fifth consecutive victory.

"It's nice to run away with them every now and then. But you just know that it's the NFL, and a lot of games end like this," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said after beating the Ravens for the first time in five career tries to become the third quarterback in NFL history to beat all 32 teams. "Listen, the more ways you can find a win, the more confidence you build, the more momentum you feel like you have.

"And then there's no situation you can encounter where you feel like you can't win. So, these are huge games to build the identity of your team."

A lot of Saints players and coach Sean Payton talked Sunday night about the importance of winning "these types" of games.

But in truth, the Saints have never really won a game quite like this before.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Saints were just 2-121 all-time on the road when entering the fourth quarter down by double digits.

But those other two victories (at Miami during the 2009 Super Bowl season and at Tampa Bay in 2014) didn't come against the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense in both points allowed and yards allowed.

A Ravens defense that hadn't allowed a second-half touchdown all season before allowing two to the Saints in the fourth quarter on Sunday.

"We were aware of all that," Saints running back Mark Ingram said, as fellow RB Alvin Kamara chimed in that "we had all the analytics" during their trademark joint interview after the game.

"We knew it was gonna be a dirty game, and we just kept wearing on 'em, wearing on 'em," said Ingram, who credited the Saints' offensive line for winning a physical battle -- and who gave his vote to Sunday's win as the Saints' most impressive and important one of the season.

"You gotta have that road win. You wanna be great, you have to be a road warrior, man," Ingram said. "If you want to win championships, you have to be a road warrior."

It won't get any easier. Up next for the Saints is a Sunday night road game at Minnesota -- where they lost twice last season, in Week 1 and in the divisional round of the playoffs. Then they get to come home in Week 9 and host the undefeated Los Angeles Rams.

Entering this week, the Saints had the NFL's toughest remaining schedule in terms of both opponents' winning percentage and ESPN's Football Power Index.

But they sure looked like a team that's up for the challenge on Sunday.

"There's an old saying, 'It doesn't have to be aesthetically pleasing to be effective,'" said Saints coach Sean Payton, who praised Brees' efficient performance (22 of 30 for 212 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions) as being "spot-on" under the circumstances.

"I think you build that [composure] throughout the course of the season," Payton said of the way his team never wavered, even after falling behind 17-7 in the third quarter. "It's generally done with demonstrated achievements in a series, and we begin to play the next one a little bit better. And hopefully we can."

Payton came into Sunday's game with a mindset that you could either describe as aggressive or smartly conservative -- starting with a whopping 20-play drive that included four fourth-down conversion attempts. They converted the first three, including a fake punt, but they fell short on their fourth try inside Baltimore's 5-yard line.

Regardless, Brees said that drive set the tone that the Saints were going to be patient and keep chipping away all day. They converted a fourth fourth-down attempt in the fourth quarter on their way to Brees' go-ahead TD pass to receiver Michael Thomas.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Saints' four fourth-down conversions are tied for the most in a game since at least 1991.

"We weren't going to go through what we just saw last week in Tennessee. We weren't gonna drop back and get sacked 11 times," Payton said of Baltimore's dominant 21-0 win against the Titans that did indeed feature 11 sacks by the Ravens. "Sometimes you have to feel that 3 1/2 yards is a good play."

Likewise, the Saints' defense did a very good job for most of the game -- aside from breakdowns at the end of each half that led to quick Baltimore touchdowns. Fortunately the Saints got a lot of luck, too, when the Ravens' outstanding kicker, Justin Tucker, missed the first extra point of his career in the final minute of the game.

"We've been down before and nobody panicked," Saints defensive end Alex Okafor said. "We knew we were in striking distance. We just knew on defense we had to get a few stops. We couldn't come back without a few stops, and that's what we got.

"You get a couple stops and our offense is capable at any time of striking. And that's what happened."

Okafor could really be describing the Saints' 2018 season, after their lousy debut in a 48-40 loss at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, their ugly 21-18 win against the Cleveland Browns in Week 2 and their coin flip 43-37 win at Atlanta in Week 3 that literally came down to them winning the overtime coin toss.

The Saints didn't panic. And now they're in position to strike.